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    How friendships and networks matter for urban economic development

    By Naji P Makarem, on 23 June 2016

    Why do some cities perform so much better than others? According to new research from, Naji P. Makarem, it’s not just down to their resources – both human and physical – but also how people and organisations interact and work together. In studying social relations in business communities, he finds that while San Francisco’s diverse and connected social structure has allowed the Bay Area to withstand new economic challenges, Los Angeles’ comparable regional network has not been able to maintain its connectivity, which has led to relatively poorer economic outcomes for the city. 

     

    “If I’ve learned anything in the last seven years, it’s that ideas live

    less in the minds of individuals than in the interaction of communities”

    (Fred Turner, 2006-p.VII)

     

    Economists attribute economic performance – growth in output, employment and wages – to initial factor endowments, such as educated workers, patented inventions, lucrative industries, good infrastructure, property rights and excellent public services. This makes sense to the extent that cities with higher levels of these factors are undoubtedly better equipped to grow their economies and incomes. But if we stop to think how these factor endowments produce economic growth and respond to technological, market and political shocks, challenges and opportunities, the picture becomes more complex, dynamic and social.

     

    A closer look reveals the diversity of individual and organisational actors in economic development processes. Such a sociological perspective focusses on individuals and their ideas, knowledge, cultures, world views, interactions and social relations; firms and their practices, strategies, cultures, structures, technologies, capabilities, networks and social responsibility; financial institutions and their lending practices and risk strategies; formal institutions and their laws, regulations, policies, public services, bureaucracy, infrastructure investments, incentives and power relations; and civic organisations such as charities, community-benefit organizations, private foundations, unions and business associations.

     

    A dynamic perspective reveals how individuals and organisations interact to combine and re-combine ideas, knowledge, capabilities, assets and resources into novel combinations in pursuit of lucrative opportunities. Such interaction and re-combination in response to market challenges and opportunities is enabled and constrained by two intrinsically-linked aspects of institutions: The social networks in which actors are embedded, and their formal and informal ‘rules of the game’. Entrepreneurship and investments in a region emerge from this interaction and re-combination in the face of challenges and opportunities, steering urban industrial structures down specific industrial pathways, with its consequent impact on employment, wages and public revenues.

     

    In a new study, I focus on one of these two institutional aspects of urban economies: The structure of social relations in high-end business communities. The economic sociology literature investigates how entrepreneurial and innovative contexts are associated with more connected, diverse and central social structures. While this has been researched using network analysis techniques at the scale of sub-regional industrial clusters, entrepreneurial communities and small cities, it has never been tested at the scale of large metropolitan regions.

     

    To fill this gap in the literature, directorate research was used as a proxy for the social structure of the business community in two large metropolitan regions, the Bay Area and Southern California, whose per capita incomes diverged significantly between 1980 and 2010 (Table 1). This case selection within the State of California to a great extent controls for differences in formal government institutions, broad-stroke cultural and linguistic attributes, climate and geographic location, infrastructure, amenities and distance from the technological frontier.

     

    Table 1 – Per Capita Incomes in the LA and Bay Area CMSAs, 1980 and 2010

    Picture1

    Source: Author’s calculations using BRR data.

    My analysis reveals that both networks were almost identical and highly connected back in 1982. Figure 1 below shows that the largest component (a fully connected network of nodes, whereby each node is linked to at least one other node) in both networks included over 50 percent of the 70 sampled firms.

     

    Figure 1 – LA and SF networks of board interlocks, 1980.

    Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

    Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

     

    Over the subsequent three decades of economic divergence however, their network structures also diverged. While the Bay Area’s maintained and even increased its level of connectivity, the LA region’s network fragmented by 2010, with a mere 20 percent of firms in its largest component (Figure 2).

     

    Figure 2 – Percentage of sampled firms in largest component, by year, LA Vs SF

    Source: Author‘s calculation, number of interlocked firms in each network‘s largest component as a percentage of all firms in the sample.

    Source: Author‘s calculation, number of interlocked firms in each network‘s largest component as a percentage of all firms in the sample.

