Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Archive for March, 2008

Who’s Your Carrboro?

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

A cool video from some proud residents of the town of Carrboro NC

Who’s Your Chi-Pitts?

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Here’s an excerpt of an interview where I discuss some of my favorite Midwest cities – from Dayton to Pittsburgh by Tracy Certo of Pop City and Soapbox:

Help me better understand the connection between living in a powerful mega-region like Chi-Pitts but in a city in that region that’s in transition.

Chicago’s growth really sucked up all of the services and headquarters functions and lawyering and financial and accountancy that used to be done in the Detroits, the Pittsburghs, the Cincinnatis, the Akrons, the Toledos. Chicago has become in a way the business and financial center for the Chi-Pitts regions, and it’s become extraordinarily expensive.

So, one can make quite a nice life in a Cincinnati if they find ways to connect to that Chi-Pitts mega region. The places in the mega region that are really at an advantage are places like Ann Arbor. So, the college towns in that mega region have a particular advantage.

How can a city in this mega-region, like Cincinnati, Detroit or Pittsburgh, better compete in the global economy? Is it a matter of amenities or mindset or both?

First of all, I think they all have this great advantage, in a nearly 2 trillion dollar mega region which is one of the most innovative on the planet. They’re also close to the second largest mega-region on the planet, the number one in North America which is the Bos-Wash (Boston-Washington). The question is how do they want to compete?

I was just in Cincinnati and in Dayton, another city I love. They’re historical centers of innovation, every one from steel innovation to aluminum innovation, to electronics, to the Wright Brothers, to the car. This is one of the greatest innovative and entrepreneurial centers in the world. They have probably one of the greatest clusters of universities, in the history of the planet. They’re producing phenomenal talent, but unfortunately, that talent leaves. So, in Rise of the Creative Class, I said the one thing that it needs to become is more open minded and tolerant. It needs to be more diverse and inclusive.

Some of that’s happening in certain parts of the region. More foreign people are moving in, though not enough, in the Cincinnatis and Pittsburghs. They’re becoming more open minded to the gay and lesbian population, though by no means, not enough. I don’t think it’s a question of making jazzier restaurants or hipper bike trails. I think it’s a question of being more open-minded.

Another thing the region suffers from is really poor leadership. And I think the reason that is, it really bears the imprint that as the economy is changing to newer things, away from manufacturing, the leadership still reflects that top-down, vertical, 1950s organization mentality so you get these conflicts between old-style democratic political machine and business-led organizations. Those conflicts become very dysfunctional. I think one of the other things is that if older cities could achieve better leadership, leadership that was more in tune with the future.

We were working with 30 community catalysts in greater Dayton a couple weeks ago and I was blown away by what’s happened in downtown Dayton. It’s a more interesting and exciting place, filled with arts and restaurants and renovated houses and buildings. But too how these thirty catalysts, black, white, young, old, Hispanic, Latino, how much they cared about making their city better. And I think that’s the kind of thing you see in parts of Ohio and Illinois, there’s this incredible sense that people care, and I think unleashing that energy in people is really key.

The rest is here.

Who’s Your Australia?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008


Here’s a podcast of my interview with Richard Aedy of Australia’s ABC Radio National – sort of the All Things Considered or Talk of the Nation for Australia. And here’s a blog post Aedy wrote about the book (also after the jump).

I spent a part of my Easter break finishing Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City. It was very impressive, though this (first) edition is very much aimed at the US market. Put it this way, Sydney gets two mentions while Madison, Wisconsin, (a much smaller place that’s home to an excellent university but not a lot else) gets 11. Essentially, Florida’s thesis is that where you live matters a great deal. So much so that it’s one of the three most important decisions you’ll ever make: up there with who you choose to spend your life with, and what you do. Actually, Florida argues that it’s the key decision – because it affects the other two. He’s got a point. Holiday romances aside, you tend to meet the person you fall for in the place that you live. Actually you tend to meet them through the places where you socialise, and – overwhelmingly – where you work. You tend to find a job in the place where you live too, although many of us know people who moved for love or their career, or both.

So place matters to you and me. But it also matters to economists and politicians and planners because cities are the great engine rooms of the world economy. Indeed, Florida has identified 40 mega-regions in the world that are home to 1.5 billion people. That’s a lot of people – 18% of the world’s population – but they’re responsible for 66% of economic activity and a staggering 86% of patented innovations. Mega-regions are very important and very big. Bigger than cities, most of the time anyway. Tokyo and London each get one to themselves, as does Mexico City. But most have cities as mere components. Bos-Wash – the almost completely built-up connurbation that stretches down the US eastern seaboard from Boston to Washington, DC, gives you the flavour of the thing. Australia does not get a single guernsey here – not Sydney, not Melbourne, not Syd-Melb, not anything. We’re not big enough.

