COULD A SMALL CITY BECOME THE NEXT SILICON VALLEY? UNLIKELY.

New research suggests that there’s a population tipping point for supporting a booming tech industry.  “Become the next Silicon Valley.” So many cities have adopted this goal that it has become a cliché.  Many policymakers want to emulate the economic success of the San Francisco Bay Area by drawing tech workers to their own cities—even if they are relatively small.  Growing cities tend to follow a universal pathway, moving from work that relies primarily on manual labor to jobs that rely more heavily on cognitive labor, the researchers report. In a study of U.S. urban areas, the team found that the tipping point tended to occur when the population reached about 1.2 million. Small cities under that threshold may not be able to build a strong tech industry because they don’t have enough people in other industries—from public transit to laundry services—to support software engineers.  As employees become accustomed to working remotely during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s possible that industries suited to remote work, such as tech, will become less tied to particular cities. This shift might alter the universal patterns of urban development.  Because new ideas, by definition, don’t have a defined vocabulary, they usually require some degree of nonverbal communication, which isn’t easily replicated in a Zoom meeting.  How does this finding square with the idea that cities need to pass a certain population threshold to establish strong tech businesses?  Even though these companies are less beholden to population growth than others, a substantial part of their expansion does depend on the number of people in the city.   Read More >>

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