Thursday, May 09, 2013

Puzzles indeed

Today's WSJ includes "Beijing Puzzles Over Urban Growth ... Government Entertains Debate on How to Manage Population Gains as It Seeks Lift From Bigger Cities."  There are no "good" or "bad" city sizes, just as there are no "good" or "bad" city densities.  But many urban theorists and planners continue to chase these gross simplifications.

Cities contribute to productvity and economic development if they allow labor and capital to be productive.  The many agents that we aggregate into "labor" and "capital" can each be productive in urban settings if they manage to find the networking opportunities (conveying things as well as thoughts and ideas) that work best for them.  This describes the intricate locational puzzle that we call "urban structure" -- and that we cannot solve top-down.

Economic growth requires economic freedom, but some wonder about political freedom. In these discussions, there is always someone always who suggests China when trying to make the point that political freedom is not required.  But that means politicized meddling which inevitably gets things wrong ("Beijing Puzzles ...").  It surely gets cities wrong. Sandy Ikeda tells the story a bit more elegantly here.