There’s a lot in the book about this kind of thing – cities and regions as cradles for innovation and economic drivers which are becoming increasingly specialised. Cities as winners (LA, San Francisco, Nashville) and cities as losers (St Louis, Pittsburgh). Cities on the up (Shanghei) and on the down (Detroit). I find it fascinating. But all this is just building up Richard Florida’s bona fides. His real message is that different places have different strengths, weaknesses and personalities. (New York is the most neurotic part of America – I love that). Furthermore, people want different things from where they live in different stages of their life. Bars and music venues are much more important to young, single people just out of uni than they are to young families. At each stage, there’s a place that’s good for you. Actually, Florida goes a bit further than that. Really, he believes, we should be mobile and move to the place that suits us best. He doesn’t pretend there aren’t costs involved with doing that – not least the separation from friends and family. Florida also makes clear that no place is perfect and individuals always need to make trade-offs. However, America is not just a land of optimists, it’s the land of starting over. Bet it sells like hot cakes. Certainly I found it an interesting and provocative set of ideas. Hopefully it was a good interview too.

Who’s Your (Academic) City?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Dean Dad is an academic and blogger who’s just read Who’s Your City? He’s well-aware of the tradeoffs between the energy of spiky places and the lower living costs and availability of academic jobs in other areas.

Any advice on where he should go – or how to manage these tradeoffs?

Dean Dad writes:

The conceit of the book seems to be that once you understand what goes into making an area hot or cold, you can use that information to locate yourself where the action is likely to be. Better life options, real estate appreciation, and general coolness await those who correctly spot the next Seattle. To that end, the book includes a series of (admittedly nifty) maps, and several top-five lists broken down by stage of life and sexual preference …

As an academic, though, there was something both frustrating and troubling about the whole enterprise. As Florida acknowledges in passing, certain professions aren’t particularly place-specific. Education, health care, and law enforcement, for example, can be found pretty much anyplace you find a significant number of people. In higher ed, below the superstar level, many of us take jobs where we can find them. When a relatively flat national market confronts a ’spiky’ economic landscape, you have a choice: have decent purchasing power in an out-of-the-way or out-of-fashion place, or struggle mightily somewhere where other people are in hot industries. Buy in a cold area, or rent in a hot one.

The top R1 universities can pay top dollar to lure superstars despite the price of housing in, say, Berkeley. But that’s a very narrow segment of the higher ed market, even though it gets most of the attention. Community colleges, for example, can be found in all sorts of communities, both hot and cold. And most of them define part of their mission as serving the community in which they’re located.

If the community seems to be in decline, should part of the mission of the cc be to facilitate individual escape? Given Florida’s correct insight that age-based losses are hard to recoup, doing right by individual students could have the unintended side effect of hastening the decline of the service area. That’s a tough sell to local taxpayers. “Help us drain this festering craphole of young talent!” It doesn’t look good on a billboard.

That’s not Florida’s fault, of course. But the idea that you should simply go where the action is strikes me as impracticable for most of us in higher ed, and of dubious wisdom even for those who could. In my grad school days, I was physically close to a great deal of sophisticated culture, but couldn’t afford almost any of it. Ever since, I’ve been a little skeptical of the idea that it’s ‘hot metro region or bust.’ Given the income scale non-superstar academics face, it seems to me that there’s something to be said for the cheaper regions. And that would be true of any industry in which paychecks tend to be modest. Being house-poor (or apartment-poor) in a hot area renders you unable to take advantage of most of what makes it hot.

Without quite meaning to, I think Florida walked directly into a really fundamental dilemma: the economic world is spiky, but the nation-state is flat. The two don’t play well together, and higher ed is just one sign of that (and a minor one, at that). Self-help is fine, but those best situated to take advantage of it need it least. There’s a much bigger issue at hand here. I’m glad Florida did so much to outline the problem. I just don’t have a clue how to solve it.

DD makes two very important points here. The first one is micro – where should I go? The second more macro – this spiky world thing is a big problem, how do we collectively deal with it.

I think the book shows its worth right here in the way DD frames his own location problem. I wrote the book not just to illustrate the spiky world but to give people – like DD – a framework with which to understand it, think it through and make the best possible decision. There is no one best solution, only a series of real tradeoffs – that DD identifies – facing all of us. I, btw, was in a very similar place as DD twenty or so years ago during my PhD program at Columbia. I never, ever thought I would leave NYC. But I went to Buffalo, then Columbus and then Pittsburgh, spending more that two decades essentially moving for work. My grad school associates who refused to move from NYC and turned down jobs at midwestern universities made a different decision and mainly moved out of academe. And after more than two decades studying and also living through these locational tradeoffs, I believe a book like this one was very much needed. Honestly, it seems like DD – as frustrated as he may be – has used the book more or less exactly as I had hoped.

