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can a rustbelt Adelaide reinvent itself? « Previous | |Next »
March 8, 2011

Can a rustbelt Adelaide reinvent itself with the decline in its manufacturing industry? Boston did. It was able to boost its economic growth by becoming a center of the information economy in the late 20th century. Human capital---a strong base of skilled workers---was the key to urban growth. The policy message is that as ideas and knowledge became more important in capitalism cities with skilled populations began to thrive.

Can Adelaide look like the future and not the past? Can Adelaide transform itself from a dying factory town to a thriving information city? In Reinventing Boston: 1630–2003 the American economist Edward L. Glaeser, the author of Triumph of the City, states that the story of Boston’s history yields the following implications about urban dynamics.

First, long run urban success does not mean perpetual growth. Long run urban success means successfully responding to challenges. The basic pattern of Boston’s history is that the city specializes in one area and inevitably either this area declines or their dominance in the area is challenged. The survival of the city hinges on re-orientation.

Second, Boston’s ability to re-orient itself hinged on industrial diversity.

Boston had never been just a port and from the beginning, artisans in the town had manufactured goods which were then taken on Bostonian ships abroad. As such, the switch from seaport to factory town required a large re-emphasis, but not inventing industry from scratch. Likewise, Boston’s seafaring commerce had always needed financial services, and as a result, the city had always had banks, brokers, and insurers. As Boston’s manufacturing declined, finance was able to take up its slack.
Third, Boston’s ability to regenerate itself hinged upon its ability to attract residents, not just firms:
The American cities that grew because of proximity to productive natural resources, such as coal, have suffered tremendously over the past 50 years. When the demand for the key natural resource declined, no one saw any reason to remain in the city and they left. By contrast, from its earliest days, Boston existed not only as a productive center but as a place that people wanted to live: a consumer city. Because people wanted to live there, as well as work there, during times of economic trouble, residents innovated and stayed. In the coal towns of central Pennsylvania exodus, not innovation, was a more common response.
Fourth, in all of its period of reinvention, Boston’s human capital has been critical:
today more than ever, Boston’s skills provide the impetus for economic success in technology, professional services, and higher education. Boston’s experience certainly suggests that human capital is most valuable to a city during transition periods when skills create flexibility and the ability to reorient towards a new urban focus.
Educated cities grow more quickly than comparable cities with less human capital because they become more economically productive.

Lastly, city government has played an important role in Boston’s periods of both success and failure.

Glaeser's argument is that geography is especially important to the growth of post-industrial economies and so it is much better to push development in places where people and businesses actually want to move to or set up shop. Declining or struggling towns and cities where people and firms don't want to live should be encouraged to decline further.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 9:14 AM | | Comments (5)


We need new compact, mixed-use, walkable communities; bikes, separated bike lanes and bike sharing; public transport; small scale innovation like wheeled luggage; district/neighborhood energy based on renewable resources.

If the city is liveable and has a good quality of life, then people will come to live here.

we could use neglected urban spaces for city parks.simple solutions for urban improvement --not big technology or gizmo green.

far too much of our policy and practice in Australia still supports dumb growth. They talk about smart growth (sustainable cities) but there is very little of it in practice.

What we have is a "technology will save us" movement when we need walkable, mixed use, denser neighbourhoods that reduce reliance on the car and reduce our impact on the environment.

dumb growth equates a stagnating population with a stagnating economy. Thus Melbourne is growing fast – so its prospering. Adelaide losing population fast – so its in decline.

Can you have economic growth with little growth in the urban population?

part of Adelaide's reinvention is to be come an education city. The argument is that education is the key to economic success since the jobs of the future will require ever higher levels of skill.

Paul Krugman argues that this is no longer the case in the US.

The belief that education is becoming ever more important rests on the plausible-sounding notion that advances in technology increase job opportunities for those who work with information — loosely speaking, that computers help those who work with their minds, while hurting those who work with their hands..... It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

The reason is that quite a lot of white-collar work currently carried out by well-educated, relatively well-paid workers may soon be computerized.