Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Mon May 25th 2009 at 2:00pm UTC

People and Places

The Next American City’s Josh Leon reacts to my March Atlantic essay on cities and the crisis:

[N]ot everyone can afford to move and the poorest are left behind amidst urban blight and neglect. What do we do about the immobile? What do we do with cities that are net losers of the “creative class”? For this so-called creative brand of capitalism, the uncreative are someone else’s problem …There is an inherent inhumanity in leaving people and their cities in the dust. Besides, the cost of finding ways to get so-called obsolete classes of workers gainfully employed where they live is looking preferable to the social costs of managing huge ghost cities and permanent spatial inequality.

All sentiments I share. The first step – and the main point of my essay – is to elevate the issue of growing geographic inequality and bring it into the ongoing conversation about the crisis and recovery.

But what can be done? How to create whole new industries and jobs in declining places? Protecting old industries or baling out uncompetitive firms – two preferred solutions – make little economic sense. So what’s left?

We can confer subsidies on places to improve their infrastructure, universities, and core institutions, or quality of life. But this still is unlikely to stem the tide of the talented and the mobile, at least in the short-run. We can take a longer-term approach and help them gradually shift away from declining industries and build around their remaining assets organically and over time.

At the end of the day, people – not industries or even places – should be our biggest concern. We can best help those who are hardest-hit by the crisis, by providing a generous social safety, investing in their skills, and when necessary helping them become mobile and move to where the opportunities are.

One Response to “People and Places”

  1. Andy Nash Says:

    As a native of Buffalo NY I have seen first hand what happens when a city struggles over decades to survive. The problem seems to be that the “city fathers” failed to take the risk to innovate after the 1920s (people in Buffalo talk about a whole list of these missed opportunities, e.g. locating the major new university conference in the suburbs rather than in the downtown). Over time these missed opportunities have created an increasingly desperate situation, and now city leaders grasp at anything that might possibly create economic development, while the city continues to shrink and become less viable. What’s interesting is Buffalo’s proximity to the highly successful Toronto mega region. How do you think Buffalo could benefit from the strength of Toronto’s economy?