Industrial Districts and the City: Relationships in the Knowledge Age. Evidence from the Italian Case
The spatial implications of fordist and district-based patterns of development have had a profound effect on the debate about the role of the city. While the city is reputed to be the crucial provider of fixed social capital within the fordist model, its role seems more nuanced, if not disputable, when the district model prevails. This disregard for the city is probably due to (a) the fact that the revival of the debate on marshallian industrial districts (IDs) has placed strong emphasis on the agglomeration economies internal to the districts themselves, when not emphasising the burden of urban diseconomies; and (b) the countryside roots of most district pioneers. The quarrel was further fuelled with the advent of ICTs, and the feasibility of displacing productive phases at a global level. The paper argues that this is only the early part of the history. The advent of ICTs has had not only functional consequences but also an important impact on the internal organisation of firms and industry and on economic geography as a whole. It has also made knowledge and innovation the crucial drivers of the competitiveness of firms and local economic systems. The notion of knowledge has profoundly changed too, and the main change consists in the shift that is occurring within the industry itself from the ontological to the hermeneutical approach. According to this view, the main hypothesis is that the city is a crucial socio-spatial device for knowledge generation. The paper investigates this issue on both the theoretical and the empirical level by introducing a new analytical category - "Knowledge-creating services (KCS)". With reference to the Italian case, the outcomes corroborate the above hypothesis and open an original perspective on the relationships between the city and IDs in the knowledge age: the city is shown to be not only the gateway for functionally connecting IDs with the global market but also a true Knowledge-creating District. Within this new situation, a reassessment is needed of the relationships between IDs and the city, due to the misalignment that is likely to occur between competences in "producing" manufactured goods and knowledge.
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