I’m currently in Berkeley, California. Besides the good research environment I have experienced here, I came because of the city of Vallejo. Why Vallejo?

In March 2009 I went to visit our old friends the Tanners, here is Jason’s website. They picked us up in San Francisco and we were driving to his home in Folsom. While driving on I-80, he told me that this city we were driving by (Vallejo), recently declared bankruptcy. He told me it was because of the unions (the police and firefighters), they were getting super high salaries, and the city couldn’t pay them. I was like “come on, you always blame the unions. no matter if it is the car industry or the education system”. We discuss the situation for a while, and then I kept it in mind.

The Doctoral School at my university, Aalborg (Denmark), encourages PhD candidates to study abroad for one semester or so. Something I wanted, was to be able to improve my qualitative research on Local Economic Development. I also wanted to go to a place where I could communicate with any problems (sometimes in Denmark is hard for me), a Spanish speaking country or English place would be fine.  So I looked at a few possibilities in my home country, Spain, England and the U.S. But I was looking for a place somewhat similar to Frederikshavn (see Differences and Similarities between Frederikshavn and Vallejo), with an industrial history, and in the struggle of transform themselves. Besides I had to go to a fine environment research, which is what the Doctoral School wants too. That is to a good university or research center.

Fortunately I knew about Richard Walker at UC Berkeley, from some of his literature, I think his publication with Storper is the number 4 most quoted reference in the discipline of Economic Geography. But specially I knew him from listening to one of his classes on line, [that anyone can follow] or the Berkeley podcast on Economic Geography. It’s an introductory class he teaches to undergrads. Because I also have to do the same, I liked to listen to this classes while I cleaned or cooked at home. I used some of his stuff in my classes. By the way he received the Distinguished Teaching Award this semester too. At the AAG 2009 meeting, I went to thank him for putting his classes online, and the inspiration I got from him. He said I made his day :)  I think he remembered me, so when I asked him if I could visit his Dept. of Geography, he agreed to sponsored me. He’s not an expert on Local Economic Development, but his approach to it is really enriching. I’m really grateful to him, and the whole UC system here. He also has given very good insights for my PhD project and research.

So here I came in late February, and I will leave by the end of July. I like Berkeley, which by the way it’s the institution who gives more PhD degrees in the world. I’ve heard around 800 a year, so here they know how to make PhD’s. have been enjoying visiting a few classes, and I’ve learned a lot from seminars and colloquiums they always have around. The case of Vallejo is amazing, and my family is quite happy to be here visiting Berkeley.

Stay tuned, today Vallejo is the canary in the coal mine.

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I found this quote yesterday. I put it in my quotes page.

Geography


“When most people hear the word “geography,” they’re reminded of traumatic elementary school quizzes on the names of rivers, mountains ranges, and state capitals. People think of maps. But although the discipline finds its origins in Renaissance exploration and the imperial mapmakers or royal courts, contemporary geographic research has come a long way. Geographers nowadays do everything from building elaborate digital climate models of potential global warming scenarios to picking through bits of fossilized pollen to reconstruct prehistoric agricultural practices, and from tracing the light-speed flows of international capital to documenting localized effects of nature tourism on sub-Saharan village life. The discipline, in short, accommodates a wide range of research methods and topics all united by the axiom that everything happens somewhere, that all human an natural phenomena have, well, geography”

Trevor Paglen | 2009

Anyways if you wonder, what I study is local and regional local economic development. How cities and regions develop their economy. This is related to Economic Geography, and yes I also look at maps.

