Handbooks of Research Methods and Applications series
Edited by Peter Karl Kresl and Jaime Sobrino
Chapter 10: An insight on the unit of analysis in urban research
As the process of globalization advances, markets extend and the process of urbanization advances, each time the urban phenomenon becomes increasingly a central factor for the competitiveness of regional and national economies. A crucial fact in this process is that cities produce agglomeration economies that are decisive for economic development. The nature of agglomeration economies behind the process of economic development is neither steady in time nor homogeneous in the different territories: it is variable and evolutionary in time and space. As a consequence, any compared study of the urban phenomenon faces the problem of the variability of the unit of analysis. The pragmatic solution is to accept the official administrative definition of the unit used for urban planning as a criterion to compare urban territories. However, this solution could lead to great mistakes. The objective of this chapter is to introduce a theoretical and methodological reflection about the unit of analysis of the urban phenomenon, with the intention of facilitating comparative analysis. In particular, we claim that changes in the model of organization of production originate from the changes in the nature of agglomeration economies and in the emergence of new types of external economies not based on agglomeration. As a consequence, if we want to establish homogenous criteria to perform comparative studies in urban economics, we must take into account the nature and scope of the external economies originating within and between cities.
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