Rock & roll, we know, is a hybrid of several musical traditions (blues, gospel, country, etc.) that have rural roots going back to Europe and Africa. But the synthesis of these styles into a new musical shape occurred in American cities, in places like New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New York.
By the mid-20th century, many of the best musicians in their traditional fields had flocked to these cities for the same reason other creative people had. That’s where the action was. That’s where their peers were working, hanging out, exchanging ideas with each other. (That's why I slept a few nights at NYC's Tompkins Square Park in the 60s.) In these urban melting pots a cultural and aesthetic innovation was born: rock & roll! Like so much of art, culture, and commerce, rock owes its very existence to CITIES.
Economists from Richard Florida to Wilbur Thompson to Robert Lucas have argued that urbanization is the foundation of creative enterprise and that cities are true “incubators on innovation.” Over three-fourths of the population of the developed world live in urban communities—metropolitan areas that include suburbs and exurbs.
Economist Edward Glaeser in his book Triumph of the City goes so far as to say that cities are our greatest invention!
Globalization and new technologies have increased the returns to being smart and that we get smart by being around other smart people in cities. Whatever the reason, denser areas now pay higher wages. People follow the money and move to places with more people.
But what about the argument that it really doesn’t matter where we live now, given the “distance-destroying” advances in telecommunications and social media? Well, it turns out that most of us are still choosing to live in high-density areas.
As Glaeser points out, “The strength that comes from human collaboration is the central truth behind civilization’s success and the primary reason why cities exist.” That’s as true for rock & roll as for engineering or design—or most anything else.