     

    Figure 3 shows the two networks in 2010, clearly highlighting the connectivity in the Bay Area (SF) and the fragmentation in Southern California (LA).

     

    Figure 3 – LA and SF networks of board interlock, 2010

    Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

    Source: Author’s calculations using UCINET and NET-Draw.

     

    Turning to the degree of diversity, the two networks were found to be equally diverse in 1982, however by 2010 while the Bay Area network had maintained its high level of diversity, LA’s had declined substantially, despite having more industries represented in its 2010 network. While the Bay Area’s high-end corporate social structure maintained its high level of connectivity and diversity over the three decades of economic divergence, LA’s became less connected and less diverse.

     

    The analysis of centrality of business-civic associations, whose role it is to represent the needs of the business community, is equally revealing. The results on a broadened network (which included the 50 largest Private Foundations in each region) shows the Bay Area Council in the Bay Area to be the most central organization in the network, with an nBetweeness score of 18 percent (i.e. The Bay Area Council lies on 18 percent of the shortest paths between all node pairs in the largest component). This is three times greater than the LA Chamber of Commerce, the most central business-civic organisation in the LA network with an nBetweeness score of 5.86 percent. The Bay Area Council arguably plays the role of an ‘anchor tenant’ within the region’s industrial social structure, connecting business leaders across industrial categories. No comparable business-civic organisation exists in LA.

     

    The Bay Area’s connected and diverse social structure withstood the tumultuous challenges brought about by the New Economy, and successfully combined and re-combined its ideas, knowledge, capabilities, assets and resources in response to these challenges and opportunities. It successfully produced new firms and technologies that carved new industrial pathways in IT, biotechnology and supporting services such as venture capital and specialized legal services. The interactions behind such productive recombination were embedded in a connected, diverse and central high-end corporate social structure. LA’s comparable regional network on the other hand was unable to maintain its connectivity and diversity, and failed to productively combine and re-combine regional endowments in the face of a rapidly changing economic reality.

     

    While my study sheds light on the network dimension of regional business institutions, our co-authored book investigates perceptions and world views of various public, private and civic actors, revealing further notable differences. Policy makers and business and civic leaders may draw from this research by focusing attention on the social architecture behind their industrial structures. Business-civic associations in particular may play a central role in bringing influential business leaders from across industries to interact and think about their regional economies and their collective challenges and opportunities.

     

    This article is based on the paper, ‘Social networks and regional economic development: the Los Angeles and Bay Area metropolitan regions, 1980–2010’ in Environment and Planning C Government and Policy.

    Disclaimer: This blog was also posted in USAPP (An LSE Blog)


     

    Naji P. Makarem is co-director of the Msc. Urban Economic Development at the Bartlett School’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) at UCL, and a lecturer in Political Economy of Development.

    Citywide upgrading strategies in Phnom Penh, Cambodia: three years of engagement

    By Giovanna Astolfo, on 23 May 2016

    In a famous picture of Phnom Penh in 1979, two children stand in the foreground looking steadily at the camera, while behind them the city, once the ‘pearl of Asia’, is nothing but a desolated and spectral bunch of abandoned buildings. The urban history of the capital of Cambodia is demarcated by iterative evacuations and expulsions of its population. Although there is no agreement on numbers and scale of the phenomenon, the first evacuation took place in Phnom Penh during the Pol Pot regime. The vast majority of the urban population was forcibly deported to the countryside, in order to fulfil the utopia of a rural Kampuchea and a classless agrarian society; while public buildings, cultural and institutional symbols, were emptied, abandoned and eventually destroyed in what can be referred to as urbicide, an act of extreme violence towards the city and what it represents for its people.

    At the end of the war, people returned to Phnom Penh. As refugees in their own city, they occupied abandoned buildings or settled in unregulated land. When, two decades later, Cambodia opened to the global market, and new foreign investments flew into the city, that land became attractive to the appetite of new developers. As a consequence, entire communities were brutally evicted and forcibly moved to peripheral areas. Relocations took place from the 90s to ‐ officially ‐ the early 2010s. Over this period, with more than 50 relocation sites around Phnom Penh, the relocation process has become the main way to produce the city.

