The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: The American Urban System since 1940.

Authors: Michael Storper*, London School of Economics - London, Thomas Kemeny, Queen Mary University of London
Topics: Economic Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Urban Geography
Keywords: economic geography, urban growth, urban inequality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 2:25 PM / 3:40 PM
Room: Windows, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Some of today’s superstar metropolitan areas were not so just several decades ago, while other formerly prosperous city-regions have declined, some precipitously. Regional economies are buffeted by forces of change, through successive industrial revolutions and their effects on labor migration, specialization, and governance. One scholarly literature deals with overall trends toward convergence or divergence in the urban system. Another explores specific dimensions of economic performance, centering on labor, capital, and institutions and policies. Yet we have no systematic picture of how city-regions perform over time in response to such shocks. In this paper, we trace the long-run evolution of incomes for 726 commuting zones that cover the entirety of the continental U.S. We observe how initial positions in 1940 relate to subsequent economic performance up to 2017. Specifically, considering changing prosperity relative to major shifts in the distributional dynamics of the larger system, we construct groups that capture distinctive trajectories through the nearly 80-year study period. This approach yields a rich description of turbulence in the economic system, as well as new insights into the causes of success and failure that are not present in existing approaches.

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