This week I listened to an article on NPR (American public radio) which suggests that the MBA’s were highly implicated in this economic crisis (click on “listen now” 7 min. article). If you consider that all CEO’s, CFO’s, economic planners, and many influential politicians (including presidents) had earned their MBA’s from these prestigious schools, have they not been infected with some type of hard core capitalist virus? Have they not been thinking about making profits instead of creating real wealth for the society?
Of course, the professors of business schools declare in their interviews how stupid it is to put the blame on them. Actually for me, it does not make a lot of sense to blame their education to what has been happening all around the world and all types of industries. However I would say they are guilty of something.
First of all, I should say I probably have a bias. My background is in business studies and economics, however I mingle with many economist, who having been disenchant with the mainstream economic have entered the realm of Economic Geography. When I could have done an MBA in United States or Spain, I preferred to go to Scandinavia to do a Masters of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with a good dosage of Evolutionary Economics.
Where I think they’re guilty is on not having told their student enough about economic cycles (see my previous post to get an idea). That businesses and economies come and go, surge and plunge. I have several friend in the US and Spain with MBA’s, I know their classes and I believe this is somewhat missing. I mean, it’s something really basic. You don’t grow in a linear way. Economic growth, should be more understood as Economic evolution. You can’t make a business plan of how a business it’s going to evolve. Stories that have been told for ever (the 7 fat and 7 lean cows anyone?) were discontinued. This never ending economic growth mentality, not only happened in the mentality all across the industries, also happened with the Goverments, and the majority of the citizens.
So NPR’s article while is wrong, goes in the right direction. However, many blame the economists for having created all this bubble, and not having predicted it. But I actually believe the problem is that we don’t have, in our business schools, society and government, enough real economics.

Last week was the second and final week of this course. I already commented about the first week of the course in September. I really enjoyed the format of having two separated weeks and having to write a paper in between with the course literature. It was expensive though, having to travel twice and stay two weeks to the Netherlands. But anyways it was worthy it. I highly recommend this course for any phd student interested in geography and economics. 

I really enjoyed the senior lecturers presentations, and phd presentations and the majority of all discussions. Some of them were not in my topic, but it was nice to see the new things that people are coming up around European universities. I have to admit, that a few of the papers based on hard mathematical models were too much for me. 

The most inspiring thing is to remember that Economic Geography, while it’s proud to be interdisciplany, we have to remember that it is A discipline. It’s really exciting how geographers study the economy. Not all are trained geographers, in fact the majority come from other fields, such as history, political science, architecture, urban planning, engineering, or economics-business like me. 

I will also like to share some link that might interest you. 

Ron Boschma’s site with information about the course

EconGeo Network about Economic Geography Academics

 

This is the view from the room where the course was held

This is the view from the room where the course was held

Today finished the PhD Course on Economic Geography, in the Utrecht University. It was from September 9 to today, September 12, 2008. Actually this is only the first part, in early November we will gather for the second week. Between the weeks, we have to write a paper which is supposed to be inspired by the literature of the course. The local organizer is Ron Boschma and the guest lecturers are Bjørn Asheim (Lund University), Stefano Breschi (Bocconi University), Koen Frenken (Utrecht University), Meric Gertler (Toronto University), Elisa Giuliani (Pisa University), Gernot Grabher (Bonn University), Udo Staber (Canterbury University), Mario Maggioni (Catholic University Milano), Anders Malmberg (Uppsala University), Ron Martin (Cambridge University), Allen Scott (UCLA) and Phil Cooke (Cardiff University and Aalborg University), which is my beloved secondary supervisor.

It’s an outstanding group of researchers, it’s really nice from them to be willing to teach us. The course had 25 available slots for PhD students. Out of them, only 5 were from the home University, the rest were students from all over Europe, and even one from Chile and another from China (from a British and a German University respectively). There was a very good atmosphere, and so far the course has been very constructive. I really enjoyed the format of the organization. Ron Boschma has done a remarkable job being able to bring such recognized professors, and the participation of the students.

Listening to these senior researchers it’s very good. I have to admit that in some cases I read their papers several times and I only got some ideas, but then listening to them, it’s another world. This not only makes you better understand the issues, but it spurs your creativity. Besides the participation of the professors, every PhD student (some in September and others in November), has the opportunity to present a paper (usually close related to his main PhD thesis), and have the feedback of another of the PhD students (junior discussant) and one of the senior discussants. Then there is time for everyone to comment on his/her work.

