Archive for August, 2008

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Aug 31st 2008 at 12:57pm UTC

Finding Your Fit

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

According to the New York Times, it takes a while for all those new young people to find their fit in the Big Apple.

But for many, the thrill of arrival is often tempered by the sinking realization of what an alienating place the city can be, especially for those who are not wealthy or who do not have a pre-existing network of friends. Nothing comes easily, even if one can get past the dauntingly high cost of living. The subway maze seems indecipherable. People are everywhere, but ignore each other on the street. Friends might live in distant neighborhoods, and seeing them often requires booking time, like an appointment, weeks in advance.

Money quote: “The city abuses you, and you just have to abuse it back.”

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Sun Aug 31st 2008 at 12:55pm UTC

Rise of the Mega-Region

Sunday, August 31st, 2008

My paper with Tim Gulden and Charlotta Mellander is out in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society. Here’s the abstract.

This paper develops new data on mega-regions. It takes issue with theories of globalization which argue that global economic activity is being more widely decentralized – ‘the world is flat.’ We use a global dataset of night-time light emissions to produce an objectively consistent set of mega-regions for the globe. We draw on high-resolution population data to estimate the population of each of these regions. We then process the light data in combination with national gross domestic product (GDP) to produce rough but useful regional estimates of economic activity. We also present estimates of technological and scientific innovation.

The full paper is here.

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Fri Aug 29th 2008 at 9:28am UTC

Beyond Human Capital

Friday, August 29th, 2008

Most economists believe that human capital – that is, education level – is a key factor in regional development. But it’s now dawning on more and more researchers that the kinds of work people do may be more important than just the overall level of education. This focus on what people do, as opposed to what we learn in school – the conventional economist’s measure of human capital – is what originally set me on to write about the creative class in the first place.

This recent report by Todd Gabe of the University of Maine and Jaison Abel of the New York Fed takes a detailed look at the role of occupations and skill in regional growth. The study finds that “knowledge associated with the provision of producer services and information technology are particularly important determinants of economic vitality in U.S. metropolitan areas.” It also reinforces the findings of my own research with Charlotta Mellander and Kevin Stolarick that specific occupations and job categories are especially important to economic development – management, business and finance, science and technology, and also arts, culture, and entertainment.

Aleem Kanji
by Aleem Kanji
Thu Aug 28th 2008 at 2:32pm UTC

Who’s Your “Smart City?”

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

A great article from an upcoming issue of Macleans magazine on “Canada’s Smartest Cities” research done by the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) indicates which cities offer the most opportunities – with Ottawa and Victoria topping the charts. Calgary is labeled as the country’s most cultured city with Guelph taking the prize as the most caring city. Check out the rankings and experiment with the interactive mapping of more than 4,700 cities conducted by the CCL here.

Why should you care how smart your city is? According to the CCL, having more opportunities for lifelong learning can mean “higher wages, better job prospects, improved health and a more fulfilling life.

The CCL’s index is created with data from 25 indicators, which in turn are grouped into four pillars of learning, originally developed by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The four pillars are: Learning to know, Learning to Do, Learning to Live and Learning to Be.

Thumbs up to Bert Sperling and Kevin Stolarick for their insights provided in the article. Oh, and watch out Canada… Who’s Your City: The Canadian Edition is coming to a bookshelf near you in March of next year, chalk-full of analysis and rankings on Canadian cities.

What do you think makes a city smart? Is it cultural opportunities, volunteer activities, workplace training? Or are there other elements that rank high on what you believe a smart city should be?

Bruce Kuwabara
by Bruce Kuwabara
Thu Aug 28th 2008 at 2:08pm UTC

Therme Vals

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

The Therme Vals is a project of resistance, opposing the architecture of spectacle. Designed by Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor, the thermal baths at Vals is both a meditation on the essential elements – earth, wind, water & fire – and an economic initiative to drive tourism. The Therme Vals embodies the potential that architecture has to calm the body and mind in an ever increasing world of hyper speed, space and communications.

Nestled in the Swiss Alps, 100 miles South of Zurich with a population of less than 1,000, Vals is known for its spring water which is sold throughout Switzerland. In the 1980s, when a local hotel owner went bankrupt, the village stepped in and purchased the hotels, hoping to transform one of them into a hydrotherapy center. The village then commissioned Peter Zumthor to design the baths which would not only be an amenity for the community but an attraction for visitors.

