Archive for the 'demographics' Category

Urban incubators, inequality and innovation

November 3, 2017

inc

The growth of shared, flexible urban workspaces for startups and SMEs is now a striking, and very visible feature of British cities.

Over the past decade or so, startups and small firms in retail, manufacturing, arts, the cultural industries and the digital economy have been making creative use and re-use of urban spaces — through newish practices such as co-working and pop-ups, as well as reconfiguring older forms such as high street units and industrial estates.

We can see these new practices across the city — in centres and in peripheries, in economically vibrant neighbourhoods and more deprived places. Since 2007, for example, there’s been a particular explosion of co-working, incubator and accelerator provision in London: in 2014 there were at least 132 spaces, 50% of which had arrived since 2012. Today there are at least 156 co-working spaces alone.

This colourful and rapidly-changing landscape raises a lot of questions for researchers and policymakers.

Now read on …

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YouGov called the election right. How?

June 30, 2017

This General Election has been full of surprises. So I’ve been digging into the YouGov MRP voting model, pretty much the only one that got the 2017 Election result correct.

Given all the current humble pie and book eating by pundits who didn’t spot the result coming, this seems worth doing. I also think there are also some useful takeaways for cities, especially as devolution rolls on.

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YouGov’s MRP (multilevel regression and post-stratification) method not only got the national result right, but correctly predicted results in 93% of seats. Compare this to most other polls [£, and chart below]. The model somehow also predicted the Canterbury result, where Labour won for the first time since 1918.

It turns out that earlier versions of an MRP model also spotted the Leave vote in 2016, and did pretty well in the US 2016 Presidential Election. Though this version seems to have worked better, for reasons I’ll come back to.

Remember, this is a predictive method — how might people vote in the future? — that did about as well as the main exit poll — which asked people *how they just voted*. (John Curtice has more on how UK exit polling is done here.)

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So how does the MRP model work? Here’s an overview: this gives us the main features but not surprisingly, doesn’t reveal all the datasets or the functional form/s. YouGov describe this as a Big Data approach; it seems to involve bespoke data and data science methods, but also lots of public datasets, aka ‘administrative Big Data’. The key steps seem to be:

1/ YouGov have weekly individual-level data on voting intention and detailed characteristics (including past voting). They run around 50k online interviews per week, and anyone can sign up;

2/ They use this to build a typology of voter types;

3/ For each voter type, they then fit a model that predicts voting intention;

4/ For each constituency, they then estimate how these types are spread (using public resources like the British Election Study and other ONS resources, perhaps these);

5/ They work out how the vote should go in each constituency.

By contrast, traditional polls tend sample about 1,000 people, then project direct from respondents to the whole UK, using weights to compensate for demographics, voting intention and so on.

This helps us see why an MRP approach might work better than conventional methods.

First, MRP has a much bigger starting sample. More observations = sharper results.

Second, MRP is micro-to-macro: it models each constituency individually, so stands a better chance of picking up local issues (such as the hospital closure crisis which helped drive the Canterbury result).

Third, MRP is both fine-grained and high-frequency. The only pundits to pick up on the reality of #GE2017 got out there on the ground. Given the complexity of UK politics right now, we also need methods to get at this complexity in a structured way.

Fourth, MRP methods should get better over time. you end up with loads of high-frequency training data, and this progressively makes the model better.

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This doesn’t mean that conventional polling has had its day – e.g. Survation were also on the money. But it’s notable that most conventional polls fell over this time, just as they did in the 2015 General Election.

I suspect that these four factors helped YouGov pick up higher turnout for younger voters faster than most pollsters (and many mainstream journalists), as well as shifts in other age groups. This post by Ben Lauderdale, one of their chief modellers, seems to supports that. (Note that we won’t know turnout by age for sure until the next BES in a few months. If modelling can get us to a decent understanding faster, that’s very useful.

As Sam Freedman points out, it also helps show precisely, and in close to real time, the huge damage the Conservative manifesto did to the party’s chances.

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Micro-to-macro techniques like MRP could beuseful for Mayoral elections and city politics. With a 50k in sample, could you train the model on a city-region like the West Midlands using public data? If so, this feels much more useful and adaptable than one-off traditional polling.

YouGov say their model works at local authority level, so some version of this could probably be done now. However, I suspect that even a big national sample might be too sparse for very local analysis, say at neighbourhood level. In this latter case, you could also imagine building a richer, locally-specific model for a whole conurbation — like the West Midlands or Greater Manchester — using a big base of local respondents.

This would be expensive — but for a local university, or a group of them, it would be a super interesting (and public-spirited) long term investment.