    Today, urban planning is still not high in the national agenda (there is a city strategy plan which level of implementation is hard to grasp and local investment plans which consider private development only), while the housing policy (released in 2014) is poorly articulated and not yet implemented. Although a social housing policy (programme) for low income people is under study, the housing needs of the poor are not addressed. In general terms, local government is not much interfering in the land market; such a laissez faire approach is favouring private-sector development, with no alternative for the poor. As the land on the market is not accessible to them, poor communities keep occupying public or private interstitial land along canals and unused infrastructure, mostly vulnerable and prone to flooding, while gated communities and satellite cities are growing in number. Given that 50% of the urban population are below the poverty line, who can afford these houses? Gated communities are probably aimed at a middle class that still does not exists or better to foreigners and officials that are part of a highly corrupted political system.

    Looking inward: challenges at site level. Smor San community, Chbar Ampov district, Phnom Penh, settled since the 1970s on a graveyard. Pictures by Catalina Ortiz.

    Looking inward: challenges at site level. Smor San community, Chbar Ampov district, Phnom Penh, settled since the 1970s on a graveyard. Pictures by Catalina Ortiz.

    Most of the sites selected for the MSc BUDD fieldtrip – taking place in Phnom Penh for the third consecutive year – reveal aspects and nuances of these urban processes. Particularly, Pong Ro Senchey and Steung Kombot communities are informal settlements on narrow strips of public land stretched between private properties waiting for redevelopment; while Smor San settlement is located on a graveyard. By learning from the unique approach of our partners, Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), Community Architects Cambodia (CAN-CAM), and Community Development Foundation (CDF), and from the people in each community, BUDD students, divided into three groups and joined by local students of architecture and urbanism, by UN intern and representative of the housing department, worked for five days in the three sites. Five days of emotionally intense engagement with the people and the context, trying to identify needs and aspirations, while unpacking the complex power relations within the government, digging into the legal and normative frameworks to understand how to ‘break the vertical’ and to disclose the potential for change.

    After working with the communities to develop site upgrading strategies, the students were asked to produce an ulterior effort, that of looking across the different sites (and for this purpose the original groups have been reshuffled into new groups each one including at least two members from each site group) to address what we call ‘citywide upgrading’. This is a difficult and ambitious task, as it encompasses the multidimensionality of urban issues at the political, social, spatial and economic levels. Particularly, it calls for a multi-scalar reasoning and strategising that takes into consideration the community singularity and agency as well as the national policy framework in which community action needs to be framed. The scaling up of site upgrading strategies does not happen in a merely quantitative manner (i.e. iteration of a similar strategy), but rather considering the city as a wider community, where spatial proximity is replaced by shared practices and interests. Citywide upgrading is at the core of the BUDD pedagogy, and although this is not a new theory, BUDD students are currently contributing to its redefinition as a development theory for the poor, deeply embedded into the practice of ACHR and CAN.

    Engaging the community to identify priorities for upgrading in Steung Kombot, Russey Keo district. Pictures by Giorgio Talocci

    Engaging the community to identify priorities for upgrading in Steung Kombot, Russey Keo district. Pictures by Giorgio Talocci

    Amongst the principles for citywide upgrading, three seem to be crucial.

    First, to include the urban poor in the ongoing development. While Phnom Penh is witnessing fast urbanisation and growth, poor people are still uninscribed in such growth. How to capture and redistribute the profits and benefits? How to dismantle the hierarchical system that is at the basis of unequal development?

    Secondly, to question the regulatory role of state authority. Although the government is merely indulging in highly corrupted laissez faire, legal and policy frameworks exist (for instance, art. 5 of the housing policy includes onsite upgrading). The question is how to implement them? How to monitor the implementation through accountable mechanisms?

    Third, to address the aid dependency and foster self determination of the communities. This stems from the acknowledgement of existing potential: the people knowledge, skills, technology and capital. How to achieve political recognition? How to increase the visibility of people processes?

