No, that’s not a typo. I spent the last three days at the North American Regional Science Conference (NARSC), here in Toronto at the Royal York hotel. It’s probably not the type of conference I would normally attend – the focus is more on regional economic models than transportation or land use – but it was in town, cheap, and a good chance to get a feel for conferences in my new field of study.
My points of reference are the last two academic conferences I attended: SIGGRAPH and Eurographics. Computer science tends to treat conferences as a discussion of published results after peer review is complete. NARSC was more conventional, serving more as a place to discuss works in progress prior to submission to a journal. The cultural differences were large: while the computer science conferences (especially Eurographics) are dominated by under-35s, there were few under 40 here. Supervisors often presented their students’ papers, instead of the other way around. The dress code was a little stiffer than SIGGRAPH: souvenir T-shirts from past conferences would not go over well; suits and ties were the order of the day.
Anyways, it was interesting. I don’t really buy into some of the regional economic models that are used, but it was refreshing to see some people using spatial statistics rigorously, at a level far beyond many papers from urban planning journals. One of these days, I should learn something about these hedonic methods I keep hearing about in econometrics.
I also tried to get some less-techie sessions to balance my mathed-out semester. There was one session discussing the impact of Jane Jacobs, particulary her influence on economists. One presenter argued that Jacobs was really very conservative, an argument that I didn’t entirely buy. He argued correctly that Jacobs was often opposed to government intervention in markets, and large public sector projects in general, often arguing for privatization. This puts her in the same camp as the conservatives, but for very different reasons. Unlike the libertarians, Jacobs did not aim for freedom from government as an end in itself. Instead, her conservative side was rooted in a love of diversity, choice and competition. That’s a type of conservatism that I can definitely buy into. I don’t love or hate government for its own sake, but I do really like choice and diversity, provided that equality, social justice and opportunity also flourish. My objection to the libertarian approach is largely that unregulated markets often don’t lead to diversity, choice and competition, but instead lead to stifling monopolies or oligopolies. And libertarians are frequently content to ignore issues of equality of opportunity and social justice.

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