Economist Ed McMahon on the value of preserving community uniqueness

Ed McMahon, who holds the Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC believes ‘place’ is more than a spot on a map. Place is “the unique collection of qualities and characteristics–visual, cultural, social, environmental–that provide meaning to a location.” And it is the uniqueness that makes a place worth caring about.

Yet all too often American developers forego this notion, favoring uniform sprawl and cookie-cutter developments in their plans for growth. We are now suffering the social, economic, and environmental consequences of those choices. Even with all of the technological improvements of faster computers, bigger cars, more choices, people still ask is this all there is? As America amassed enormous wealth and power, we are plagued with vanishing beauty, meaning, and sense of place.

In his talk at TEDxJacksonville, McMahon makes a compelling case for the economic, psychological, and social value of ‘uniqueness’ in our communities. He explains that this “community distinctiveness” is a critical component for economic success, equal to world-class infrastructure and a well-educated workforce. And this is especially critical as the shape of the world economy rapidly changes.

Wheareas the old economy was about making things, the new economy is about designing things. Markets and cost-sensitivity drove the 20th Century, but today place and values-sensitivity matter most. If “communities cannot differentiate themselves in a world where capital is footloose,” McMahon observes, “they have no competitive advantage.” He challenges us to consider how we might design our communities to be more distinctive, more livable, more beautiful, more connected for truly sustainable growth.

Check out Ed Mcmahon’s TEDx talk “Where Am I? The Power of Uniqueness” on

– Posted by Maren Maier, Founder of