Thursday, April 29, 2010

Path Dependence?

I am currently in Minneapolis. It is, to me, a great city. My feelings may reflect that it was the large city nearest to me when I was growing up, but they also reflect that it has the attributes of a great city: innovative companies, such as 3M, and Medtronic, wonderful arts, including an orchestra that Alex Ross of the New Yorker wrote,"[sounds] to my ears, like the greatest orchestra in the world," and a vibrant, walkable downtown. The only other Midwestern city with such a jewel of a downtown is Chicago, which is also, of course, a much larger city.

The question is why. Bill Cronon wrote a great book about Chicago, explaining how it became and remains an epic city. The remain part is a function of path dependence--once Chicago made a set of choices about how it would connect with the nature that surrounded it, both physically (through, for instance, railroads) and intellectually (through, for instance, exchanges), it set itself on a self-perpetuating path.

I know of no similar book about the Twin Cities (that doesn't mean it doesn't exist). But it is an interesting question as to why Minneapolis has done so much better than other Midwest metropolitan areas: it terms of educational attainment, income, and population growth, it has substantially outperformed Kansas City, St Louis, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo, Dayton, Pittsburgh and Buffalo (I could go on, but you get the point). I don't think it is the weather.


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