Since its opening in 1996, the village has seen a dramatic increase in the number of tourists making tourism Vals’ primary source of income accounting for 2/3 of the local economy. Architecture aficionados and travelers alike are drawn to this magnificent building to experience how the architecture has established a dialogue with the powerful landscape that surrounds it and the healing qualities of the thermal bath water.

The design creates a series of spaces that are organized within and between structural box columns of concrete, faced in indigenous Valser quartzite. The roof is a system of thin cantilevered concrete slabs that are supported by the box columns. The roof slabs do not touch, allowing the natural light to dramatically enter the baths through linear glass skylights.

As you enter the baths, you pass through an acrylic curtain, into a world meant to delight the senses. It seems paradoxical that one of the most masterful works of contemporary architecture should have such an understated and unusual entrance.

The baths, ranging from a tepidarium that is 40 degrees Celsius to a much cooler outdoor pool, are organized in a complex labyrinth of chambers inside and between the structural column-rooms. The concrete inside the tepidarium is integrally colored a deep red.

The Therme Vals is more than just great architecture that can be appreciated in relation to the unbuilt Danteum project by the Italian modernist Giuseppi Terragni. It also demonstrates how a small village can be creative and entrepreneurial. The Therme Vals offers a seductive shift from the paradigm of the Bilbao effect where architecture is a vehicle for economic health through spectacle and display to architecture as a space of desire – for the engagement of mind, body and soul, and community – and an equally powerful driver of local economy.

For more information on the Therme Vals, please visit:

Photographs taken from Flickr account members: sim and Dee Adams

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Thu Aug 28th 2008 at 1:33pm UTC

Who’s Middle Class?

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

There’s a ludicrous debate going on in the States about whether or not $250,000 puts a family in the middle class. Say whhhhhaaaaa? The ever-sensible Dan Gross provides some very level-headed perspective over at Slate. Median family income in America was about $50K in 2007. $250,000 is well FIVE TIMES that. As Gross points out, only about two percent of Americans have incomes of $250,000 and above. That would make the middle class mighty small indeed. Even in the richest regions of the United States – Washington, D.C., Boston, San Fran, and NYC – median incomes range from $60K to $85K – nowhere even close to $250K. And even in America’s richest town, New Canaan, CT, the median income is less than that. So what do you think makes a family middle class?

Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Thu Aug 28th 2008 at 11:43am UTC

Viva La Rustbelt

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Readers of the blog know I’m a huge Buffalo fan. Visiting the city on “homecoming” weekend, New York Magazine’s Adam Sternbergh tells us why that city and others like it – and no, not his adopted home of NYC – is the new frontier.

New York will always offer you the singular opportunity of testing yourself against the best, of sharpening yourself against the city’s fabled grindstone. Hopeful people will always scrape together their savings to come here, to split a one-bedroom apartment with five other people, whether that’s in Greenwich Village (then) or Bushwick (now). But New York, for all its mythology, is no longer a frontier. Buffalo is a frontier. And when you think of the actual frontier, you’ll recall that no one ever packed up and moved West to a gold-rush town because they heard it had really good local theater. They moved looking for opportunities. They moved for the chance to build a new life for themselves.

This, ironically, has always been the siren song of New York City: the chance to turn yourself into someone new, to live the life you’ve always imagined. But what a city like Buffalo offers is a very different promise of what could be. It offers the chance to live on the cheap and start a nonprofit organization, or rent an abandoned church for $1,000 a month, or finish your album without having to hold down two temp jobs at the same time, or simply have more space and a better view and enough money left over each month to buy yourself a painting once in awhile. A city like Buffalo reminds you that, beyond New York, there are still frontiers.

And Adam, if you’re out there reading: your piece is the No. 3 story on the Buffalo morning TV news (yes, they rank them everyday). Buffalo is our other, local TV market here in Toronto.

Over at Burghdiaspora, Jim Russell uses the very same story to take me to task:

Somehow the urban frontier effect has eluded Richard Florida. He’s busy chasing yesterday’s city stars. The rise of places such as Austin also had a lot to do with providing a frontier experience. In the Sun Belt, blank slate geographies abounded (see Houston for the best example of a frontier political geography). And then the scene of opportunity shifts as the hipster cities mature (i.e. get more expensive). This is the fickle fortune of geographic mobility.

