is a field of the social sciences
concerned with analytical
approaches to problems that are specifically urban
, or regional.
Topics in regional science include, but are not limited to location theory
or spatial economics,
location modeling, transportation, migration analysis, land use
, environmental and ecological
analysis, resource management
urban and regional policy
analysis, geographical information
, and spatial data
. In the broadest sense, any social science analysis
that has a spatial dimension is embraced by regional scientists.
For more material on the foci of regional science, see, for
example, the Web Book of Regional Science.
Regional science was founded in the late 1940s when some economists
began to become dissatisfied with the low level of regional
analysis and felt an urge to
upgrade it. But even in this early era, the founders of regional
science expected to catch the interest of people from a wide
variety of disciplines. Regional science's formal roots date to the
aggressive campaigns by Walter Isard
and his supporters to promote the "objective" and "scientific"
analysis of settlement, industrial location, and urban development.
Isard targeted key universities and campaigned tirelessly.
Accordingly, the Regional
was founded in 1954, when the core group of
scholars and practitioners held its first meetings independent from
those initially held as sessions of the annual meetings of the
American Economics Association. A reason for meeting independently
undoubtedly was the group's desire to extend the new science beyond
the rather restrictive world of economists and have natural
scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, lawyers, sociologists,
political scientists, planners, and geographers join the club. Now
called the Regional Science Association International, it maintains
subnational and international associations, journals, and a
conference circuit (notably in North America, continental Europe,
Japan, and Korea). Membership in the RSAI continues to grow.
Topically speaking, regional science took off in the wake of
's book Die
Zentralen Orte in Sűddeutschland
(published in 1933), soon
followed by Tord Palander
Beiträge zur Standortstheorie
; and Edgar M. Hoover
's two books--Location Theory and
the Shoe and Leather Industry
(1938) and The Location of
(1948). Other important early publications
include: Edward H. Chamberlin
's (1950) The Theory of
; François Perroux
's (1950) Economic
Spaces: Theory and Application
; Torsten Hägerstrand
Innovationsförloppet ur Korologisk Synpunkt
; Edgar S. Dunn
(1954)The Location of Agricultural Production
; August Lösch
's (1954)The Economics of
; Martin J. Beckmann, C.B McGuire, and Clifford B.
Winston's (1956) Studies in the Economics of
; Melvin L.
's (1956) Plant
Location in Theory and Practice
; Gunnar Myrdal
's (1957) Economic Theory and
The Strategy of Economic Development
; and Claude Ponsard
's (1958) Histoire des
Théorie Économique Spatiales
. Nonetheless, Walter Isard's
first book in 1956, Location and Space Economy
captured the imagination of many, and his third, Methods of
, published in 1960, only sealed his position
as the father of the field.
As is typically the case, the above works were built on the
shoulders of giants. Much of this predecessor work is documented
well in Walter Isard's Location and Space Economy
as Claude Ponsard's Histoire des Théorie Économique
. Particularly important was the contribution by 19th
century German economists to location
. The early German hegemony more or less starts with
Johann Heinrich von
and runs through both Wilhelm Launhardt
and Alfred Weber
to Walter Christaller
and August Lösch
If an academic discipline is identified by its journals, then
technically regional science began in 1955 with the publication of
the first volume of the Papers and Proceedings, Regional
(now Papers in Regional Science
published by Springer Verlag). In 1958, the Journal of Regional Science
Walter Isard's efforts culminated in the creation of a few academic
departments and several university-wide programs in regional
science. At Walter Isard's suggestion, the University of
Pennsylvania started the Regional Science Department in
It featured as its first graduate William Alonso
and was looked upon by many to
be the international academic leader for the field. Another
important graduate and faculty member of the department is Masahisa Fujita
. The core curriculum of this
department was microeconomics
, and statistics
. Faculty also taught courses in
, energy and
ecological policy modeling, spatial
, spatial interaction theory and models, benefit/cost analysis
, urban and
regional analysis, and economic development theory, among others.
But the department's unusual multidisciplinary orientation
undoubtedly encouraged its demise, and it lost its department
status in 1993.
With a few exceptions, such as Cornell University, which awards
graduate degrees in Regional Science, most practitioners hold
positions in departments such as economics, geography, civil
engineering, agricultural economics, rural sociology, urban
planning, public policy, or demography. The diversity of
disciplines participating in regional science have helped make it
one of the most interesting and fruitful fields of academic
specialization, but it has also made it difficult to fit the many
perspectives into a curriculum for an academic major. It is even
difficult for authors to write regional science textbooks, since
what is elementary knowledge for one discipline might be entirely
novel for another.
