Invisible, Productive, and Problem Cities
  • John R. Harris
Part of the Environment, Development, and Public Policy book series (EDPC)


When Lloyd Rodwin first asked me to write about the “image of the city” as it has emerged and changed within the discipline of economics, I was taken aback. Although it is quite permissible and even fashionable for architects and planners to talk in terms of “images,” we practitioners of the dismal science retreat from such trendy terms and instead pontificate in terms of models. However, a little reflection and encouragement from colleagues persuaded me that most of our models are, in fact, images, even though expressed in abstruse mathematics and turgid prose. After all, an image, too, is an abstraction intended to convey the essence if not the palpable substance of some reality.


Public Choice Contemporary Problem Market Failure Urban Economic Agglomeration Economy 
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  1. 3.
    Ricardo, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation (Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, 1963) (originally published, 1817); Mill, Principles of Political Economy,6th ed. (London, 1865); Marx, Capital and Other Writings (New York: Modern Library edition, 1948) (original in German, 1867–1894; first translation in English, 1905). See M. Blaug, Economic Theory in Retrospect (Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, 1962), for a lucid and readable account of the development of economic thought.Google Scholar
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    It is interesting to note that neither Schumpeter nor Blaug mentioned the American institutionalists, although Schumpeter made a brief reference to the resistance of the German institutional and historical school to the marginalist revolution at the turn of the century. The slight was intentional, because it was true that the institutionalists were in principle opposed to the development of general economic theory divorced from specific institutional and historical context. The basic conflict was between inductive and deductive methods. The American institutionalists were based principally at the University of Wisconsin, and the leader was John R. Commons. They were, in fact, the dominant founders of the American Economic Association, but they were eclipsed by the theorists in the 1920s. I have not found a good systematic account of the institutionalist contributions—the whole subject is part of the underground lore absorbed by graduate students in modern economics programs.Google Scholar
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    The nodal function has been emphasized by geographers and appears in Alan Pred, The Spatial Dynamics of U.S. Urban-Industrial Growth 1800–1914: Interpretative and Theoretical Essays (Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1966), and in the basic work in regional science which combined the quantitative aspects of geography and economics by Walter Isard, Location and Space-Economy ( Cambridge: M.I.T. Press, 1956 ).Google Scholar
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    See particularly Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961), for an extreme view on the central role of cities. Vernon, Metropolis 1985 (New York: Doubleday, 1960)—reports on the massive work of a team examining the functions and future of New York, which make explicit fbr the first time the innovation–incubation effect; Benjamin Chinitz, “Contrasts in Agglomeration: New York and Pittsburgh,” American Economic Review (May 1961), draws conclusions about urban economic structure and innovation. Robert Leone and Raymond Struyk, “The Incubator Hypothesis: Evidence from Five SMSAs,” Urban Studies v. 13, no. 3 (Oct. 1976) pp.:325–31 is the most systematic attempt to test these propositions quantitatively—success has been limited, at best.Google Scholar
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    The classic article is by Charles Tiebout, “A Pure Theory of Local Expenditure,” Journal of Political Economy,64 (1956). A more recent conceptualization is James Buchanan, “Principles of Urban Fiscal Strategy,” Public Choice (Fall 1971) 1–16.Google Scholar
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    Tolley, Graves, and Gardner, Urban Growth Policy in a Market Economy ( New York: Academic Press, 1979 ).Google Scholar
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    See Richard F. Muth, Urban Economic Problems ( New York: Harper & Row, 1975 ).Google Scholar
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    A good discussion is fi und in Muth, op. cit.,chs. 2, 3, 4, and 6. See also Bennet Harrison, Urban Economic Development (Washington: The Urban Institute, 1974) and David M. Gordon, Problems in Political Economy: An Urban Perspective (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath).Google Scholar
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    Leon Moses and H. F. Williamson, Jr., “The Location of Economic Activity in Cities,” The American Economic Review (May 1967): 211–22 provide an explanation in terms of changing relative transport costs of moving freight and moving people; see Harrison, op. cit. for a careful treatment of these problems.Google Scholar
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    See Jerome Rothenberg, “Strategic Interactions and Resource Allocation in Metropolitan Intergovernmental Relations,” The American Economic Review, 59 (1969): 495–504 and “Local Decentralization and the Theory of Optimal Government,” in J. Margolis, ed., The Analysis of Public Output ( New York: Columbia University Press, 1970 ).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • John R. Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.African Studies CenterBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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