Glaeser and Florida on Urbanization, and Nashville’s Lure

Lynne Kiesling

Here are a couple of interesting and related articles on urban dynamism and what economists call economies of agglomeration. Digital communication technology was supposed to reduce those economies of agglomeration, right? We can work from anywhere, don’t have to be physically co-located, and that includes developing countries too … so, as Ed Glaeser asks at the Economix blog at the New York Times, “[w]hy has information technology led to urban concentration rather than a great programmer diaspora?” He suggests that knowledge still flows best, and the comparative advantage and returns to intelligence are highest, when people are in close physical proximity. He then goes on to discuss globalization and the growth of cities in developing countries, a very interesting article.

In a similar vein, Richard Florida has a post at the Atlantic on the growth of Nashville as a focal point for musicians:

In 1970, Nashville was a minor center focused on country music. By 2004, only New York and L.A. boasted more musicians. The extent of its growth was so significant that when my research team and I charted the geographic centers of the music industry from 1970 and 2004 using a metric called a location quotient, Nashville was the only city that registered positive growth. In effect, it sucked up all the growth in the music industry.

While Nashville may not possess the size and scale of New York City, the celebrity-making allure of L.A., the top-40 hit-making appeal of Atlanta, or even the critical cachet of Austin or Montreal, across many genres it possesses the world’s best writing and studio talent and the best recording infrastructure. Today, it’s home to over 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs, and 80 record labels. It’s turned into the Silicon Valley of the music business, combining the best institutions, the best infrastructure, and the best talent. And, like Silicon Valley’s broad reach across many high-tech fields from hardware to software, biotech to green energy, Nashville has become the center for multiple musical genres from country and gospel to rock and pop, attracting top talent from across the United States and the globe.
Note the parallel he draws between Nashville and Silicon Valley: the agglomeration of institutions, infrastructure, and talent. Even with globalization and technological change, the agglomeration of institutions, infrastructure, and talent continues to be the core reason why cities grow and thrive and serve as focal points for economic activity and creativity (or fail to do so).