The Annals of Regional Science

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 917–924 | Cite as

A brief history of time, space, and growth: Waldo Tobler’s first law of geography revisited

WRSA presidential address 2013
  • Hans Westlund
Original Paper


In the current knowledge economy, the most important production factor, human knowledge, is much more mobile than the dominating production factors of previous periods. This means that theories of spatial development, formulated during the manufacturing-industrial era, might not be wholly applicable today. One of the basic assumptions of spatial theory is formulated in Waldo Tobler’s first law of geography: “everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” This article discusses the validity of this law in today’s knowledge economy. While several factors have made distance less important, a crucial factor for innovation and growth—tacit knowledge—is still highly dependent on face-to-face contacts. This suggests that Waldo Tobler’s first law of geography plays an important role also in the knowledge economy.

JEL Classification

F00 O10 O30 N00 R11 D83 



The author is grateful for valuable comments from Waldo Tobler and Editor Janet Kolhase. All possible remaining flaws are the sole responsibility of the author.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Urban and Regional StudiesKTH (Royal Institute of Technology)StockholmSweden
  2. 2.Jönköping International Business SchoolJönköpingSweden
  3. 3.IRSA (Institute for Developmental and Strategic Analyses)LjubljanaSlovenia

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