Richard Florida: "The Days Of Urban Sprawl Are Over … But Not For The Reasons You Think "

This weekend’s Globe & Mail had an op-ed from Richard Florida, author of “Who’s Your City“, talking about the end of urban sprawl and the causes behind it. It’s not just about the high price of oil…

Urban sprawl

Flickr photo by millicent_bystander


(…) A recent report from CEOs for Cities, a group of U.S. business leaders, mayors and university presidents, declares: “Now that the era of cheap gas is over, demand for development on the fringe is down, and consumer interest and market potential lie in developing and redeveloping neighbourhoods closer to the urban core.” (…)

But what’s happening here goes a lot deeper than the end of cheap oil. We are now passing through the early development of a wholly new geographic order – what geographers call “the spatial fix” – of which the move back toward the city is just one part. (…)

Rising fuel costs are one thing, but in today’s idea-driven economy, it’s time costs that really matter. With the constant pressure to be more efficient and to innovate, it makes little sense to waste countless collective hours commuting. So the most efficient and productive regions are the ones in which people are thinking and working – not sitting in traffic. (…)

Zach Neal, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago, writes that the city-regions of the past were essentially self-contained markets that operated as “functional hierarchies” – i.e., they produced just about all they needed themselves and supported everything from agriculture and factory complexes to downtown office centres and residential suburbs. But Neal says the new global system of cities is built on “relational hierarchy” – it’s the relationships between key cities and regions globally that matter. A Brookings Institution report finds that global cities such as New York, London, Tokyo and Shanghai are strongly connected to one another, much more so than, say, New York and Louisville or Toronto and Edmonton.(…)

While we are in the early development of this new economic geography, one trend is clear: The history of economic development and of capitalism revolves around the more intensive use of urban space. The coming decades will thus probably see greater concentrations of people, increasing densities, and further clustering of industry, work and innovation in a smaller number of humongous cities and mega-regions globally. Alongside that will come ever more concentrated economic opportunity and deepening social and economic divides between people and places. (…)

What it means: if you’re working in local search, it’s always important to keep abreast of these economic mega-trends. Modifications in commute routes and massive new neighborhood developments can create or destroy local search/hyperlocal opportunities. I’m also very much intrigued by the concept of relationships between key cities/regions. I wonder if there’s not a mega-directory opportunity there. It certainly requires some new thoughts on geographical scoping.


3 thoughts on “Richard Florida: "The Days Of Urban Sprawl Are Over … But Not For The Reasons You Think "

  1. Great article Sebastien, I think also that we are going to a more region/city kind of state. Countries are loosing economic power toward big urban regions. They are creating stronger identity to the local urban region too. Their’s great opportunities for online local comunities for sure 🙂

  2. This system based on “relational hierarchy” is the reason why Montréal should “connect” (by train, for instance) to the new conurbation being created by New York / Philadelphia / Baltimore / Washington DC / etc.

  3. @oniquet. I could not agree more! We definitely need a TGV (high speed train) between Montreal/Toronto and Montreal/Boston/New York.

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