Huh? The Rustbelt elude moi? I am a big believer in observed locational preferences: let’s look at mine. Save for three years in Washington, D.C. and a sabbatical at Harvard in the mid-1990s, I’ve lived since the early 1980s in: Buffalo, Columbus, Pittsburgh, and now Toronto (and yes, it qualifies too). I met my wife in Detroit. Rustbelt cities are fantastic places – filled with history, authenticity, real messy urbanism, abundant garage spaces, spectacular interplay between the built and natural environments and great universities. What has kept them down – caused their own sons and daughters to move out and kept talent away? Simple. In addition to economic trauma, it is a long legacy of close-minded and intolerant leadership – squelchers. I’ve seen it firsthand in so many of these places. That’s now starting to turn around in Buffalo, as Sternbergh’s story shows, and in Pittsburgh, and elsewhere. Go Tor-Buff Bills!

Roger Martin
by Roger Martin
Thu Aug 28th 2008 at 8:24am UTC

Digging Into Creativity

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

As originally published in BusinessWeek, this is the fourth and final installment in a series that talks about embracing design-shop approaches to problem-solving and how that means having to shed some key characteristics of how traditional companies work. Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

LOVE THOSE CONSTRAINTS. By contrast, design shops’ dominant mind-set is: “There’s nothing that can’t be done.” If something can’t be done yet, it is only because the thinking hasn’t yet been creative and inspired enough. For Buckminster Fuller, the problem of buildings getting proportionally heavier, weaker, and more expensive as they got larger in scale did not qualify as intractable. It remained intractable only until he created the design of the geodesic dome, which gets proportionally lighter, stronger, and less expensive as it grows larger in scale.

For designers, constraints never constitute the enemy. On the contrary, they serve to increase the challenge and excitement level of the task at hand. In fact, given the source of status in these organizations, constraints actually increase the level of a problem’s “wickedness,” making its potential solution that much more rewarding. Hence designers would rarely say: “That simply can’t be done” or “We don’t have the budget for that.” Rather, they’d proclaim: “Bring it on!”

The Journey from Appending to Embedding
It is both unrealistic and unproductive to think that traditional companies will ever transform their organizations entirely into those of design consultancies However, given today’s design-centric environment, traditional firms can – and should – make subtle but important changes in their values to deeply embed and exploit design, rather than append it as nothing more than the latest management fad.

The linchpin of the required change lies in the wicked problem. A traditional firm’s values result in assuming away wicked problems as the product of immutable constraints with which the firm must live: Managers avoid working on wicked problems, because status comes from elsewhere, and concentrating on ongoing tasks crowds out working on, and thinking about, wicked problems. Even if a traditional firm takes on a wicked problem, the lack of appreciation of both abductive reasoning and iterative/collaborate work makes it less likely that it will be productively tackled.

REWARDING WITH WICKEDNESS. If instead, traditional firms recognize that the wicked problems that present themselves represent their biggest opportunities for value creation, they will see that tackling them requires a project-based approach and that the important role of projects in company life must not be protected from the tyranny of ongoing tasks.

They will be more inclined to assign their best and brightest to tackling wicked projects, which will signal that solving wicked problems is a high-status activity. And by recognizing these issues explicitly as wicked problems, the corporation will in greater likelihood recognize that abductive logic as well as iterative/collaborative process is needed.

Companies that truly want to embed design into their fundamental operations need to wade into wicked problems. “Bring it on” needs to replace “nothing can be done” as the response to these problems. Wading into wicked problems using the approaches described here will provide the catalyst for introducing key design characteristics into an established company.

And as many of today’s most successful corporations have shown, infusing an organization with design principles can pay big dividends in value creation.

Read this story in its entirety at

Whatever your line of work, do you feel constrained by certain limitations or problems? Do you feel like you’re at the mercy of bigwigs who will or will not permit you to dig into those wicked problems? Or does your company as a whole ignore the wicked problems and focus strongly on ongoing tasks as a measure of avoidance and good old perseverance?

Robert Wuebker
by Robert Wuebker
Wed Aug 27th 2008 at 3:35pm UTC

The Five-Taco Ride

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

It’s been a particularly illuminating week. Any beliefs I had that I was successfully balancing dissertation-writing with on-the-bike fitness came to an abrupt end around four hours into a long ride from Oakland to Mt. Diablo and back. The ride – ostensibly a “five-taco ride,” representing the number of taco-truck tacos wolfed down at the ride’s conclusion – laid bare how soft I had become after three months of thinking and scribbling.

I had come to the Bay Area for meetings and to attend the IIT Madras Clean Energy Panel Discussion in Santa Clara. What I thought would be a small gathering of special interests and a great panel including ex-Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Om Nalamasu (now Applied Materials VP and Deputy CTO) was basically a standing-room-only affair. The place was packed with technical folks who wanted to apply their mad hardware and software skeels to the twin challenges of energy and climate change. It was a great event, and one that left me hopeful for breakthrough innovation in this domain.

