“Geography matters!” says the New York Times. Or, more grandiosely, “When It Comes to Innovation, Geography is Destiny.” Now, “geography as destiny” generally makes geographers twitch; too many shades of the racist environmental determinism that marred the discipline in the early Twentieth Century, too many shades of the ancient Greeks decreeing that dark-skinned people were lazy because of their climate and blond-haired, blue-eyed people were too hard-working because of their climate and that people born around the Mediterranean, like the baby bear, were just right. (This is also why a lot of geographers disapprove of Jared Diamond’s work, but that’s best saved for another post.)

So, geography as destiny. The reporter did interview Anna Saxenian, author of one of the classic studies on Route 128 and Silicon Valley that is cited in pretty much every paper about the clustering of high-tech economic activity. But they missed Ann Markusen, who has pointed out that Silicon Valley is not the example of pure innovation and market-driven ideas that everyone thinks it is. Silicon Valley is where it is and is as successful as it is because of the subsidies provided by the U.S. government via military contracts. Lots and lots of them. Markusen’s Gunbelt follows a path from the Bay Area around through the Southwest and South, home to not just a lot of military bases, but a lot of high-tech innovation centers that were originally funded by the military.

Geography: what is where, why is it there, and why should I care?

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