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The Dynamics Of Subcenter Formation: Midtown Manhattan, 1861–1906

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  • Jason Barr
  • Troy Tassier

Abstract

Midtown Manhattan is the largest business district in the country. Yet only a few miles to the south is another district centered at Wall Street. This paper aims to understand when and why midtown emerged. We have created a new data set from historical New York City directories that provide the employment location, residence and job for several thousand residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We supplement this with data from historical business directories. The data allow us to describe how, when and why midtown emerged as a center of commerce. We find that midtown arose because of economies of scale related to shopping, rather than congestion in lower Manhattan or wage differentials across the city. Specifically, the evidence suggests that firms moved to midtown to be near retail businesses and other commercial activity in order to be closer to customers, who had been moving north on the island throughout the 19th century. Once several industries moved from lower Manhattan it triggered a spatial equilibrium readjustment in the 1880s, which then promoted the rise of skyscrapers in midtown around the turn of the 20th century, several years before the opening of Grand Central Station in 1913.
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Suggested Citation

  • Jason Barr & Troy Tassier, 2016. "The Dynamics Of Subcenter Formation: Midtown Manhattan, 1861–1906," Journal of Regional Science, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 56(5), pages 754-791, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jregsc:v:56:y:2016:i:5:p:754-791
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1111/jors.2016.56.issue-5
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alex Anas & Richard Arnott & Kenneth A. Small, 1998. "Urban Spatial Structure," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(3), pages 1426-1464, September.
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    8. Jason Barr & Troy Tassier & Rossen Trendafilov, 2009. "Bedrock Depth and the Formation of the Manhattan Skyline, 1890-1915," Working Papers Rutgers University, Newark 2009-006, Department of Economics, Rutgers University, Newark.
    9. Donald R. Davis & David E. Weinstein, 2002. "Bones, Bombs, and Break Points: The Geography of Economic Activity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1269-1289, December.
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    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. The Bedrock Myth and the Rise of Midtown Manhattan (Part I)
      by Jason Barr in Building the skyline on 2019-07-29 12:15:14
    2. The Bedrock Myth and the Rise of Midtown Manhattan (Part II)
      by Jason Barr in Building the skyline on 2019-08-06 12:31:54

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • R14 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - General Regional Economics - - - Land Use Patterns
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population
    • R33 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Real Estate Markets, Spatial Production Analysis, and Firm Location - - - Nonagricultural and Nonresidential Real Estate Markets
    • N91 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913

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