Sprawl Limits Economic Progress

“Rebuilt portions of cities and the endless new developments spreading beyond the cities are reducing city and countryside alike to a monotonous, unnourishing gruel.”                     – Jane Jacobs

Cities are platforms for economic progress.  They bring together diverse people and companies that create networks, clusters and interactions that lead to new innovations and create new businesses.  Because of this, cities function as incubators of innovation.  We also know that established businesses benefit from economies of agglomeration when locating near each other.  Through agglomeration, companies can take advantage of economies of scale, lower costs of production and knowledge spillover.

“It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.”                                                                                                                       – from the movie ‘Crash’

Sprawl has a reverse effect on economic progress.  With people and companies spread out, interaction and collaboration are stunted.  People end up living in bubbles – the home bubble to the car bubble to the office bubble, reverse and repeat. These bubbles prevent and limit the chance and planned exchanges that promote innovation.  Additionally, the cost of travel and time it takes to cover expanded distances eliminates economies of scale and increases costs of production.

“The metropolis, with its universities, museums, libraries and research laboratories, becomes one big, spatially integrated ‘coffee house,’ where bright minds out of diverse cultures clash and strike sparks that ignite the fires of new products and processes.”         –  Wilbur Thompson

The internet has created a virtual space for humans to cluster, interact and collaborate.  It was once believed that it would replace real human exchanges, and it has to a certain extent.  But the fact is humans need and prefer physical interaction.  If it weren’t the case, than an enormous internet company like Amazon wouldn’t have relocated to the middle of Seattle.


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