Urban vitality: the open spirit that drives economic growth

This WORKTECH Wednesday Briefing looks at new research which seeks to explain why some cities have more urban vitality than others – it’s all about the interplay between entrepreneurs and their environment

What gives a city its urban vitality, making it a great place to work? That’s a question that has intrigued city planners and politicians for decades as they seek to make decisions that put their city forward for inward investment in the best light.

Now a group of researchers have determined that it is the empowering interplay between the entrepreneurial spirit of people and the city environment that shapes urban vitality.

The research team from Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) and the University of Indiana analysed data from 362 American cities, focusing on human agency, entrepreneurial spirit and economic growth.

Their research suggests that San Francisco and Austin Texas are the places that drive the highest-impact entrepreneurship conducive to economic growth. Other cities scoring high included New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, San Jose, Riverside, Sacramento and Tampa.

‘The best-performing cities for growth are those that empower people through the environment…’

The researchers acknowledge that their ‘people-focused view on great entrepreneurial cities builds on the work by influential author, theorist, journalist and activist Jane Jacobs, who wrote the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities. The 1961 publication spearheaded a movement against a four-lane highway through New York’s Greenwich Village, dismissing the scientific rationalism of urban planning and coining metaphorical concepts such as the ‘ballet of sidewalk’ and ‘eyes on street’.

The new study, entitled Entrepreneurship in Cities and published in Research Policy, tests and extends Jacob’s theory by showing that the best-performing cities in terms of entrepreneurial growth are those that empower people through the environment.

‘They’re empowered by a physical and industrial city landscape that enables them to act in more innovative and entrepreneurial ways,’ explains Professor Martin Obschonka, director of QUT’s Australian Centre for Entrepreneurship Research and a joint author of the research. ‘The most compelling finding of our study suggests that a strong, open orientation of people in cities designed to be dense and diverse results in high-impact entrepreneurship with start-ups that have the potential to grow significantly.

‘One secret of great entrepreneurial cities seems to be that open-minded people are empowered by a city environment, bringing many similarly open-minded people together in dense and diverse places to interact, share new ideas and knowledge, and inspire creativity.’

Obschonka admits, however, that the findings need to be tested in other countries: ‘Our study describes an ideal and what cities should strive for,’ he says. ‘Future research could provide a more nuanced picture on how local populations with their unique psychological make-up interact with a structural city environment.’

The great relearning

One of the key challenges of the shift towards remote working in the pandemic has been the impact on learning and innovation. Organisations now have to rethink how they manage higher-value interpersonal work in a workforce whose attendance in the office is less predictable than before.

Learning, mentoring, innovation and ideation have been among those activities that have suffered most in the global pandemic. To guide companies in rebuilding these activities for the new working world, the next WORKTECH webinar on 3 June 2021 is called ‘Routes to Revival: Learning and Innovation in the Post-Pandemic Workplace’. Developed in partnership with WORKTECH Academy global partner Condeco, the webinar is the first in a series of ‘Condeco Conversations’ around the challenges and opportunities facing corporate real estate leaders as they plot their journey back to the office.

This webinar will feature a panel discussion between WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson, Sophie Bollier of the British Council, Marie McDermott of law firm Dentons and Simon Cohen of Condeco. Register here.

WORKTECH Global returns

Following the success of the launch of WORKTECH’s Global Virtual Conference Series in 2020, WORKTECH is bringing back the event for the second time on 15 and 16 June 2021. This event promises a truly international perspective on the future of work and workplace and draws on speakers from renowned global organisations such as JP Morgan Chase, JLL and Accenture.

The event will showcase the latest case studies in workplace design and strategy, and share insights into the most recent thinking from around the world. Find out more and register for the event here.

In our WORKTECH Wednesday Briefings, we reach out to our 10,000-plus Academy members, WORKTECH attendees, speakers, partners and sponsors while WORKTECH’s professional conference series continues through our virtual platforms. This edition is posted 2 June 2021.
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