Birmingham University’s city-regional lab City-REDI will be exploring this further in the coming months.

‘After Florida’ wins a prize

December 21, 2016

I’m delighted (and honestly, surprised) to have won the 2016 Jim Lewis Prize for my paper on the economics of diversity – After Florida – which is out in European Urban and Regional Studies. The prize is awarded for the most innovative paper published in EURS the previous year.

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You can read the whole paper here. To give you a flavour, the abstract is below.

In recent years, most European countries have experienced substantial demographic changes and rising cultural diversity. Understanding the social and economic impacts of these shifts is a major challenge for policymakers. Richard Florida’s ideas have provided a popular – and pervasive – framework for doing so. This paper assesses Florida’s legacy and sets out a ‘post-Florida’ framework for ‘technology, talent and tolerance’ research. The paper first traces the development of Florida’s ideas. ‘Florida 1.0’, encapsulated by the Three Ts framework, has performed badly in practice. There are problems in bringing causality to the fundamental relationships, and in consistently replicating the results in other countries. ‘Florida 2.0’, though suggests that Creative Class metrics have value as alternative measures of human capital. This creates space for a post-Florida agenda based on economic microfoundations.

I argue that the growing body of ‘economics of diversity’ research meets these conditions, and review theory and empirics. Urban ‘diversity shocks’ shift the size and composition of populations and workforces, with impacts operating via labour markets, and through wider production and consumption networks. While short-term labour market effects are small, over time low-value industrial sectors may become migrant-dependent. Diversity may help raise productivity and wages through innovation, entrepreneurship, market access and trade channels. Bigger, more diverse cities help generate hybridised goods and services, but may also raise local costs through crowding. All of this presents new challenges for policymakers, who need to manage diversity’s net effects, and address both economic costs and benefits.

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The paper has its origins in the intro chapter to my PHD thesis. If you fancy wading deeper in, that’s here.

Physicists explain things to me

August 19, 2016

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I’ve written a long post on cities, superlinear scaling and universal laws over at Medium.

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I’ve been gradually building a presence there: it’s a platform that works particularly well for long-form pieces like this. Go take a look!

 

New article: ethnic diversity, firm performance and cities

August 8, 2016

Paul Klee, Harmony of Northern Fauna, 1927

I’ve got a new paper published in Environment and Planning A. There’s an open access version here.

The research looks at the links between ethnic diversity in firms’ top teams (owners, partners and directors) and the performance of those firms (specifically, how much revenue they make).

I also look at how those linkages  vary across different types of firms, and how different types of urban environment may help or may not.

There’s now a decent diversity literature (see this academic review, or this great Andy Haldane speech). But we know much less about these gnarlier issues.

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I find positive diversity-links – but only for certain kinds of companies. The strongest links are for a group of large,  knowledge-intensive businesses who comprise about 16% of my sample. The role of cities is also complex. For this first group, being in  London amplifies the diversity ‘effects’.

But for a second, smaller group of younger companies, diversity channels seem to be swamped by London’s higher costs and greater competition. These firms perform better when in smaller, cheaper cities like Manchester or Birmingham.  In turn, that suggests policies to promote ethnic diversity in firms need to be quite carefully tailored to industry and local conditions.

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Here’s the abstract:

A growing literature examines how ethnic diversity influences economic outcomes in cities and inside firms. However, firm–city interactions remain more or less unexplored. Ethnic diversity may help firm performance by introducing a wider range of ideas,  improving scrutiny or improving international market access. Urban locations may amplify in-firm processes via agglomeration economies, externalities from urban demography or both. These firm–city effects may be more beneficial for knowledge-intensive firms, and  for young firms with a greater dependence on their environment. However, firm–city interactions could be negative for cost and  competition-sensitive younger firms, or for firms operating in poorer, segregated urban markets. I deploy English cross-sectional data to explore these issues within firms’ ‘top teams’, using latent class analysis to tackle firm-level heterogeneity. I find positive diversity–performance links for larger, knowledge-intensive firms, and positive firm–city interactions both for larger, knowledge-intensive firms in London and for younger, smaller firms in second-tier metros.

Read the article here. Or here’s the ungated version.

Jane Jacobs: City Limits

May 18, 2016

(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

City Limits is a lovely 1971 film about Jane Jacobs. You can watch the whole thing here; it’s about 30 mins long. Directed by Laurence Hyde for the Canadian National Film Board, the documentary features Jacobs talking through her ideas, interspersed with some terrific footage of Toronto, New York, London and other cities around the world. I’m indebted to Martin Dittus for digging it out of the NFB archives.

