Sustainable and Resilient Cities: Challenges and Opportunities
How Characteristics of Metropolitan Areas Interact to Foster Invention and Innovation
Deborah Strumsky, University of North Carolina at Charlotte
Cities have played a pivotal role in the development of science and technology throughout human history. Path dependence, specialization and numerous socio-economic characteristics of cities endow them with a competitive advantage in particular technologies. Those advantages, or disadvantages, are often sustained for decades. Characteristics such as, city size, educational attainment, industrial diversity, and the social organization skilled workers largely determine a city’s ability to invent and innovate.
We currently face unprecedented global environmental challenges, such as climate change, the development of new technologies will play a vital role in our ability to achieve environmental policy goals, as well as mitigate and adapt to environmental change. It is important to advance our understanding of the characteristics that promote invention in “Green Technologies.” Analysis of US invention pertaining to energy conservation, renewable or alternative energy production, and greenhouse gas emission reduction indicate the invention process is spatially concentrated in a subset of inventive cities and disproportionately dependent upon access to research universities. Moreover, not all inventions are created equal, some are more novel than others and may be more closely associated with breakthroughs in basic science, whereas others are associated with more rapid cost reduction in industry output thus wide spread adoption of those technologies. A taxonomy that distinguishes inventions according to their level of technological novelty reveals that cities specialize in either basic science or cost reducing inventions even within green technologies.
Finally, as we examine the relationship between metropolitan characteristics and various types of invention through examination of global patenting it is important to be cognizant of what we are not measuring, simple, inexpensive inventions from poor communities may have the power to transform the world in ways our econometric models can not capture. This measurement gap may be the key to understanding why some technologies have experienced faster than predicted gains in efficiency, but slower than predicted diffusion in the market place.