While in the Bay Area I also had a chance to talk to a couple of folks experimenting with different approaches to venture capital investment. The globalization of capital, opportunity, and talent is changing the context in which venture capital firms operate, (click here for a working paper by Martin Kenney, Martin Haemmig, and W. Richard Goe on the subject) and I am curious to see how various aspects of the venture capital ecosystem are experimenting and adapting. One of the challenges of venture investment is navigating the transition from entrepreneurial startup to high-growth firm, e.g. its “professionalization.” Venture capital firms have evolved a series of structural and contractual mechanisms designed to mitigate risk, add value to firms, and help them through this process (where “help” often means swapping out the executive team).

One potential solution to the challenge of professionalization is to do it yourself. A venture capital firm, typically an “active” investor that provides value-add at the level of the board of directors, could choose to become a “super active” investor, taking an active role in the management of the firm. This is the strategy enacted by one venture firm located in the Bay Area. Another way to address the problem is to re-think the notion of the entrepreneur-venture firm matching problem by inventing or finding the business models yourself, and then tap your network to assemble the right team, and hiring additional people at the right time. A second firm has been employing this strategy with some success.

Both cases are interesting experiments, but they also have notable challenges. Both approaches require structural and contractual changes to align incentives appropriately and reduce the ever-present risk of opportunism present in venture investment. Both approaches may struggle to scale, but for a small venture capital firm this may not be a concern. I don’t think either has taken outside money, and I don’t think that either firm would be particularly motivated to do so. However, just like the IIT Clean Energy Panel Discussion, these meetings left me optimistic that the U.S. national innovation system – flexible, adaptable, and filled with bright, motivated individuals – will play a significant role in the transition from hydrocarbons to electrons and carbohydrates.

And how are things in your world? Are you noticing a migration of technical and managerial talent to entrepreneurial opportunities in energy and the environment? What are the factors preventing breakthroughs? Lack of capital? An influx of new talent? A fresh perspective? How much of a difference will technical breakthroughs make compared to, say, changes in public policy or large-scale behavioral change?

David Miller
by David Miller
Wed Aug 27th 2008 at 12:56pm UTC

Pittsburgh: Robots Are Cooler Than Cows

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

One of the keys to building a sustainable, creative economy is leveraging a city or region’s assets and engaging the citizens with those assets. A great piece in today’s WSJ highlights how Pittsburgh, PA and Carnegie Mellon University (where Richard taught/lived for years) has supported its citizens’ efforts to learn about and build robots – including edible robots! Here is the website for Robot 250 (the year-long robot festival).

From the article by Clare Ansberry:

Mickey McManus took five seedless cucumbers, carved them so they looked like fingers and anchored them to a hunk of Edam cheese. To this “hand,” he attached a small electronic device, programmed to respond to sound; when someone laughed or clapped, the fingers flexed. He brought his cucumber robot to a wine-and-cheese party as an appetizer, along with a robotic Rice Krispies Treats man that pivoted whenever the lights dimmed…

The yearlong program, called Robot 250, coincides with the city’s 250th birthday. Teachers fanned out to 13 neighborhoods, providing materials, instruction and troubleshooting. “We wanted to put technology into the hands of as many people as possible,” says Illah Nourbakhsh, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, who came up with the idea…

People in Pittsburgh have been building robots for decades. Seventy years ago, an engineer at Westinghouse Electric created Elektro the Moto-Man, who could walk and smoke cigarettes and had a 77-word vocabulary. His sidekick, Sparko the Moto-Dog, wagged his tail, sat and barked on command.

Today, there are more than 30 robotic companies in Pittsburgh. They make drowsy-driver warning systems, and robots that help with surgery, unload crates and search for life on distant planets. Alcoa Inc. has a 6-foot-tall robot spokesperson, Al, who hosted a recent Robot Block Party at the Carnegie Science Center.

Part of the Robot 250 event, the block party was billed as the city’s largest and most diverse public gathering of robots. A solar-powered robot mingled with hazmat robots that search for explosives. Robots built by teenagers were on display. Red Rover, a four-wheeled robot that has become a local celebrity in robot circles, made an appearance. Red Rover and his creators are vying for the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon and transmit video, images and data back to Earth.

Pittsburgh has had many struggles over the years, but is continually trying to use its historical strengths to claw its way back to the leading edge of the economy. Many cities and regions could take a cue from Pittsburgh’s efforts to engage its people and their creativity. What is your city doing? Is it working?