The fundamental question asked by geographers is “does it make a difference where things are located?”
The answer is; absolutely, yes…
And this is where things become interesting, because different behaviorism, cultural, economic and political responses lead to different solutions even in similar environments.
How we resolve our relationship with the environment is essential to our very survival, but importantly to how we experience life.
People mostly go to places because of work and for every place there is a dominant economic driver, but for lots of places it can be difficult to pick out the primary drivers from the others.
But it is still a good place to begin.
I think places either;
traffic in stuff, or
This discussion is about why things happen where they happen!
The drivers part one.
Economics of place.
Of course there’s more than economics to a city and in the second part we will talk about the second layer.
The second layer is about attitudes. Attitude is shaped by;
social and cultural moors,
Cities consume resources.
Places that make things either get them from the ground or value add to raw materials.
Some of our most valued resources are located in remote communities, that until recently were difficult to secure, that until recent times where the subject of intense military campaigns. Today these campaigns are fought on the stock exchange floor, in parliaments and courthouses.
Today these sites are controlled from around the globe.
Karatha on the north west coast of Australia.
Employees that work in these remote and desolate, yet beautiful places are highly paid fly in fly out contractors.
Many fly thousands of kilometres from Indonesia, and Perth, and other Australasian cities where their families live.
Where the commodity has a high value or volume as it does here the owners don’t have to rely on a large ready made labour force.
And, these modern frontier towns have the same social issues we’ve known about for centuries.
This town is built against a harsh backdrop: wet and dry seasons, heat, flies, water shortages, and seasons that don’t even have an annual rhythm.
Demand for stuff changes very quickly as technology and fashion dictates. But so does competitive advantage. Recent examples of changing technology quickly come to mind. There are some classic examples of places that built their wealth around demand for commodities then either lost their comparative advantage or demand changed very quickly.
When the Michelin Co invented pneumatic tires for their bicycles, the value of rubber stocks in MANOURS in northern Brazil went through the roof. The people of this newly wealthy city sustained their wealth long enough to build an elaborate Opera house, long enough to build a city with electric streetlights, long enough to develop a taste for extravagant expenditure that outshone many European cities of the time.
The northern Amazonia experienced two short economic booms. The first brought wealth, extravagance, the development of buildings, employment and an experience of income and investment that looked like it would never go away. It was during this time that rubber barons out bid each other for extravagant exuberance. Public money developed one of the world’s finest opera houses; private money built extravagant mansions like castles in the sand.
MANOURS became a capital of a new region, its wealth depended on its ability to keep control of a native tree with a latex sap that had become so useful to industry that it seemed the whole of Europe and its industrial developments depended on this single product.
Growing the trees, harvesting the product and exporting it were costly in terms of human life, time and efficiency. The product was incredibly expensive to collect and the climate and terrain of the place that it grew in made it almost impossible to get out. Several attempts were made to build a railway through the Amazon jungle which was finally completed in 1912. It was started with the promise that it could reduce the cost of getting this incredible product to the world’s manufacturing centres.
But it was short lived, once rubber tree seeds were smuggled out of the country to Malaysia and tropical Africa the price dropped as dramatically as it had risen. And the railway was completed too late. Even after it had been completed, huge sections of it were destroyed by natural events, Landslides, floods and rain. Today less than 30 km of a continental railway is in use and the mighty Amazon forest has reclaimed much of the rest.
Across the world and throughout history “gold rush” fever based on exploitation of raw materials has brought new-found wealth that has disappeared just as quickly. Oil, iron ore, copper, diamonds, spices, silk and wool.
The lubricants of industry oil and gas have brought short-term wealth to places you wouldn’t otherwise want to go.
Primary industry might be subject to the whims of the market but secondary industry is also at the mercy of new technology, the latest fashions and changes in the direction of the market.
If primary industry and trade are subject to the winds of change, the second driver for the development of cities is trade. Places that are portals or nodes on trade routes of the world or destinations in their own right compete with each other for the hearts and minds of investors. But these too can be at the whim of the winds of Fortune.
Who would have thought in the 1950s on the walls of the world, places that employed literally tens of thousands of people, but by the 1980s our docks would be empty spaces run by a handful of people.
The Australian invention of a simple box to move freight between trains that travelled on different rail gauges at state boundaries at the turn of the 20th century, turned out to be a revolutionary shipping innovation during the Korean War.
What we now know as the container revolutionised shipping from the mid-1950s through to the mid-1970s. Until that time the cheapest form of transport for heavy goods was by sea, despite the time it took at each port to load and unload a ship using derricks and nets and lots of labour.
A hangover from the days of sail, loading and unloading a ship had undergone some minor changes with the introduction of mechanised lifting equipment. But assembling, collecting, loading and unloading a ship was still definitely a labour intensive occupation. People traveling from country to country by sea often found themselves spending more time in various ports than they did traveling on the open ocean between ports.