(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

The 30-minute film is worth watching for many reasons. For starters, Jacobs herself appears in much of it – sat in a park, shopping in a market, buying a newspaper, and at one point clambering into a helicopter to survey Toronto from above.

(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

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At the same time, the film is a great summary of Jacobs’ big ideas about how urban neighbourhoods – and cities – work, when they succeed and when they fail. Jacobs is a superb writer, but she never spells it out for you. The film does, and in the author’s own words:

A city is an organism, and a very complex  one, and an ever changing one.  I would like us to see cities as ecologies – because that’s what they are. As surely as the ecologies of the natural world. The ecology of a city is of the same order of complexity as the ecology of a woodland. And this is what proper city planning ought to be directed to.  

This is the essence of a crucial chapter buried in the back of The Death and Life of Great American Cities: ‘The Kind of Problem a City Is’ (page 558 in my edition). It’s the research design for the book: it’s also Jacobs’ whole way of doing urbanism.

jacobs34 jacobs21 jacobs16(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

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Watching the film reminds me how prescient Jacobs was. There’s a surprising sequence on cultural diversity, which Jacobs presents both as an amenity, and as a channel of innovation:

Foreign districts introduce extra dimensions into a city. They often introduce new kinds of food, new customs, new music, even new kinds of clothing. And they’re a lot of fun for people who aren’t familiar with those customs, foods and so on. … that’s the way things spread in cities. And from cities to other places.

(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

This innovation argument is the big idea from The Economy of Cities. ‘Jacobian externalities’ are knowledge spillovers across sectors: these are self-reinforcing, and help cities become resilient to economic shocks. What I hadn’t previously spotted was that Jacobs sees *cultural* and *economic* diversity as so closely intertwined.

(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

Jacobs also makes some subtle points about mobility and technology. She came to prominence in New York opposing Robert Moses’ megaschemes for urban motorways and ‘sum clearance’:  not surprisingly, then, much of the film is concerned with congestion and pollution. But Jacobs has a much more profound argument:

People worry that there’s too much progress – in fact it’s just the opposite. … Automobiles don’t represent     progress any more – they’re pretty old …

There’s no solution in saying people should live close to their work and shouldn’t travel. People change their  jobs, goods have to move. So the problem is mobility – but the automobile isn’t providing much of an answer.

In other words: the car-based city is old thinking. The future is mass transit, bikes, and mobility as a service, enabled by technology. Scroll forward to 2016, and that future is taking shape all around us.

In 1971, however, this meant ‘Dial-a-Bus’ [link7] – a prehistoric Uber Pool, summoned to your house by landline and whisking you and fellow commuters to the local train station.

(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

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Jacobs was a thinker and an activist, not a consultant. It’s not as easy as it looks to derive practical guidance from her work – not least because she is the original full-field urbanist, drawing together history, built form, economics, social structure and culture into her analysis. Watching the film is a salutary reminder of this; it also emphasises how much Jacobs’ work draws on close observation of specific places she knows well.

Death and Life … tends to be distilled into four urban design tropes: high density, short city blocks, mixed use, old buildings. Result: every 1990s block of flats with space for a shop at the bottom (but VAT rules that incentivise developers to knock down old buildings). That’s clearly not enough to make a street or neighbourhood ‘work’, if it has no relation to the demographics and socio-economic life around it. The film is a neat reminder that we shouldn’t reduce Jacobs to design code box-ticking. But it also highlights just how tricky it is to roll her ideas into generalised practice. ‘What should a city be like?’ asked Reason in 2001. Jacobs’ answer: ‘it should be like itself’.

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(c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

The film also highlights how much Jacobs’ thinking about urbanism is a product of its time. All around her cities were losing people to the suburbs, and losing old urban grain to modernist, car-centric city form. Many neighbourhoods were emptying out. In London and New York today, all of that has flipped around: populations are growing, high-value activity is back, and we have an urgent crisis of housing and cheap space.

Ed Glaeser famously has a go at Jacobs in The Triumph of the City, arguing that preserving old buildings simply chokes off the supply of bigger, newer ones, and the subsequent gentrification pushes out the artists and mixed communities she sought to preserve. I’m not sure that’s completely fair: she was dealing with a different era’s problems. But it also seems that she had fairly little to say about today’s urban crises. That is the message from of this 2003 Brick interview, conducted three years before Jacobs’ death. She’s asked whether today’s cities are in better shape. She replies:

In some ways there’re worse and in some ways better. The things that are worse I don’t think are so much focused or anchored in cities as they are in our North American culture as a whole … I think that things are getting better for cities in that there’s not the great ruthless wiping away of their most interesting areas that took place in the past … however, I think the urban sprawl outside of cities has gotten much worse.

