Friday, 27 April 2012

The quality of places

Earlier this week the Future Cape Town blog linked to an interesting article in The Urban Times online magazine. It makes the argument that cities, through agglomeration economies, drive growth. The article goes on to say that cities also have a complex social life and 
"the quality of that place matters – the range and affordability of housing, the job opportunities, the schools, health care and public transport – because it shapes day-to-day life and long-term opportunities".
The rest is a nice explanation of the value of the local community and of making the built environment greener. Well worth the read. There is also a South African perspective on this. Prof Valerie Moller has published extensively on the quality of life and quality of place in South Africa.

A few year ago I also collaborated with colleagues Wim Naudé and Stephanie Rossouw for a paper on the non-monetary quality of city life in South Africa. Simple socio-economic profiles showed that there were clear differences between South Africa's metropolitan cities.

We were interested in distinguishing between cities' economic quality of life, the higher wages and incomes due to higher productivity, and non-economic quality of life due to the scenery, climate, low crime rate etc. The analysis involved a regression model of income per capita on the human development index and we used the residual to construct an own index of non-monetary quality of life. The residual captures the well-being achieved independently of income. The details of the analysis are explained in the paper.

The results showed that although Johannesburg was ranked 1st in 2004 in terms of economic quality of life (using per capita income), it was only ranked 5th in terms of the residuals from the HDI, and 2nd in terms of the residuals from the new index constructed above. The City of Tshwane (Pretoria) is likewise ‘underperforming’ in terms of the non-monetary quality of life as measured by both the residuals from the HDI and this paper’s own index. Specifically, Tshwane is ranked the worst (6th) according to both measures. In contrast, the City of Cape Town is ranked 1st in South Africa on both estimates of the non-monetary quality of life,  although in terms of per capita income it can only be ranked 4th in South Africa. Ekurhuleni (East Rand) and Durban’s performances seem to be on average: their per capita income ranking place them respectively in 3rd and 5th place, similar to their non-monetary quality of life rankings.

Our point is that even with the limited data available in South Africa, there are ways to measure the ability of place to translate income gains into non-monetary quality of life.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, the South African Academy of Science and Arts is hosting a one-day workshop on quality of life on the 22nd of June in Pretoria. For more info contact 

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Art and urban renewal, visiting 798 in Beijing

I am back from a quick visit to Beijing and lectures at the Beijing Foreign Studies University. The trip just confirmed my addictions to coffee and social media, but I also loved the buzz of the city, friendly people and tasty food.

There is a lot to say about cities and agglomeration in China. After a week I was still slightly lost and it felt like there is always more Beijing just across the horizon, but it was very interesting.

One of the places we visited was the 798 district. It is an old industrial area that has been converted into an arts district with galleries, cool little shops and restaurants. The scale is huge. In other places this would be a few streets and one anchor site, but in Beijing it really is a whole district. I have not read anything about this particular site, the impacts or future plans, but enjoyed it a lot to walk around in ruined old factories and see lots of sculptures, galleries with paintings and shops filled with kitch and cool souvenirs. It is a photographer's dream.

Monday, 9 April 2012

A few good posts: New cities, place-dependent output and SEZs in Africa

I came across three good blog posts on economic geography today and would like to recommend the further reading. 

At the Marginal Revolution blog Alex Tabarrok linked to a new Credit Suisse report, Opportunities in an urbanizing world. He highlights the close association between US state level GDP and the urbanization rate and shows that urban dwellers generate much lower levels of CO2 emissions per GDP per capita:

At the Economist's Free exchange blog Ryan Avent writes that modern economic growth is inextricably linked to agglomeration. He argues that the driving forces are rural-urban migration and the idea generating capacity of cities (the city as workshop). He finishes up with the following:
" can make people wealthy by making places wealthy OR by moving people to wealthy places. It is a very funny (and not funny ha ha) characteristic of economics, that it seems to focus overwhelmingly—indeed, almost exclusively—on trying to figure out the former, even though the historical record of success is much greater for the latter".
This ties in with a Let's talk development blog by the World Bank's chief economist on SEZs in Africa. Policymakers have recently launched a new wave of spatially targeted initiatives, but caution is required. Earlier initiatives failed due to to poor governance, a lack of institutional framework and political commitment, weak implementation capacity, and a lack of proper monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. The blog goes on to argue that Africa needs a new SEZ strategy that builds on a number of thrusts:
  • Stronger stakeholder ownership.
  • Better business environment inside the zone.
  • Starting small.
  • Flexibility and autonomy at local level.
  • Technology transfer and skills training.
  • Better linkages with the local economy.
  • Clear objectives with sound benchmarking and competition.
These could be criteria for many of the local SEZ initiatives recently published by the DTI. Is it sensible to try to make the economy grow at Coega, or should more people move to Gauteng? Can we tick this list for a fuel cell cluster in the North West?

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Blog log 3/6

I'm halfway theeere, living on a prayer! Three months of sabbatical done and three left to go. In March the highlight was moving house and I have spent more time at the hardware store than at the office. We have everything at the new place now and there is only some unpacking left to do. I'm happy that I also have a few outputs to report:
   1x    Masters dissertation examined
   1x    final report of the InvestNW report
   7x    blog posts
 68x    tweets
   1     more article submitted
   1     Masters student submitted for September graduation (congrats Clarissa)
   1     Masters student working hard to submit for September graduation (keep going Marlize!)