May 28 2009

Agglomeration and Emergent Architectures

by at 10:15 am under Uncategorized

The economies of agglomeration give value to certain kinds of relationships in the networks that cumulatively constitute “economic development.”  If economic development is a multi-striated network in which financial, cultural, institutional, nodes are connected to each other through subtle ways in which efficiency, access and ease are maximized, then I might suggest that the path toward greater development mirrors similar paths that we use to maximize other, less complicated things.

The area between Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights is one of the more popular areas to experience the District’s nightlife.  There are a number of factors that facilitate the existence of these boisterous neighborhoods: geographic centrality, access via major transportation hubs, historical precedents, and a number of economic incentives for businesses to work together to create the party-time atmosphere.  And these are but to name a very few of the many interactions that create a ‘hot spot.’  They represent economies of agglomeration – businesses benefit from the commercial activity overflowing from their neighbors, the city government centralizes police efforts and late-night party-oriented rambunctiousness, and the customers benefit from greater taxi presence when they want to retire.  The network is striated, yet each layer finds itself interwoven with its neighbors in ways that foster the perpetual health of the region.

Similarly, these emergent interdependencies can be found on much larger scales when considering questions of urban development.  Does the 495 Beltway around the District create a boundary that demarcates a region of development in a similar way that Robert Moses separated Jones Beach from Manhattan’s rabble?  Did the disuse of the Hudson River as an trade route doom the industrial towns of northern New York state to decline?  And on even larger scales, these same connections exist: Does a corrupt government provide financial institutions less incentive to lend?

But international development wants not only to understand the ways these economies of agglomeration work, but to be able to influence them, create environments for stability and growth.  Professor Garcia’s prompt suggested that the global network might be seen from a number of different vantage points: that of states as nodes, financial institutions as nodes, and NGO’s as nodes.  Instead, I prefer to see each of these vantage points as a way of looking at one particular striation of the Global Network.  International development, unfortunately, cannot afford to look at each of these striations independently, but instead must see their interdependencies.  The existence of the District’s nightlife is dependent on a number of networks working together, creating economies of agglomeration, efficiency and maximizing the ease of growth.  Provoking growth in an impoverished community will similarly depend on the creation of efficiencies between various networks, building the connections between the nodes of each striation vertically as well as horizontally.

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