In the Reason interview she goes a little further, citing Portland, Seattle and San Francisco as ‘attractive places … where good things are being done.’ The interviewer asks about gentrification and rising prices. She bats away the question.

By this point her  writing had also moved on to other issues:  the nature of work, economic ecosystems. Clearly, she wasn’t much interested in going back to the street.

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It’s early morning, and the city is beginning to dance. The camera follows Jacobs as she crosses a busy street. A man walking beside her notices the camera and gazes in increasing curiousity at our heroine, trying to place her. Unable to do so, he wanders away. Lost in thought, she disappears into the crowd.

jacobs9 jacobs8 jacobs10 (c) 1971 Laurence Hyde / NFB

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Here’s the link to the film again.

 

RGS talk on migration

May 13, 2016

(c) 2016 RGS

A late plug for this. I did a panel event on ‘Europe’s Migration Crisis’ with the Royal Geographical Society a few weeks back, alongside Heaven Crawley, Madeleine Sumption and Christina Boswell. The Guardian’s estimable David Walker chaired it.

I gave an overview of the local economics of migration, focusing on the recent UK experience, and drawing on some of my work – as well as borrowing a couple of nice maps from the Migration Observatory.

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Here’s the summary I sent the organisers:

My talk will look at migration impacts at the local level, especially in cities. I’ll argue that we should look both at people flows, but also at the diversity that migration brings. Today’s public conversation about migration is focused on jobs, housing and public services. That’s understandable, and there are some real concerns here.

I also want to shift the conversation to cover migration as an influence on long term economic growth, with impacts on productivity, innovation, entrepreneurship and trade. Skilled migrants (from inside and outside the EU) are central to this, and the evidence we have suggests that there are positive effects of these groups on economic outcomes policymakers should care about. We need to know much more about how these channels work, of course. But national government and cities can start – now – to adjust policy to make more of these opportunities. 

There’s a nice write-up of the event on the RGS blog. If you want more detail, my slides are here.

What I did in New Zealand

August 4, 2015

Matiu / Somes Island. (c) 2015 Max Nathan

Am back from New Zealand and just about over the jetlag. Thanks again to Motu and the Caddanz team for hosting me. I’m already plotting a return trip …

Here’s my talk from the Pathways conference. This is on the economics of migration and diversity, and brings together various projects from the past few years.

Here are slides and audio from my public policy talk at Motu. This looks at the What Works agenda in the UK, particularly the work of the What Works Centre for Local Economic Growth, and some of the opportunities and challenges these institutions face.

Future chat

May 20, 2015

(c) 2015 Max Nathan

I’ve been busy working on a bunch of projects recently, but will be escaping the office to do a couple of talks over the summer. Each very different …

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On 7 July I’m chairing an LSE lecture by Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK. We’ll be talking about the extraordinary growth of London’s digital economy, and where these sectors could take us next.

I’ve just completed a long piece on London’s digital evolutions for the Centre for London think tank’s new London Essays imprint, so I’m looking forward to this one. Emma and I met Gerard recently and were impressed by his openness. It should be a great session. Details are here.

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On 23 July I’m in New Zealand at the ‘Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads’ conference on the economics of immigration and diversity, which is organised by the University of Waikato, Massey University and Motu. I’m very grateful to Jacques Poot and Dave Maré for inviting me over. They’re just beginning a major programme of work on immigration and diversity in NZ, and I’m hoping we can kick off some interesting collaborations when I’m in town. More details of that event when I have them.

If you’re around for either of these, come and say hello!

Same Difference?

June 25, 2014

v2

I have a new article out in the Journal of Economic Geography. Originally one of my PHD papers, it looks at the demography of innovation, particularly the roles of what I call ‘minority ethnic inventors’.

Here’s the abstract:

Minority ethnic inventors play important roles in US innovation, especially in high-tech regions such as Silicon Valley. Do ‘ethnicity–innovation’ channels exist elsewhere? Ethnicity could influence innovation via production complementarities from diverse inventor communities, co-ethnic network externalities or individual ‘stars’. I explore these issues using new UK patents microdata and a novel name-classification system. UK minority ethnic inventors are spatially concentrated, as in the USA, but have different characteristics reflecting UK-specific geography and history. I find that the diversity of inventor communities helps raise individual patenting, with suggestive influence of East Asian-origin stars. Majority inventors may benefit from multiplier effects.

The full paper is here. You can also read the working paper version, though bear in mind there are some differences to the final edit. I’ll upate this post at some point with a proper pre-print.

 

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