All of us, we’re happy to present our project, but I think were a little bit afraid to get a hard critic, especially from the senior discussant. I was the youngest PhD student (for the PhD starting date), therefore my project is the early phases, and it’s normal to get all kind of “constructive criticism”. I might rather have all these suggestions and critics in the beginning than let’s say for someone who started its PhD in 2003. Imagine something like “well, someone has already published about this issue, and contradicts your research” (after several years of study in about to do your PhD defence)… Not a pleasant situation! J

The main problem I have with my projects is the common misunderstanding between academics/scientists and policy makers. It’s like the yin-yan. My project is financed by policy makers of local level, and my team project is basically formed by government officials at local and regional level. My project needs to work for them in all senses. For example, they are interested in the “experience economy”, a catchy concept in Scandinavia. But, I would also like to publish my work in an academic journal, a term like “experience economy”, which government officials like, does not go well for the majority of the scholars. They rather have me talk about the analytical, synthetic and symbolic knowledge bases (P Cooke, L Leydesdorff – The Journal of Technology Transfer, 2006; B Asheim, L Coenen, J Moodysson, J Vang – International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management, 2007), which I think it would be a great idea, but I also believe that my project team could be somewhat confused or bored, if I start talking about deep academic subjects. So my challenge is to keep my project interesting for both policy makers and academics… and of course… me..!   

Anyways, I am very grateful for all the course and I’m looking forward for the November week. I already have some ideas for the upcoming paper. Let’s see if it works.

Three scholars

August 8, 2008

During these week for different reasons I have found articles and books written by Zoltan J. Acs. I have to admit, that I have not read his work too much (until these last days), but I’m currently overwhelmed with his work. Right now, I’m reading his latest book “Entrepreneurship, Growth and Public Policy” (2008) in which he compiles various articles. 

I know I have read things from him, but I guess I’m now in the process that any research goes through, rediscovering authors. 

Another book, that I have in my desk and it’s an interesting reading, (less academic than the previous), is another 2008 book. “The Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths That Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By”. This book is written by Scott A. Shane. Many things he writes I have already studied and know, but is a nice way how he puts it. He writes very well too.

I’m also deeply grateful to all the material than my former professor and the secondary supervisor of my master thesis, has on his website. I need to write him, I don’t think he knows I started a phd. He’s Dr. Philip Shapira. One of the smartest teachers I’ve ever had. His notes are coming at handy when I start teaching soon.   

p.s. Today is 8-8-8, and it was the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

I just read the book “Who’s Your City” by Richard Florida (2008). He basically builds upon the theories he explained in his last books (2002 and 2005) and recent articles. For the record, I have to say that since I read “The Rise of the Creative Class”, as a mandatory reading for an Economic Development Class at Georgia Tech, I did not like his “theories”. However, the more that I read from him I think he has some very good points.

I already watched a video of a recent presentation, so many things he said were familiar to me. I put a link to the website of the book. Here I’m writing some of the things that I considered while I was reading the book. I will later share other ideas about the book.

 

This is NOT a book review.

Because the book was published in 2008, it was nice to read updated information. The idea of the mega-region or megacity is very compelling. I’m sure that anyone reading his book has to believe that, if interested in innovation, there is not a chance to avoid living in a big metropolis. Besides, “the share of the world’s population living in urban areas increased from just 3% in 1800 to 14% in 1900. By 1950, it had reached 30%. Today, this number stands at more than 50%. In the advanced countries, three-quarters of people live in urban areas.” (p. 18-19, quoting UN reports)

Although I do not fully agree with his explanation about the economic growth theory (p. 61-67), I found it very useful. He explains how the economy is tied to geography since prehistorical times. He quotes A. Smith, D. Ricardo, A. Marshall, Schumpeter, R. Solow, P. Romer and finalizing with Jane Jacobs. I have read some of each one, but I have never read anything from Jacobs, so I think her book “The economy of cities” is going to be in my list, although for now, the insights of Florida will do.

 

People: Rooted or Mobile?

Another thing of the book I found interesting was his concept of the people who are rooted or mobile (although I think income per capita has a big influence). Something that really shocked me was that 40 million people in the U.S. who move every year; 15 million make significant moves of more than 50 or 100 miles (p. 6) Of the people who move, 52% of them do it to find new housing (up/down grade, etc.). Another 26% say the move for family reasons and a 15% of the Americans move on account of work (p.83-84). Florida says “Still the notion that we move for job persists, despite evidence of the contrary. Ever since I became interested in the question of how people choose where they live and work, I’ve routinely asked my students where they plan to go after graduation”.

