Discussing Local & Regional Economic Development (Like it’s 1869)

March 10, 2010

Before I start some qualitative research in the area I have to study the background. I always like to pay special attention to history. In the outstanding libraries here I have found some very interesting material, some of them quite old. I have a pearl to share.

This is from “The prospects of Vallejo; or, Evidences that Vallejo will become a great city. A re-publication of a series of articles first printed in the Vallejo evening chronicle, from March to July 1871.”  It came with a nice map, and when they gave it to me, the librarian told me: “careful, the map is falling apart”.

To put in context, the leaders of Vallejo at the time, were explaining the reasons why Vallejo was going to become a big metropolis, probably among the top 3 cities in California (being at that time the city of San Francisco their main competitor, which even though it had the 25% of the State population and the 50% of its wealth, it seemed to show some weaknesses related to economic geography issues). The articles are actually really good. In such a fashion that I think anyone could be convinced. The main reason they argue was that the train arrived to the city (direct connection from East Coast to West Coast), and that their harbour was starting to take off. During the various articles they mix the best skills of real estate, politicians, academics and marketing fellows.  Their main point was to attract capital for their harbour. Probably these guys had all the investments in their life there.

The interesting thing is the different language. Something that now would not look politically correct. Their thesis all across the articles is: 1) “the intelligent men” look for the most profitable places for their enterprises, 2) They go where they are, and 3) That’s what creates economic development (me paraphrasing).

In the following snippet, (that I think I’m the first to transcribe on the internet) they quote the magnate Horace Greeley, and then they present a rebuttal:

Horace Greeley on San Francisco

At a dinner given in New York on the 13th of October, 1869, to an excursion party of the California Pioneers, Horace Greeley having been called on to respond to the toast of “New York and California,” in the course of his remarks said:

When we speak of the present or the expected greatness of these two remarkable cities, New York and San Francisco, I bet that it will ever be remembered that great cities are the expression of great ideas that they grow out of genius men. Alexander gave his name to the city he formed, and that city bears his name and is memorable to this day. Rome is mighty because of the Senate and people that made her high and proud position – made her the Eternal City; eternal because the genius that created her still lingers over her hills, still is reflected in the sunshine that gleams on her palaces; and thus the shadows of ancient greatness recall to our minds memories and associations that make us nobler that we otherwise would be [Applause.]   If these two cities are to be great, they will be great because of the men who have still the genius to preserve and extend the advantages they have won. Had there been no De Witt Clinton, and had there been no Erie Canal, in vain would have been the central position and commercial advantages of this city. She was not the first city of America until her great men gave artificial extension and development to those advantages, and thereby fixed on her, I think, for centuries, certainly for the present age, the honored advantages of being the emporium of the Western World. If she is to maintain this position, she will do it because she will do it because she will have great men continually able to keep her in advance. As she has seized the canal, telegraph and railroad, and pressed them into her service, so she must be ready, as new inventions are presented, to seize them and turn them to her advantage. As it is with New York so will it be with San Francisco. Les us not believe that because this city has quadrupled in population in the last half century that it is in the order of things and must continue. She will maintain her position, for her great men have the power to plan new enterprises, and her great financiers shall second those efforts, and continue to keep her at the head of the commercial world. So with San Francisco. The great railroad recently achieved would never have been if there had not been men in that city who saw capacities and perceived opportunities and possibilities which the multitude did not see.

Mr. Greeley is wrong in supposing that the construction of the railroad is due to San Francisco; he is wrong in supposing that the danger to which that city is exposed (he refers to it, evidently, though he does not mention it,) could be averted by the genius of the business men; and he is wrong again in assuming that genius makes cities. It is the good site that attracts and rewards genius, and stimulates enterprise.

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