The second issue, the macro one, I also tackle in the book and have been discussing here. Try as we might no individual – and no city – can “solve” the spiky world problem. This is a national -no, at bottom, it’s a global – problem. On this level the book serves as a wake up call: it’s goal is to get beyond flat world mythology and encourage economic and policy-makers and all of us, really to look at the world as it actually is. Left to its own devices, I argue, the world is only going to get spikier. The ambitious and the resourceful may be able to navigate this spiky terrain, but many, many more will become stuck. This will lead not just to rising economic and geographic inequality but rampant political polarization, a greater cultural divide, increasing fear and anxiety, declining social cohesion and greater political and social instability. How do we deal with it? We build institutions to pump up the valleys – this is a core mission of the Prosperity Institute, and we are working closely with the Province of Ontario and Toronto region to develop mechanisms to do just that. If mayors and local leaders are aware of it, why are national and global leaders literally asleep?

Back to the main point: Anyone have some practical advice for Dean Dad?

Who’s Your (Geek) City?

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

Track Ball of Truth tells of the journey:

How did it end up that I was geeking out around the LucasArts facility in the Presidio in San Francisco rather than working there?

Tell us your story.

This occurred to me when I was taking a picture of the bronze Yoda statue by the front entrance, the only sign that a ton of really cool jobs working on the next Indiana Jones and Star Wars properties were on site. Only real geeks know that Lucas Arts moved whole hog from Skywalker Ranch and other locations to a nondescript but beautiful section of the Presidio.

People end up living where they are via three routes: accidentally, intentionally, and indirectly. Accidentally: most people in the US simply live where they grew up because it’s familiar, family and friends are close by and it is so easy to piece together an existence from all that familiarity. Intentionally: at some point early in their lives, some people say, look, I want to live/work/go to school there and then they make it so. Indirectly: some people follow a job, a spouse or a passion that limits where they can live, and the choice is just fallout from that initial decision. There are few nomads, other than those required to be so due to their job (military, sales, corporate execs, etc.).

As I travel around the U.S. to places I’ve always wanted to see, I play this game in my head of trying to figure out how people who live there came to live there. I’m in San Francisco now and my feeling is that there is a greater proportion of intentionals here than in other places. It’s the same vibe I get from immigrant and transient-heavy DC. Maybe it’s because both are creative class meccas, granted of different flavors. Richard Florida, who studies these issues, has a new book out called “Who’s Your City?” I haven’t read it yet, but it deals with this kind of thing.

Given my job, DC is the obvious choice for me and I realize now that I figured out where I wanted to live and what I wanted to do at about the same time. I wanted to go to college in DC but was stuck in NY for financial reasons. But I made sure to go to grad school inside the Beltway. Thinking these things through paid off very nicely for me. I would recommend to any high school student that he/she factor location into the college decision. College location feeds into social and business networking quite heavily. Yes, you can get a job in Miami after colleging in Seattle, but it’s swimming upstream. And above all, don’t let your location just happen, because these things tend to get locked in after a while. Someday, you might look at that Yoda statue, or the dairy farm in Vermont, or a restaurant in New York, and get pissed that you’re just a visitor.

If I had made a different career choice and was successful, maybe I would have ended up at a West Coast entertainment or tech company. Growing up in the Shire made this difficult (especially for laying the ground work for comp sci or anything artistic) but not impossible. I could see an alternate timeline where that did happen: I would be slaving away on animation shots for the upcoming Star Wars movie, halfway through my 30s, unmarried, wondering if what I was doing was truly meaningful and if life had more to offer. All geek and no life makes the Trackball a dull boy.

So how did I react when I saw Yoda and realized that I was on the outside looking in? I took his picture, with my kids in it, felt a little sorry for the people inside (I’m not kidding it was a beautiful day and I was on vacation) and moved on with a big grin on my face. I mean, I was standing right outside a geek mecca! Awesome! I score major geek points.

Who’s Your Denver?

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

Denver, CO
The greater Denver metropolitan area scores highly on a new set of rankings my team and I compiled based on the five major stages of your life. Denver itself ranks in the Top 10 places for young professionals. And Boulder ranks in the Top 5 smaller regions for single college grads, young professionals, families with children and empty-nesters.

But there is an even bigger economic factor that bodes well for the region’s fortunes. With nearly 4 million people and $140 billion in economic activity, it ranks as one of the top dozen mega-regions in the United States. In fact, it’s one of the 40 leading mega-regions that power the entire global economy.
The rest is here.

Who’s Your Ann Arbor?

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

Ann Arbor is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the county seat of Washtenaw County. It is the state’s seventh largest city with a population of 114,024 as of the 2000 census, of which 36,892 (32%) are college or graduate students. Believed to be named for the spouses of the city’s founders and for the stands of trees in the area, Ann Arbor is best known as the location of the main campus of the University of Michigan, which moved from Detroit in 1837.

The city’s economy is currently dominated by education, high tech, and biotechnology. Average home prices and property taxes are well above the state and national medians. The city is also known for its political liberalism and its large number of restaurants and performance venues.” — from Wikipedia

Chicago Skyline at Night

Saturday, March 1st, 2008