A recent American study entitled “The Geography of Unconventional Innovation” by two economists (Enrico Berkes of Northwestern University and Ruben Gaetani of the University of Toronto) looked at the role of population density as a driver of innovation. The study examined the locations of patents (filed between 2000-2010) across thousands of US county subdivisions and examined the question of whether the city or the suburbs were the location of the most innovations (measured by patent count).
The key findings from the study were as follows:
- Although cities have long been noted for their high amount of patents and thus innovation, this study showed that lower density places accounted for the most patented innovations. In fact the study found that 40% of patents originated in locations with a population density of less than 2,500 people per square mile.
- Population density was shown to have more of an impact on the type of innovation than the rate of innovation. The study found that higher density, more urban places were the source of the more unique or unconventional innovations. Locations with a population density of over 5,000 people per square mile were shown to have the highest rate of unconventional patents.