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 basic public goods 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 (a) to the fact that the revival of the debate on marshallian districts has placed strong emphasis on the agglomeration economies internal to the districts themselves, while relatively omitting the urban ones, when not emphasising the burden of urban diseconomies; (b) to the countryside roots of most district pioneers. The quarrel was further fuelled with the advent of ICTs, the fragmentation of the productive processes and the possibility of displacing 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 although important consequences on the internal organisation of firms and industry and on economic geography as a whole; it has also, however, made innovation and knowledge ? rather than cost-saving policies ? 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 from Learning I to Learning II, that is from the "production and accumulation" of knowledge according to pre-established codes, to its "generation and articulation"Â thanks to an endless reshaping of cognitive codes. On this prospect, while firms, places and regions are increasingly conceptualised as Learning II milieus, cities are proving to be a crucial and irreplaceable milieu for knowledge generation. As a consequence, it is becoming necessary to reassess the relationships between industry and the city. Within this new situation, industrial districts may suffer a severe condition of marginality from the central driver of knowledge generation, owing to their lack of internal competences in dialoguing with the city, and/or the lack of suitable mediators.
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