In this interesting article by Next City, Oscar Perry Abello takes the case study of a single city block in New York City and maps development in the block. He writes that the prescriptive approach to urban planning may not be the best way to plan for economic development.
"NYU professor and economist William Easterly has been seeking to tell that story for a long time. With the recent launch of the Greene Street Project, an interactive online exhibit, he and his collaborators made quite a stab at it. Studying just one block also allowed for the primacy of the little guys to shine through — and revealed a slice of economic development history that urban planners, amid their attempts to predict and shape the future, might want to check out... In other words, if you are a mayor or other local government agency that has been reaching out to specific industries and trying to get them to grow in a specific place, you are doing economic development wrong, according to Easterly.
Easterly argues that government should focus on creating and maintaining the things that people — no matter who is living or working on any given block — will need. Basic infrastructure, education systems, public health, mass transit, for instance....That unpredictable nature of economic development, Easterly says, is exactly what creates the space for new or once marginalized populations to come in and start shaping their share of the future. On average about an eighth of the residents on the block have been turning over every year. That’s not an unusual number in a city, Easterly says, and they show it over almost 200 years for which that data is available. It’s part of the dynamism of cities, Easterly explains. “You don’t want to freeze any existing set of residents in place, you want to let them naturally gravitate toward new opportunities or you want other new opportunities to gravitate to that block that might buy them out for a fair price and set them up to do what they want to do somewhere else in the city.”