COMPUTATIONAL SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH COLLOQUIUM /COLLOQUIUM IN COMPUTATIONAL AND DATA SCIENCES – Are Cities Agglomerations of People or of Firms? Data and a Model – Robert Axtell
Computational Social Science Research Colloquium /
Colloquium in Computational and Data Sciences
Robert Axtell, Professor
Computational Social Science Program,
Department of Computational and Data Sciences
College of Science
Department of Economics
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
George Mason University
Are Cities Agglomerations of People or of Firms? Data and a Model
Friday, September 28, 3:00 p.m.
Center for Social Complexity, 3rd Floor Research Hall
All are welcome to attend.
Abstract: Business firms are not uniformly distributed over space. In every country there are large swaths of land on which there are very few or no firms, coexisting with relatively small areas on which large numbers of businesses are located—these are the cities. Since the dawn of civilization the earliest cities have husbanded a variety of business activities. Indeed, often the raison d’etre for the growth of villages into towns and then into cities was the presence of weekly markets and fairs facilitating the exchange of goods. City theorists of today tend to see cities as amalgams of people, housing, jobs, transportation, specialized skills, congestion, patents, pollution, and so on, with the role of firms demoted to merely providing jobs and wages. Reciprocally, very little of the conventional theory of the firm is grounded in the fact that most firms are located in space, generally, and in cities, specifically. Consider the well-known facts that both firm and city sizes are approximately Zipf distributed. Is it merely a coincidence that the same extreme size distribution approximately describes firm and cities? Or is it the case that skew firm sizes create skew city sizes? Perhaps it is the other way round, that skew cities permit skew firms to arise? Or is it something more intertwined and complex, the coevolution of firm and city sizes, some kind of dialectical interplay of people working in companies doing business in cities? If firm sizes were not heavy-tailed, but followed an exponential distribution instead, say, could giant cities still exist? Or if cities were not so varied in size, as they were not, apparently, in feudal times, would firm sizes be significantly attenuated? In this talk I develop the empirical foundations of this puzzle, one that has been little emphasized in the extant literatures on firms and cities, probably because these are, for the most part, distinct literatures. I then go on to describe a model of individual people (agents) who arrange themselves into both firms and cities in approximate agreement with U.S. data.