Public policy impact
Part of the movement was, and continues to be, associated with the
political and economic realities of the role of the local
community. On any occasion where public policy is directed at the
sub-national level, such as a city or group of counties, the
methods of regional science can prove useful. Traditionally,
regional science has provided policy makers with guidance on issues
- *The "determinants of industrial location (both within the
nation and within the region)."
- *The "regional economic impact of the arrival or departure of a
- *The "determinants of internal migration patterns and land use
- *"Regional specialization and exchange."
- *"Environmental impacts of social and economic change."
- *"Geographic association of economic and social
By targeting federal resources to specific geographic areas the
administration realized that
political favors could be bought. This is also evident in Europe
and other places where local economic areas do not coincide with
political boundaries. In the more current era of devolution
knowledge about "local solutions to local problems" has driven much
of the interest in regional science. Thus, there has been much
political impetus to the growth of the discipline.
Developments after 1980
Regional Science has enjoyed mixed fortunes since the 1980s. While
it has gained a larger following among economists and public policy
practitioners, the discipline has fallen out of favor among more
radical and Post-Modernist
geographers. In an apparent effort to secure a larger share of
research funds, geographers had NSF's Geography and Regional
Science Program renamed Geography and Spatial Sciences Program. In
this way, they hope to force regional scientists, who had been
obtaining larger and larger shares of NSF funds, to compete for NSF
funds through other programs.
New economic geography
In 1991, Paul Krugman
, as a highly
regarded international trade theorist, put out a call for
economists to pay more attention to economic geography in a book
entitled Geography and Trade
, focussing largely on the
core regional science concept of agglomeration economies. Krugman's
call renewed interest by economists in regional science and,
perhaps more importantly, founded what some term "the new economic
geography," which enjoys much common ground with regional science.
Broadly-trained "new" economic geographers
combine quantitative work with other research techniques, for
example at the London School of Economics.
The unification of Europe and the increased
internationalization of the world's economic, social, and political
realms has further induced interest in the study of regional, as
opposed to national, phenomena. In 2008, Paul Krugman won the Nobel
Prize in Economics. His Prize Lecture has references both to work
in regional science's location theory as well as economic's trade
Today there are dwindling numbers of regional scientists from
programs and mainstream
departments. Attacks on regional
science's practitioners by radical critics began as early as the
1970s, notably David Harvey
believed it lacked social and political commitment. Regional
science's founder, Walter Isard, never envisioned regional
scientists would be political or planning activitists. In fact, he
suggested that they will seek to be sitting in front of a computer
and surrounded by research assistants. Trevor Barnes
suggests the decline of regional
science practice among planners and geographers in North America
could have been avoided. He says "It is unreflective, and
consequently inured to change, because of a commitment to a God’s
eye view. It is so convinced of its own rightness, of its
Archimedean position, that it remained aloof and invariant, rather
than being sensitive to its changing local context."
- Isard, Walter. 1975. Introduction to Regional Science.
New York: Prentice Hall.
- Ibid, p. 6.
- Isard, Walter. 1956. Location and Space-Economy: A General
Theory Relating to Industrial Location, Market Areas, Land Use,
Trade and Urban Structure Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT
- Ponsard, Claude. 1958. Histoire des Théorie Économique
Spatiales. Pris: Libraie Armond Colin (Translated in 1983 by
Benjamin H. Stevens, Margaret Chevallier and Joaquin P. Pujol as
History of Spatial Economic Theory. Springer-Verlag: New
- Boyce, David. 2004. "A Short History of the field of Regional
Science," Papers in Regional Science, 83, 31–57. The
source for a few dates in this paragraph.
- Cornell's Graduate Programs in Regional Science
- Scott Loveridge discusses the pros and cons of a
multidisciplinary field. link
- Classical regional science questions. link
- Paul Krugman's Nobel Prize Lecture 2008
- Barnes in Canadian J of Reg. Sci. 1
- Boyce, David. (2004). "A Short History of the Field of Regional
Science." Papers in Regional Science., 83 pp. 31–57.
- Duranton, Gilles (2008). "spatial economics," The New Palgrave
Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition. Abstract.
- Fujita, Masahisa, Paul Krugman, and Anthony Venables. (1999).
The Spatial Economy: Cities, Regions and International
Trade (Cambridge, MA: MIT press). (ISBN 0-262-06204-6)
- Fujita, Masahisa. (1989). Urban Economic Theory: Land Use
and City Size (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press).
- Krumm, Ronald J., and George S. Tolley (1987). "Regional
Economics," The New Palgrave: A
Dictionary of Economics, v. 4, pp. 116–20.
- Sachs, Jeffrey D., and Gordon
McCord (2008). "Regional Development, Geography of," The New
Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd Edition. Abstract.
- Scott, A. J. (2000)." Economic Geography: The Great
Half-Century," Cambridge Journal of Economics, 24,