The Progress of Urban Development

This is a quick departure from the blog’s main topics, but I’ve been writing a series for The Atlantic Cities launch, sponsored by Dow, on “The Progress of Urban Development.” The last post went up today, so all 31 are up here. I like some posts better than others, so I thought I’d share a few of my favorites here:

High-Speed Rail and the New Regional Economics

Aside from the particular merits of any individual project, high-speed rail is arguably a crucial component of an economic strategy centered around mega-regions, defined as large, contiguous economic areas containing multiple cities and their surrounding suburbs. As AtlanticSenior Editor and academic Richard Florida has argued, mega-regions are the relevant economic unit for the 21st century. And even a casual comparison between U.S. mega-regions and proposed high-speed rail lines reveals a connection.

How Cities Innovate

Technology is a major driver of economic growth in the modern world. But technological progress is not equally distributed around the globe. It is no accident that web startups are concentrated in Silicon Valley, biotech firms in Boston, and so on. In fact, approximately 20 metropolitan regions account for most of the world’s technological innovation, as measured by patents, an imperfect but widely acknowledged measure. It is no surprise that cities are drivers of technology innovation worldwide, and that a couple dozen cities are disproportionately innovative. Understanding why is crucial for promoting economic growth as well as for informing cities’ strategies for boosting innovation. The economic logic behind this is fairly simple and revolves around the concept of “clusters.”

A World With Fewer Farmers

In 1900, 41% of the U.S. workforce was employed in agriculture. Today, that number isless than 2%. Yet, the sector has kept pace with increasing demand for agricultural goods, thanks in large part to advances in mechanization and labor productivity. To many, these trends are inexplicably linked to the worst features of industrial agriculture, including unsustainable use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers, or to the decline of the family farm. But the relationship between urbanization and agriculture is more complicated. Understanding it is critical to the promotion of sustainable development throughout the world.

What “Food Miles” Misses

Scholars emphasize that assessing the environmental impact of food is an extraordinarily difficult task. But there is agreement that food miles are just one piece of the puzzle. For city dwellers this offers some relief. Eating local is not the end-all-be-all of environmental consciousness. So how can consumers make better food choices? The place to start is agreeing on a common definition for sustainable food production. And life-cycle analysis, though difficult, may offer a path forward. Some have pushed for food labels to include greenhouse gas emissions across the entire life-cycle. Others have emphasized that a price on greenhouse gas emissions would help food prices reflect their environmental impact. Eating sustainably is certainly still up for debate. And asking just how far food traveled to arrive on your plate is still a relevant question. It just isn’t the only one.

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