At the start of the Korean War the cost of getting and maintaining supplies to an American military force on an Asian peninsular was a major obstacle and the turnaround time for ships to the supply line only added to the problem. Military missions turn on the ability of the supply lines to feed the front.
The solution was to fill containers at the supply point and have the containers delivered to the docks where they were quickly loaded into ships modified to take them. Reducing the two-day turnaround to a single day refuelling operation meant less ships were needed, less people on the dock and significantly reduced supply line costs and increased efficiency. That means more supplies more often more reliably.At the close of the Korean War a number of hitherto inefficient ports closer to major supply line cities had replaced highly unionised and labour intensive city ports like Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Railheads were rapidly built around new highly efficient international supply lines in places like Rotterdam and San Francisco.
Today’s ports efficiently turnaround huge quantities of materials in relatively short periods of time with relatively low labour input.
From the turn of the 20th century until the middle of the 1970s Fremantle on the west coast of Australia was the major supply line into Australia’s west, employing thousands of people close to the dockyards in relatively high density residential areas. By the close of the 1970s the introduction of the container vessel had emptied out Fremantle and turned it into a ghost town. Where thousands of people have been employed to load and unload ships that place was taken by heavy cranes, trains and an efficient docking in turnaround system.Today, Fremantle like many port cities of the past has had to reinvent itself. A university, brewery and music industry, markets and art have taken over the centre of the city.
Air transport has also played a major part in the delivery of goods and people. Travel for people is about overcoming the friction of distance. For business time is money and distance is time. People get paid by the hour, an hour traveling is an hour lost to production. So time spent in meetings plus the time to travel to the meeting all ads up to cost. Air transport has closed the time gap between many places that once had insurmountable barriers. It has also closed the gap for military and political purposes.
When the Australian states got together and formed a federation, they didn’t want one of the existing capitals to be the capital and gain the upper hand over the other states, they didn’t want it to become a sea port and have capital power and they didn’t want it to be in reach of invading navy power, especially the Russians and the French. So they put it two hundred miles inland. Today the world has changed so much these issues don’t seem to matter.
Perhaps a more recent example is the British government’s ability to defend the Falkland Islands from the threat of takeover by Argentina, predominantly by air power but heavily backed up by an efficient modern navy.
And if air power has been important in the delivery of invasion forces, it has been much more important in the delivery of tourists. Places that were once completely out of reach are now de rigueur. But tourism destinations face a fickle future and are rapidly impacted by, fashion, politics, social disruption and the weather, and more recently seismic activity.
In the latter part of the last century the Middle East wanting to hedge its bets on the impending change in world prices and concerns with climate change, built an airline and created a transit hub to match any in the world in Dubai. Unfortunately in the early part of this century the finance for the enterprise came crashing down, the result was a massive slowdown in the local economy. Dubai didn’t have a lot of oil, it isn’t a great destination, it wasn’t on an existing route. What it did have was vision, style and the resources to put together a plan.
What they did in Dubai was to create a transport business that had Dubai as its hub. Within four hours of the city one and a half billion people who needed to travel within an eight hour radius. Dubai was at the centre of the wheel and people traveling from one side to the other could use this place as a hub or an interchange between flights which ran along the spokes of the wheel.
Looked at this way, Dubai was at the centre of the trading world and could provide the trading world a service long after its oil reserves had disappeared.
Like manufacturing, these services rely on the provision of services that can’t be provided from elsewhere. Banking and commerce service providers have an influence far beyond their size and scale or population. Investment, insurance and other banking services are high-level Treasury services. Like education and tourism they rely on the development of a collection of services around notes that build relationships and influence, but they also change their service provision rapidly.
These are the places that control stuff
Like cities that have political control or influence, these places have a huge influence on markets, employment and investment decisions
To grow and develop these places also needed geographic advantage and traditionally they have grown out of the localities that have been political capital is a major land or sea routes and close to populations with natural resources or advantages in other areas.
Today this level of influence is rapidly changing as air, road and rail transport or telecommunications make the world more accessible.
In the same way the camera was located in the New South Wales inland to the dual purpose of protecting it from invaders from the sea and preventing it from having direct access to an international seaport, so that it could not usurp Sydney and Melbourne as the major trading centres of Australia, so the role of influence a regional controllers of commerce, the markets and investment have changed the way they influence and impact their regions.
These places don’t just happen overnight they either grow into the job or they have it thrust upon them. Places like London, New York, Chicago, Rome and Istanbul or Tokyo, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur these places tend to be comfortable with their role in the world, because they have grown out of something else, generally trade routes sometimes regional capitals.