networks and mega-regions

I’m finishing up Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City?: an interesting and accessible book. I think I might use it for my senior seminar next spring. However I’m thinking today about how some of Florida’s observations fit into other discourses for thinking about networks and emergence.

And yes, the rise of mega-regions–conglomerations of cities–are an emergent property of networks. Put briefly, Florida sees mega-regions as attracting educated, creative people. You can see this demographically by looking at concentrations of people with college degrees. Mega-regions become centers for innovation, which in turn drives the larger economy. For example, the Boston-NY-Washington mega-region generates $2.2 trillion in economic output, second only to Greater Tokyo ($2.5T). The only national economies that are larger than this are the ones that house these mega-regions, the US and Japan. The Chicago-Pittsburgh mega-region ($1.2T) would rank in the top ten national economies.

So I suppose the bottom line is that, depending on one’s profession and aspirations, one needs to move to a mega-region. More importantly, educated and creative folks are often drawn to these places b/c that’s where interesting things are happening.

In some ways this is the oldest story around. But it would seem increased mobility and globalization have intensified the process. Florida notes (pp. 93-94) that in 1970, 11% of Americans had 4-yr degrees. In half of American’s 318 metro areas, grads made up 9-13% of the pop. The highest cities were DC (18%) and SF (17%). Today 27% of Americans have degrees, but in SF they make up 50% of the pop. There are five other metro-regions with 45% or more. On the flipside there are 12 regions with less than 20% college grads. They’ve stayed relatively stagnant despite the growth of education. This reinforces the brain drain point I made about central NY in a recent post.

So here are some observations coming from this text…

First, I think it’s an important point that wireless media networks have not deterred creative professionals from clustering. If anything these technologies have led to greater clustering as they enable more coordination. This likely says something about the future of the college campus: that it won’t be done in by networks. (Of course it may spell trouble for institutions too far from mega-regions or in dying metros.)

Second, while one might have mixed feelings at best about the way cities are being reconstructed through processes like gentrification, there’s something to learn in the way networked media/information inhabits material spaces. Florida’s argument has long been that there are cultural attitudes/values associated with creative professionals: namely a desire for an artistic, diverse, and tolerant community. Clearly we also see the nature of work becoming more heterogeneous, meaning work is being accomplished in different ways in different spaces.

Third, when we think about the flattening of the world, it’s not so much the flattening of distance between Cortland and NYC as the distance between NYC, London, and Tokyo, between mega-regions. This is where I think small, rural colleges like Cortland are threatened. Increasingly our non-teacher grads will need to look to these mega-regions for careers. Once there, they will be competing in a global job market. Since teacher salaries are relatively stable, they can continue to come to Cortland and find jobs in NYS. However this has always been the danger of Cortland’s curriculum, the homogeneity of teacher education. Cortland really needs diversity–ethnic diversity of course but also intellectual diversity.

In any case I think Florida’s work has interesting implications for networks. It reinforces the important argument of understanding media networks as they operate in material spaces, in locales.

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