     

    BUDD and Khmer students @work learning from each other. Pictures by Giorgio Talocci/Giovanna Astolfo

    BUDD and Khmer students @work learning from each other. Pictures by Giorgio Talocci/Giovanna Astolfo

    The above questions have been addressed through small, short or long term, concrete actions such as: environmental upgrading particularly related to flooding risk (households repeatedly affected by seasonal flooding or flooding related to climate change and land development, can access to new grants for upgrading); online knowledge platforms (as people are increasingly connected, online platforms can ensure easy and fast access to knowledge, and data collection and sharing; such platforms can be accessible also to NGOs and local authority); network upgrading fund (as private development is happening, social responsibility can be strengthen, for instance through new funding schemes sourced from the private sector and led by people); social ombudsman (in order to ensure the inclusion of the community as well as the transparency of the decision making process, the implementation of policy and scrutiny of the process).

    As in the previous two years, strategies have been publicly presented by students and representatives of the communities, serving as a platform to advocate ‘the cause’ with national and local authorities. As political recognition remains one of the main challenges that the communities in Phnom Penh face, after three years of engagement, the ‘cumulative impacts’ of the work developed by BUDD with local partners has inspired a young and strong generation of architects equipped to take up the challenge of a more just future for our cities

    Presentations to the local authorities in Khan (district of) Por Senchey and Russey Keo. Pictures by Giorgio Talocci/Giovanna Astolfo

    Presentations to the local authorities in Khan (district of) Por Senchey and Russey Keo. Pictures by Giorgio Talocci/Giovanna Astolfo

     


    Giovanna Astolfo is a teaching fellow at the MSc Building and Urban Design for Development, she recently joined students on overseas fieldwork in Cambodia. This is the third year that the MSc BUDD has visited Cambodia, continuing a collaboration with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and Community Architects Network Cambodia

    If Habitat III wants to uphold the right to housing, it needs to address financialization

    By Rafaella Simas Lima, on 11 May 2016

    At the start of April, a number of civil society groups, members of NGOs and activists from across Europe met in Barcelona for the European meeting of the Global Platform for the Right to the City. This was in part to complement the Habitat III meeting on Public Space that was to take place later that week. Habitat III will be the third installment of the UN conference on human settlements, held every 20 years. At this Global Platform meeting in Barcelona, priorities relating to the ‘Right to the City’ in Europe and strategic aims for Habitat III, to take place in Quito this October, were discussed.

    Global Platform for the Right to the City meeting in Barcelona

    Global Platform of the Right to the City meeting in Barcelona

    One of the main issues that emerged in the Global Platform meeting was the financialization of real estate. Financialization can be defined as a “pattern of accumulation in which profit-making occurs increasingly through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production” (Aalbers 2009, p. 284). The financialization of housing refers specifically to the linking of housing markets with finance markets, where housing is viewed primarily as a financial good. This is what allows banks to speculate on land and housing, which causes house prices to rise far beyond what most people can afford. The linking of mortgages with financial products, especially in the United States, was a central factor in the 2008 economic crisis that had catastrophic effects across the globe.

    In a working group on the topic, participants exchanged experiences of how financialization has manifested in their respective countries. A member of the Plataforma de Afectados por la Hipoteca (Platform for people affected by mortgages) in Barcelona summarized the particularly dire situation in Spain, where over 400,000 evictions have taken place since 2008. While each European country has its own unique context, many common themes emerged, such as speculation, inflated housing prices, empty homes, the selling off of social housing, and an increase in evictions and displacement. These phenomena were linked to a systematic eroding of regulations that have allowed the financial sector to exploit housing for profit.

    An open letter to the Habitat III Secretariat signed by members of the Global Platform points to the connection between the 2008 financial crisis and its context of housing financialization, a topic which it says is strikingly absent from Habitat III documents thus far. The letter asserts that land and housing must be treated as goods for people and not for profit. In this vein, the signatories call for a new Habitat III policy unit to be set up that focuses on the global financialization of real estate, to provide recommendations for the social and political regulation of real estate markets and actors.

