Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Cities and the Economic Development of Nations: An Essay on Jane Jacobs' Contribution to Economic Theory */Les Villes et le Developpement Economique Des Nations. Un Presentation Sur le Contribution De Jane Jacobs a la Theorie Economique *

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Cities and the Economic Development of Nations: An Essay on Jane Jacobs' Contribution to Economic Theory */Les Villes et le Developpement Economique Des Nations. Un Presentation Sur le Contribution De Jane Jacobs a la Theorie Economique *

Article excerpt

Despite her popularity among urban planning and sociology scholars, urban theorist Jane Jacobs' economic writings, with the exception of one basic insight, have failed to attract widespread attention. This neglect is unfortunate, because in spire of some factual errors and dubious analytical interpretations, Jacobs' lack of respect for traditional academic boundaries gave her the freedom to formulate several highly original insights and hypotheses.

After a brief overview of Jacobs' life and work, we summarize her key economic ideas and discuss in more detail the current popularity and shortcomings of 'Jacobs externalities' (or the diffusion of know-how across different lines of work in the context of a diversified urban economy) among academic economists. We suggest that some of her ideas, such as a scenario according to which agriculture might have been developed in cities rather than the countryside and what could be termed her dynamic structural theory of technical change, deserve more attention and scrutiny despite the fact that they might not be amenable to 'rigorous' statistical testing.

RESUMES

Malgre sa popularite dans de nombreuses disciplines allant de l'urbanisme a la sociologie, les ecrits economiques de la theoricienne urbaine Jane Jacobs n'ont eu que peu d'impact. Cet essai se veut a la fois un resume, une critique et un plaidoyer en faveur de certaines de ses intuitions et hypotheses ayant trait au developpement economique.

L'article debute par un rapide survol de la carriere et des ecrits de Jacobs. Une attention particuliere est portee a certains evenements formateurs allant de sa jeunesse dans une region miniere en proie a un declin rapide a son arrivee a New York pendant la depression economique des annees trente en passant par son combat contre les programmes de <> des annees cinquante et soixante. Nous brossons ensuite un portrait rapide des principaux elements de sa theorie economique ou la ville en tant que carrefour de problemes, d'idees, de produits de toute sorte et d'interactions entre individus ayant des interets et des expertises differentes, joue le role primordial. Nous discutons dans la section suivante de sa popularite recente aupres de certains economistes du courant dominant qui suggerent a partir d'une interpretation etroite de ses ecrits qu'un tissu economique local plus diversifie que la moyenne favorise davantage la creation d'emplois. Bien que ces chercheurs expliquent ces resultats par le transfert de connaissances entre differentes activites economiques, ils n'ont aucune preuve directe pour etayer leur propos. Nous suggerons a cet effet une piste de recherche que nous croyons plus prometteuse, l'examen du processus combinatoire dans l'acte creatif et l'influence qu'un milieu diversifie peut exercer sur cette faculte. Nous discutons finalement de certaines forces et faiblesses de l'apport de Jacobs et concluons que, malgre certaines erreurs factuelles et hypotheses douteuses, son approche multidisciplinaire l'a amene a formule nombre d'idees originales qui meritent d'etre examinees plus en detail meme si elles se pretent mal aux analyses statistiques.

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Urban theorist Jane Jacobs' critique of the bulldozer-driven urban renewal policies of the post-war era, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), has exerted a profound influence on the thinking of legions of architects, planners, developers, urban politicians and community activists and was, as could be expected, the book most often mentioned in the obituaries published in the days following her death on April 25, 2006. (1) Yet, many people somewhat familiar with Jacobs' life and writings might be surprised to learn that her own favorite work was The Economy of Cities (1969) and that she thought her most significant contribution was in the area of economic development rather than urban planning (Nowlan 1997; Steigerwald 2001). …

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