Gordon Mulligan

Imagine if you can an Allan Sillitoe novel set on a Norwegian fjord and you might have some idea about my childhood years. I was raised in a company mill town on the west coast of Canada where, until the late 1950s, marine transportation was the sole means of reaching the outside world. In many ways, though, this isolated community was a socialist utopia—workers earned the same wages, families paid the same rents, crime did not exist, and social capital was very high. All this radically changed when both a railway and a highway were completed to Vancouver. Soon thereafter the community experienced a lot of turnover and the town site was eventually closed down—then all families moved elsewhere and workers had to commute. This disruption was much more drastic than what William Garrison and Brian Berry had recently chronicled in nearby Marysville, Washington, where that community’s social and business fabric was severely strained by the new Interstate highway system.

I started classes at the University of British Columbia in the mid-1960s and I enjoyed the student lifestyle so much that I remained at UBC for a decade. This was the most carefree period of my life—my studies were well supported by the government, I lived in vibrant neighborhoods like bohemian Kitsilano Beach, I often cycled to school, I read a lot of Dostoevsky and Pynchon, I became very interested in film noir, and I made numerous friendships that have lasted a lifetime. My undergraduate studies were mostly devoted to mathematics where I was exposed to most aspects of the discipline. Later, in graduate school, I specialized in human geography and economics but dabbled in several other disciplines. During graduate school I also spent many evenings imbibing at the Cecil hotel, a pub whose regulars included left-leaning university faculty, union leaders, and the founders of Greenpeace.

My first university course in geography focused on Europe’s regions and I can recall writing a historical account of the continent’s shifting iron and steel industry. While researching for this paper I encountered Weber’s least-cost analysis and also came to appreciate how transportation improvements can significantly change land uses and entire patterns of industry. The following year, my first in graduate school, I took a series of informative courses on regional analysis, urban geography, and economic development. It was all very exciting and, for the first time, I was carefully reading journals instead of getting original ideas filtered through textbooks. My MA thesis, which combined some analysis with a lengthy literature review, addressed city-size distributions—separate chapters were devoted to central place theory, stochastic processes, historical studies, and issues related to primacy. I find it interesting that this has become such a hot topic in regional science during the past fifteen years or so.

While studying for my PhD I was given a lot of freedom and, as a consequence, I made a number of false starts on a dissertation. In fact, I still have notes from this experimental period and have revisited some of the half-baked ideas I formulated about location theory at that time. Eventually, though, I focused again on central place theory and wrote a somewhat unremarkable treatise on structure and process in Christaller’s system. Martin Beckmann was my external examiner and he was very generous in his evaluation.

Throughout this period Ken Denike served as my advisor and much of my thinking was influenced by what Ken had already learned from people like Walter Isard and William Alonso at the University of Pennsylvania. Curt Eaton also served on my committee and his perspectives on agent behavior continue to influence how I view decision-making problems that involve space or location. Clearly one of the highlights of this period was meeting John Parr and he, Ken, and I wrote a paper that was published in the mid-1970s addressing the relationship between a city’s population size and the formation of its economic base.

After leaving UBC, where I had been far too long, I was very fortunate to get visiting positions, first at the University of Washington and then at Queen’s University. I had many lunches with Dick Morrill in Seattle and he managed to dispel much of my skepticism about the value of government policy, at least with regard to locating public facilities. Maurice Yeates in Kingston made me think a lot more about rent theory, and  perhaps I should have accepted his advice (and data) to study how new transportation investments were reshaping the land value surface of Toronto. Later in my career I accepted other visiting positions, in North America and Australia, and always found these very productive times given the reduction in paperwork and committee assignments.

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Having lunch in Squamish with past WRSA president Warren Gill (2010).

By the late-1970s I was looking for a more permanent residence. I had been talking a lot with Michael Dacey in Geography at Northwestern University and was very fortunate to avoid the personnel fiasco that was just brewing there. Instead I moved to the University of Arizona in Tucson, which in many ways turned out to be a very good choice. At that time both Geography and Economics were located in the Business College so the Geography faculty received a lot of exposure to undergraduates who were interested in either real estate or local development. We also encountered students who were keen on entering the university’s graduate Planning program, where they would be greeted by Penn graduate Art Silvers. Even though the department was eventually moved to another college, we slowly put together a very solid program in Regional Development that attracted up to 300 majors per year and produced some of most distinguished undergraduates across the entire university. Unfortunately, though, departmental politics trumped this success story and several of my colleagues eventually left in frustration over the department’s new direction.  

