social networks

The Social Structure of Innovation

These days, whenever you hear about social networks, you immediately think about the various social media networks that have sprouted up in the last decade. But humans are inherently social beings and we have been building social networks since the dawn of our history.

Naji P. Makarem from the University College London studied the social structure of San Francisco and Los Angeles to determine why economic development between the two diverged from the 1980s onwards. Social networks allow individuals and organizations to interact in order to test and experiment with new ideas and knowledge. In the process, they create new innovations and technologies, as well as more resilient systems.The research found that in the 1980s, the cities had nearly identical social networks. Both were highly connected and featured a well-connected core. Since then, San Francisco maintained or improved the connectivity of its network while connections in Los Angeles became fragmented.

Not mentioned in the study is what caused these changes. One can’t help but notice the differences in urban structure between the two cities. Los Angeles epitomizes sprawl. Freeways connect segregated land uses stretching out the city. San Francisco, by virtue of geographic constraints, has remained relatively compact. What role does physical separation play in generating innovation and economic development?

Mark Michniak

Mark Michniak is an urban planner at IBI Group. His work focuses on integrating new developments into the surrounding urban fabric and creating great livable cities. Mark currently resides in Edmonton where he is contributing to its rediscovered urban identity.

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