    But at the moment, as the letter states, Habitat III documents do not seem to be dealing with the issue. The Policy Paper on Housing Policies, an official input into Habitat III, states that “Housing stands at the center of the New Urban Agenda”. It re-affirms UN Member states’ commitment to the right to housing, which it says must be adequate and affordable, with security of tenure. Yet in the 74 pages of the document, financialization is not once mentioned. In a section on affordable housing, there is reference to the financial crisis, and to the increase in mortgage debt and repossession of homes, especially in Europe (p.10). The global estimate that 330 million households are currently financially stretched by housing costs is also provided. But this section concludes with “Nearly half of the housing deficit in urban areas is attributable to the high cost of homes, and to the lack of access to financing” (p. 10).

    In this sense, rising house prices are presented as a natural and uncontestable process, with the core problem simply being that many people do not have access to housing finance. There is no questioning of why house prices are allowed to rise at such a rate in the first place, nor is there acknowledgement of the role of the financial sector in inflating real estate values. The report mentions how vulnerable groups are traditionally excluded from home ownership and rental markets, implying that the solution to the housing deficit is to get more people in on this market. (The paper seems to ignore the phenomenon of sub-prime or predatory lending integral to the 2008 crisis, where vulnerable groups were not excluded, but explicitly targeted for mortgage loans.) Overall, the focus is on the individual requirements needed to access housing, and not on structural factors and the institutions responsible for shaping access to housing.

    Given the very limited diagnosis analysis of the situation, the paper’s proposed policy solutions largely miss the point. The report states that to “To provide affordable housing, the private sector requires incentives (adequate capital and financial returns) and an enabling environment (development process and public policy)” (pp. 22-23). In other words, the financial institutions and private developers who are largely responsible for the massive housing crisis do not need to re-examine any of their practices; rather, the public needs to provide incentives for them to build “affordable” housing because the relentless profit motive of private developers and financial institutions cannot be challenged. In addition, the public sector must provide an “enabling environment” for the private sector to do its work, as if it has not already been doing so by implementing neoliberal policies to slash regulation of lending and speculation.

    To address the assumed core problem of people with limited or no access to credit for housing, the policy paper states “housing finance and microfinance should be integrated into the broader financial system in order to mobilize more resources, both domestically and internationally”(p. 21). This statement ignores the extent to which housing finance has already been integrated into the financial system, and what disastrous effects this has had. If anything, the paper seems to be suggesting an increase in financialization, rather than a re-thinking of this phenomenon that has been a major factor in the housing deficit.

    The housing paper does mention that policies are needed to reduce property speculation and even mentions the “social regulation of real estate”, and that these can be strengthened if “municipalities adopt inclusive housing ordinances and appropriate property taxation policies” (p. 17). This is a start, but it is not enough for a global urban agenda. The details of these policy proposals are not explored in any meaningful way in the current policy paper, nor are they linked to address the current embedding of real estate within the financial sector. Furthermore, this is not just a local problem for municipalities to deal with; both national and international institutions hold responsibility for our current situation, and need to be targeted as entry points for intervention.

    There are many forms of regulation that would at the very least be a step in the right direction in terms of housing affordability. But we need to address the now assumed linkage between real estate and the financial sector if we want to get to the root of the problem. For a conference aiming to come up with a “new urban agenda”, and that has previously agreed on such rights such as the right to adequate housing, the issue of financialization, which has put housing that much more out of reach for millions of people, needs to be addressed at Habitat III.

    References:

    Aalbers, M. B. (2009) “The sociology and geography of mortgage markets: Reflections on the financial crisis”, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 33(2), 281–290.

    Habitat III Policy Paper 10 – Housing Policies, 29 February 2016, available at: https://www.habitat3.org/bitcache/3fa49d554e10b9ea6391b6e3980d2a32ce979ce9?vid=572979&disposition=inline&op=view

    Possible tags: Habitat III, Financialization, Housing policy, Right to the City, Right to Adequate Housing, Barcelona, Europe


     

    Rafaella Lima is an alumna of the the DPU and currently works as a graduate teaching assistant for the MSc Urban Development Planning. She has been involved in research looking at civil society engagement with Habitat III processes in various countries.