Are cities still the primary engine of scientific growth?

Agglomeration is a great word. Basically it means that like minded people move near each other to make their lives easier and be more productive. Hence filmmaking in Hollywood, the Tech space in Silicon Valley, or the financial houses clustering in New York.

Patents as measure of innovation

One of the ways to measure agglomeration is to study how many patents were cited in other patent applications. That way clusters of innovation could be observed. Two researchers, Jay Bhattacharya and his colleague Mikko Packalen, of Stanford University, analyzed millions of patents issued between 1836 and 2010. The idea was to understand how one good idea led to the next. they were looking to prove if living in a big important city really mattered when it came to innovative thinking.

Big Cities were great

What is interesting, is that for over a hundred years until the 1980’s, there were strong advantages in living in the big important cities. But by the early 2000’s that advantage had collapsed.

The authors of the report don’t suggest there is no advantage to these centers of excellence, but that their effects are much less than in previous generations.

Smaller cities are better now

It is interesting to note that Video Conferencing, the internet and the ability to still be plugged into the world even when remote from the centers of excellence is changing society. One has to wonder if we even need big cities any more. Smaller cities often have much higher qualities of life for their citizens.

Personal perspective

Personally I got into the Video Conferencing world because I lived the other side of the world from my Dad, and the technology gave me the hope that I could continue to have a close relationship with him even though we were ten thousand miles apart. It seems to me that the research cited here shows that the Video Conferencing industry has had a positive effect on the world, and I for one am very proud of that.

The ability to be at the center of an industry while simultaneously living wherever you like is is transformational. All we have to do as an industry it show the rest of our society what we can achieve. It’s been surprisingly hard to get businesses and individuals to understand the power of Video Conferencing. Let’s hope Jay and Mikko’s work helps us push this agenda further.

Here’s the original piece on NPR.


Are big cities still a primary engine for scientific innovation?

About the Author: Simon Dudley

Simon is a contrarian. He makes a habit of being the guy who questions the orthodoxy, the guy who doesn’t believe it just because the good and the great said it’s true. Even when it’s a bad idea politically he can’t help but speak up. This has not always been good for his career, but it’s generally been very good for his employers if they are prepared to listen.

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