After reading this I wonder how big the difference in Europe is. How many million Europeans travel more than 100 kilometers a year? My first thinking is that only a tiny fraction of the American 15 million. I also wonder how many of them don’t do it for job purposes. However, I keep finding more and more younger people who might break this European historical trend. For example, my younger brother and wife just graduated from the university, I asked them where they would like to move, and they had consistent answers with what Florida describes. My brother would like to move in Paris, but not to hypothetical well paid job in Teruel, Spain. In fact not only my brother, many other students here in Denmark that I asked, want to move to cool places, referring to Copenhagen, Berlin, London. For the record my sister in law would like to move back to her native city, which explains the value given to live close to family and friends. This relates to the 2007 study by Powdthavee, which says that you should make 85,000 GBP a year, just to make up for the lack of unhappiness you feel from being far from family and friends (p.87)

 

Do you really want your city to grow?

Florida also addresses one of my doubts, that is, when cool places keep attracting people, there is a moment when certain population of the creative class — the ones that are not well paid, that is musicians, bohemians, etc, against engineers, architects, etc. —  can not afford to live in a more demanded area. Then what happens; can still this city be creative? He answers “escalating real state prices can inhibit innovation” (p. 140).

 

Here lays a conundrum of urban development. Many small cities dream to grow, in fact they are loosing population and they’re afraid they will disappear. All of them dream of glorious past times when the city was in the map. They want their young people to stay, their population to grow and the employment to thrive. However, no matter what they do they keep getting small. Then in the other hand we have other small cities, that for x or y reasons they keep getting bigger and bigger, growing and growing. For example, the project that I’m involved in is Frederikshavn, a provincial city in north Denmark, that has been decreasing in importance during the last decades. I compare this city with my hometown, Alcalá de Henares. A city that has been growing to a tremendous rate. People are happy that there is more money in the city, and unemployment is low. In the case of Frederikshavn, the housing is extremely cheap, while in Alcala is extremely expensive, this gets accentuated comparing by their income averages. That is, I guess that in Frederikshavn people use 25% of their income in housing while in Alcala the expense more than a 50%. But is there a limit? Perhaps we have already reached it. Policy makers in each city have a tremendous role to keep the city alive (Florida explains this in the section “leaders of squelchers” p. 180-181).

It’s a question to analyze if a city really wants to grow or not. I think this should be the first question for a running mayor. Do you want the city to grow? At what cost?

 

In a city like Frederikshavn, they would love to see their houses prices rise. But what happen when people keep moving in, and moving in and housing prices became prohibitively expensive? In certain way that’s what happened to me. I had a nice consulting job in Alcala, close to my family, but my wife and I were not willing to pay  300.000 Euros for a small two bedroom apartment. Many people like me, either leave the city or live there struggling. Therefore a city should be careful with what they ask for. Population pyramids, immigration and industrial trends need to be considered.

 

Something between own and rent

Florida considers that the idea of homeownership might belong to an expired industrial era (p. 142-143). Everyone says that renting is throwing the money out of the window, while buying a home is probably the hardest decision to take in someone’s life –“where”- (although it impact you more, choosing what to study right after high school –“what”-  or falling in love with someone –“who”- , does not seem very analyzed decisions). Buying a house limits yours mobility.

 

He follows “The creative age may well require alternative forms of housing – something between ownership and renting”. It’s quite interesting that this type of housing already exists in Denmark, this is cooperatives or Andelsbolig (Andel means “a part of something” and Bolig means apartment or house). I found this type of housing an excellent option and we have been seriously looking at several andelsbolig. To the best of my knowledge this form of housing does not exist neither in Spain, Germany, USA nor Latin America. I wish they had this type of housing more widespread everywhere. I think Florida got it right on this one.

 

Another main subject of the book that I can mention is the “Geography of Happiness”, an exciting subject, although obviously somewhat shaky. I also enjoyed reading about the different rankings for places where to live.

I will later use some of its argument, quotations and bibliography for my work. I’m grateful for his work.