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The Wealth and Poverty of Regions

Why Cities Matter

As the world becomes more interconnected through travel and electronic communication, many believe that physical places will become less important. But as Mario Polèse argues in The Wealth and Poverty of Regions, geography will matter more than ever before in a world where distance is allegedly dead.

This provocative book surveys the globe, from London and Cape Town to New York and Beijing, contending that regions rise—or fall—due to their location, not only within nations but also on the world map. Polèse reveals how concentrations of industries and populations in specific locales often result in minor advantages that accumulate over time, resulting in reduced prices, improved transportation networks, increased diversity, and not least of all, “buzz”—the excitement and vitality that attracts ambitious people. The Wealth and Poverty of Regions maps out how a heady mix of size, infrastructure, proximity, and cost will determine which urban centers become the thriving metropolises of the future, and which become the deserted cities of the past. Engagingly written, the book provides insight to the past, present, and future of regions.

288 pages | 2 halftones, 23 line drawings, 3 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Economics and Business: Economics--Development, Growth, Planning


“This is one of the most original books in the subject area that I have read in years—the nearest is Jane Jacobs, forty years ago. It is remarkable in the way it combines depth and breadth, all presented in a jargon-free, almost conversational style.”

Sir Peter Hall, The Bartlett School of Architecture and Planning, University College London

“For the first time in history, more than half the human population now lives in urban areas. Although economists and other social scientists have paid a considerable attention to the unequal development of nations, much less is known regarding the magnitude of spatial inequalities within countries as well as to the role and strength of urban agglomeration economies in driving regional economic development. In the wake of new economic geography and modern urban economics, Mario Polèse has succeeded in providing a masterful synthesis of the various roles played by cities in the process of regional growth. Thanks to a magnificent and reader-friendly exposition, the material presented in this book is made available to a broad audience of scientists and decision makers.”

Jacques-François Thisse, CORE, Université Catholique de Louvain (Belgium)

“Writing with flair and insight, Polèse blends economics, geography, and history to explain why some places grow and others do not. In this highly readable account, Polèse unwraps the patterns and processes, and the commonalities and nuances, of both rich and poor places to outline which cities will prosper in the twenty-first century. Drawing on examples from several continents, he tells a story in which many forces change while others continue to be influential.”

Ed Malecki, Ohio State University

"This clearly argued and amply illustrated work is a useful introduction to the forces causing some cities/regions to grow and others to stagnate."


"Polèse’s work is a tour de force for the rebirth of geography, both as a popular topic and as a discipline for deciphering the vast changes in our world. One can only hope that this book is but a preface to a subsequent exploration of this new transnational urban-­industrial geography, for which we have few effective categories or concise words. Polèse has proven that he would be the right expert to take us on that journey."

Literary Review of Canada

“Interested in the question of why some places prosper and others lag behind? Then you need to read Mario Polèse’s wide-ranging book, The Wealth and Poverty of Regions. Polèse provides a way to consider how geography and location matter even as communication makes the globe seem smaller.”

Business History Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations



1          Why Do Some Places Generate More Wealth Than Others?

            Places in a Shrinking World

            History and Industrial Legacies

2          Size and Location

            The Four Golden Rules of Regional Growth

            The Positive Relationship between Size and Wealth

            The Seven Pillars of Agglomeration

            Why Smaller Cities Exist


            A Simple Template

3          The Regional Origins of Wealth: Where It All Began

            When Location and Size Mattered Less

            Water and Waterways

            A Tale of Two Continents

            Europe’s Blue Banana

            North America’s Bipolar Destiny

            South of the Border—Mexico

            Lessons from Europe and North America

4          Why Is the Geography of Wealth More Unequal in Some Nations?

            On the Use of the Word “Disparity”

            Why Regional Disparities Happen—and Should Eventually Disappear

            Why Regional Disparities Are Higher in Some Nations

            Why Are Regional Disparities More Difficult to Overcome in Some Nations?

            Why the United States Is Different

5          Cities and National Economic Growth: An Asymmetrical Relationship

            A Short History (and Explanation) of Urbanization

            Urbanization Is an Outcome of Economic Growth (Not the Other Way Around)

            Is Urbanization Different in Developing Nations?

            Third World Cities: Victims of Progress?

            The Difference between the Foundations of National and Local Economic Growth

6          Regional Growth in the Green and Gray Knowledge Economy

            Hedonic Regional Growth

            Green Migrations: Sun, Surf, and Cafés

            Gray Migration: Golf, Châteaux, and Boardwalks

            Size and Location Also Matter for Tourism

            Revisiting the Rules of Regional Growth

            Archipelagos of Growth

            Zero-sum Growth

            Some Places Will Decline

            Some Places Will Continue to Grow (or Decline) for Unique Reasons

7          What Have We Learned?

            Some Places Will Always Be Wealthier than Others

            Cities Will Continue to Grow

            The Diversification of the Sources of Regional Growth

            The Never-ending Search for the Right Strategy

            The New Importance of Place: People

Data Sources: Tables, Figures, and Maps




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