The theoretical and methodological toolbox of urban economics: from and towards where?
After more than five decades since the recognition of the importance of a branch in Economics called Regional and Urban Economics, there is for sure sufficient scientific material for an ex-post evaluation of what has been achieved so far, where is the scientific frontier in this field, and what are the main open conceptual questions. The present contribution aims at providing such a "picture", by underlining, in a critical way, the results achieved and the challenges that still remain to be faced. It is not at all a first attempt in this direction: especially in the last decade, some doubts on the scientific achievements in the fields of Regional and Urban Economics, and more widely of Regional Science, were stressed, especially in the American academic world. These sciences were interpreted as going through a deep "scientific crisis", interpreted as a sort of downward slope in their "life cycle". Some scientific in-depth analyses have already been provided by regional scientists, rightly claiming that still much can be said and be produced in terms of both theoretical and empirical (modelling) elements. Our paper will start from those considerations, and provide a step further in the interpretation of the problems encountered by Regional and Urban Economics in the actual scientific world, and will strongly suggest that there are important signs of a reaffirmation of the discipline, given the recently strong renewed interest around the conept of territory, developed: - within other branches of the Economic theory. A clear example of this is the emergence of the "New Economic Geography" theory, widely anchored to some well known regional economic concepts. The same can be said for the recent concept of knowledge spillover of the Industrial Economists, in which the innovative diffusion process is largely dependent on geographical distance among innovative actors; - with traditionally related scientific fields, such as Urban Planning and Geography, for the development of a unified framework of analysis for territorial economic processes; - with sociologists, on the concept of "social capital", related to the interaction between social and economic elements for the explanation of the processes of knowledge creation at the local level. In all these cases, there is still place for a more in-depth cooperation among scientists, with the aim to achieve a more in-depth knowledge of theoretical concepts; moreover, in all these cases, there is still place for regional economists to strengthen their role within the international interdisciplinary arena. The paper will highlight these cases, and strengthen the reasons for this statement.
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