Centres of Innovation

Our population explosion creates a hotbed of productivity.

From The City Lab at Atlantic, Emily Badger explains why ideas and wealth grow at a more powerful rate than the population of cities. As the number of residents increases, the GDP increases exponentially, as do patents. It’s been true for centuries, and researchers at MIT spent some time trying to determine the driver behind the productivity of cities

The research shows that innovation and GDP increase at a rate greater than “one-to-one” with the population. That’s called “super-linear” growth. So for every person that immigrates to a city, they bring more than their “share” of innovation. Why?

The article, “The Real Reason Cities are Centers of Innovation”, proposes the theory that it’s interaction that drives productivity by facilitating information flow and creating social ties.

"We think there’s an underlying completely different way of thinking here, which is very different from the economist’s way of thinking. It’s more fundamental than that. Cities are about people. It’s just that simple.

Wei Pan, doctoral candidate in computational social science in the MIT Media Laboratory's Human Dynamics Lab.

Economic thought usually attributes the value of cities to the proximity of manufacturing and production processes. However, using anonymous phone logs to discover the numbers of communications within cities, Wei Pan and his colleagues were able to show that the larger your city and the more dense your social ties, the greater the rate of your city’s productivity.

"What really happens when you move to a big city is you get to know a lot of different people, although they are not necessarily your 'friends’. These are the people who bring different ideas, bring different opportunities, and meetings with other great people that may help you."

There may be a point at which the benefits of large cities begin to decline, at around 40 million residents. Calgary has a lot of growing to do before we are too many – it seems we have nothing but innovation ahead of us to match our boundless growth. In fact, all the immigration we see in the Calgary Region means good news for everyone. 

The notion of super-linear growth appears in other research by Luis Bettencourt on the scaling of cities. He’s found that with each doubling of city population, each inhabitant is, on average, 15 percent wealthier, 15 percent more productive, 15 percent more innovative, regardless of the city's geography or the decade in which you pull the data.

We say, “welcome” to the newcomers! Along with the contributions of immigrants to Calgary’s success as one of the most livable cities in the world, new residents help create a larger network for relationships, opportunities for collaboration, association and innovation.

Read the original article, “The Real Reason Cities are Centers of Innovation”.

January 9th, 2015
Updated: September 14th, 2017

Our city and province are headed for innovation that grows exponentially with population increase.