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Tyler Cowen points out that the city of San Diego has had basically no cultural influence or noteworthy impact on the rest of the country:
San Diego, by population, is the eighth largest city in the United States. Yet it seems to have had hardly any cultural influence. What gives?
This brings up a couple of things. First, as many commenters at MR pointed out, to say that San Diego is the 8th biggest city in the U.S. is somewhat misleading. The metro area ranks 17th in the nation in terms of population. The two other cities/metros that come to mind here are Phoenix and San Antonio which are ranked 6th and 7th respectively in terms of city population but 14th and 24th respectively in terms of metro size. The city measures overstate what cultural impact we’d expect from these areas.
We know a couple of things about all three of these cities. They aren’t young in absolute terms, but they are young in terms of their place among modern American cities. San Diego and San Antonio are very old cities proper, but they have never been plugged in to classic American industry. They’ve gained the most traction by being used as military outposts – San Diego for the Navy and San Antonio for Air Force and Army. They are also big cities that are almost non-players in the world of finance. If you want to do anything finance related in the region you go to L.A. or San Francisco or Houston or Dallas. If you want to make culture, you go to, again, L.A. and San Fran or, if you’re in San Antonio, Austin.
When Cowen wonders about cultural influences he’s also asking about business influences and innovations as well. The two usually come hand-in-hand. And so you have these big cities that don’t really have enough industry or innovation to fill out a huge metro area or to create all that much of what Cowen deems culture.
Either way, this brings up an interesting discussion on two fronts. What can we tell about a city or metro area based upon their density and the relatively size of the city to the MSA? Second, how exactly do we determine when a city has reached its expected level of cultural influence?