NYT: More urban density leads to better jobs

There’s a great piece by Ryan Avent in the NYT this weekend: One Path to Better Jobs: More Density in Cities.

Early on in the piece, Avent seems to be invoking Jane Jacobs’ concept of “squelchers” — those who oppose new and creative ideas just because they oppose everything:

We lobby leaders to fight development, aiming to protect old buildings and precious views, limit crime and traffic, and maintain high-quality schools. But what makes a city a city and a not-city a not-city is the fact that a city is dense and a not-city isn’t. The idea of it may chill a homeowner’s heart, but the wealth supported by urban density is what gives urban homes their great value in the first place.

And when it comes to economic growth and the creation of jobs, the denser the city the better.

Avent continues:

Economists studying cities routinely find that after controlling for other variables, workers in denser places earn higher wages and are more productive. Some studies suggest that doubling density raises productivity by around 6 percent while others peg the impact at up to 28 percent. Some economists have concluded that more than half the variation in output per worker across the United States can be explained by density alone; density explains more of the productivity gap across states than education levels or industry concentrations or tax policies.

Put two workers with similar skill levels in cities of different densities and the one in the denser place will be more productive, according to two decades’ worth of research from economists.

The key role that Avent see here is “interaction”, not density for the sake of density:

One can’t create wealth just by crowding people together; otherwise the super-dense metropolitan areas in emerging Asian countries would be richer than American cities. Density simply facilitates interaction. Interactions translate into wealth when a population is educated and local institutions support private enterprise and entrepreneurship.

There is much more in the piece.