While I was finishing up a number of papers on multipurpose shopping and central place populations I became intrigued by the work being done on small towns by several of my colleagues, including Lay Gibson. Much of this was applied research, funded by the Arizona government, and involved the collection of employment data in the field. Here the economic bases of many towns in the US Southwest were summarized in a series of monographs that were published over a twenty-year period. I thought the results could be usefully generalized by collapsing the results into one data set and this led to my work on estimating small-area economic base multipliers. Once micropolitan places were recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau in the 1990s I was able to use this earlier work to establish another shortcut method for estimating multipliers in towns and less populous counties. One of the most important contributions here was showing how non-earnings income and other factors, including the incidence of natural amenities, can affect both the size and job composition of those multipliers.

While at Arizona, which I eventually left in 2006, I was fortunate to supervise some very good graduate students, but had special relationships with Timothy Fik and Alexander Vias. Tim’s enthusiasm for all problems involving geographic clustering and spatial contiguity was infectious and he was largely responsible for my rethinking of various analytical matters, including how conjectural variations might affect both price and location in spatial competition models. We enjoyed a good division of labor where one of us would design the mathematical models while the other would write programs for the numerical solutions. Alternatively, Alex’s interests were along the lines of rural economic development and we became very interested in unpacking “chicken or egg” issues, especially trying to detect whether population growth was leading or lagging employment growth across the American West. This demo-economic work was nicely informed by the insightful ideas on interregional compensating differentials that had been pioneered by other regional scientists. Productive relationships were also formed with many others, including Meagan Cahill, who worked on urban crime; Sang-Yool Lee, who studied the role of uncertainty in agriculture; and Chris Bitter, whose remains interested in all aspects of housing. I particularly enjoyed working with those graduate students whose interests did not coincide with my own as they challenged me to read new literatures and grasp different methodologies.

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Hiking with Dave Boyce and Curt Eaton in Glacier Park; photo by Jay Allen (2011)

Dave Plane joined us at Arizona in the early 1980s and we later co-edited the Journal of Regional Science for nearly a decade. Even though Dave and I both enjoyed some prior editorial experience, we were a little anxious when we assumed this responsibility because Ron Miller had done such an exceptional job with the journal at Penn. Dave is one of the most organized scholars around and we soon agreed to meet once a week to keep on top of the steady flow of submissions and reviews. I like to think we broadened the audience of the journal although we were never in favor of publishing special issues, a trend that seems so popular today. It is not common knowledge that the JRS was once owned by the Regional Science Research Corporation and that it was during our tenure that all production matters were transferred to Blackwell. Basically Ben Stevens was the RSRC and I can still recall the lengthy (and expensive) telephone discussions between Ben and myself—where he talked and I listened—that addressed the journal’s direction, impact, and readership.

Over the years several other well-known people—including Adrian Esparza, Brigitte Waldorf, and John Carruthers—joined our core group at Arizona so that, during the 1990s, we had a very strong regional science program. My exposure to John proved to be especially fruitful as we went on to do a number of projects together after we had both left Arizona for other climes. Our earliest interactions led me to reconsider the issue of amenity valuation and this topic has remained on my active list ever since. John also persuaded me of the great importance of land-use issues, whose neglect has serious implications for quality of life in both metropolitan and nonmetropolitan settings.

Without doubt the two highlights of my academic career were my regional science retirement party and my Fellows selection. In conjunction with the 2010 meetings of the Western Regional Science Association, John Carruthers arranged a sumptuous dinner in the Sedona hills that brought together a large international crowd of friends and well wishers. The highlights included some dubious stories by Bob Stimson and a clever roasting of my accomplishments by Kingsley Haynes—both close friends and past RSAI presidents. Using some of the diverse papers that were given at that meeting, a special issue of the Annals of Regional Science was then dedicated in my honor. I have mixed emotions when I think back on this special occasion because two of the participants, who were especially good friends, passed away soon thereafter. Being notified of my Fellows selection later that year was an equally satisfying event. Now, though, I sought something a bit more intimate so I requested that the award ceremony be delayed until the summer of 2011 when I would be hiking with friends in Glacier Park. This prestigious RSAI award was presented to me by Dave Boyce on a lovely day at a lodge overlooking Swiftcurrent Lake and the event was photographed by Curt Eaton, who had served on my PhD committee so many years earlier.

These days I’m living in Squamish, British Columbia, five miles from where I started, where I stay active hiking in the summer months and curling during the winter. I still remain involved in research and continue to enjoy working with younger regional scientists on a variety of different topics. In fact I believe I have now published with more than 40 co-authors over the years. Many of these people have been students of mine—either undergraduate or graduate—and that has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my career. I try to make it out to one or two regional science conferences each year but generally restrict myself to those having fewer participants, like the British-Irish meetings. On the other hand it is encouraging to see so many younger people at the larger meetings, including the WRSA where former Arizona student Rachel Franklin has been active in recruitment. So if you happen to spot me at one of those meetings please feel comfortable about coming up and introducing yourself.

(Published on RSAI Newsletter 2015 November)

Read 97 times Last modified on Monday, 05 November 2018 14:18

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