Great taste, bitter aftertaste

I am almost done Richard Florida’s new book “Who’s Your City” and I have to say that it – like his last book – leaves me a little disappointed. I find he develops very interesting data but then makes giant leaps as to causality.

I had a similar feeling when I read Naomi Klein’s No Logo a few years ago.

It seems to me that Klein began with a rigorous assessment of the rise and dominance of global brands then moved to a less than rigorous assessment of the negative impact of those global brands and almost no rigor at all to her “what is to be done” assessment.

I get the same feeling from the two books I read by Florida. He makes a rigorous assessment of (in this latest book) the rise of the mega-region, the correlation between creativity and other factors and economic growth, etc. Then he makes a less than rigorous assessment of causality and finaly makes an absolutely tepid commentary about what is to be done.

And yet all the public policy is based on his commentary about what is to be done. I don’t find that Florida proves that investing in museums and cultural facilities will stimulate economic growth. He proves there is a correlation between the two but is it chicken and egg? Does a community focus on attracting Google, generating high wage incomes, eventually leading to spin off companies that sell for millions and the owners build museums with their newfound money? Or should a company build a museum, hope it attracts creative types which will catch the eye of Google and convince them to move in?

Same with gays and bohemians. Florida thinks communities should encourage gays and bohemians to move in because his analysis shows that communities with higher percentages of gays and bohemians have better economic outcomes.

But is it the opposite? Do successful communities over time attract more gays and bohemians which in turn leads to statistics showing successful communities have gays and bohemians. Who knows? But Florida doesn’t really make the case.

And then, of course, there is application of theory. Thomas Friedman (who is roundly slammed by Florida) says the world is flat and economic growth and technological innovation can happen anywhere. This is a message that resonates with the 50% of the world that doesn’t live in Florida’s mega-regions.

Florida writes a whole book essentially dooming places like Atlantic Canada to economic failure and then jets in and says we need to invest in creativity and attracting gays and bohemians. Essentially, as most one trick ponies, he is trying to impose his model that he sees working in Austin, Toronto and San Francisco on little places like Saint John when his own analysis doesn’t account at all for smaller urban regions that aren’t part of these mega clusters.

I think we need need a Richard Florida for the mid sized city. For all of the areas across the industrialized world that aren’t in the magnetic pull of Toronto or Vancouver or New York.

Maybe a John Manitoba.

Maybe a little less strong observation and weak causality and maybe a little more creativity (the very thing Florida has based his career on) when it comes to looking at solutions for small urban and even rural regions.

Maybe FaceBook can help a bunch of smaller urbans act more like clusters. Maybe governments can stop the petty turf protection and do far more to link up their communities. Florida banks the farm (excuse the metaphor) on place and the physical agglomeration of people, maybe places like New Brunswick should do far more to focus on virtual place. Maybe the next generation of Florida (or Manitoba if you will) will be the virtual cluster. The life sciences cluster that pulled in biomedical resources from Moncton, and clinical trials expertise from Saint John and nutraceutical expertise from Charlottetown and medical school research facilities in Halifax.

Otherwise, just reading Florida, you would get the sense that we are doomed in the longer term.

But I lean more towards Friedman than Florida. Or maybe Manitoba.

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0 Responses to Great taste, bitter aftertaste

  1. richard says:

    Talk to many gays/lesbians in their 50s and you will find that many of them moved to urban areas in their 20s and 30s because that is where they were accepted. The bigger the urban community, the larger the number of gays and lesbians. The faster the urban area is growing, the larger teh gay community becomes. At some point, you get a critical mass and a visible gay culture emerges. The vibrant art community follows.

    Florida has it backwards. He is just another in a long, long line of economists/pop demographers/business school types who are more interested in selling books than actually doing the hard work. And, like his predecessors, he’s full of crap.

  2. mikel says:

    I’d disagree about ‘No Logo’ and a good portion of the book was a ‘rigorous’ emphasis on the ‘negative’ aspects of corporatization. It may be as ‘rigorous’ as YOU would like, meaning you are probably being more critical of that aspect than the others. As for ‘what is to be done’, that doesn’t need ‘rigor’ as its been pretty much stated simply for the past hundred years or so-remove the judicial rights of corporations as ‘persons’ under the law. Simple, and no ‘rigour’ necessary.

    As for cities that’s very much a chicken and egg situation, or you can even call it ‘one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure’. Or ‘those who like it like it a lot’. Numerous critics have come out saying that New York is no longer a ‘world class city’ but rather basically a large shopping district.

    What ONE person sees as a world class or wonderful city, somebody may see as a dump. I know of tons of people who couldn’t WAIT to get out of New Brunswick, especially Fredericton, as it wasn’t so much a city as a large town. Others will swear that its the most wonderful place on earth (check out Charles Leblanc’s blog-he’s a one man tourist bureau!)

    We hear a lot about museums and galleries, but how many people in any given city actually go to one? And IF you go to one what exactly is it doing for you? Here in Waterloo we taxpayers paid for a “Clay and Glass Gallery” which STILL costs ten bucks to get in, has few exhibits, almost no local ones, and I pass by it multiple times daily and have hardly seen a person go into it.

    An interesting aside is that in the parking lot the city USED to have a skateboard park that was ALWAYS full, until the city closed it down.

    That’s the problem when ‘elites’ choose public policy. Everything is galleries and museums, usually with little local stuff which is sniffed at as ‘folk art’.

    So personally I wouldn’t waste time reading books on stuff like that, its SO subjective its virtually useless for trying to choose public policy. The one thing to mention though is that a city CAN”T put a gun to a companies head and bring them to their city-they CAN enact policies to make a city friendlier, more artistic, nicer, environmentally sustainable, etc., etc.

    Finally, since I know David listens to podcasts, there is an interesting one on The Agenda from TVO-you can go to their listings and find the one about ‘what makes great cities’. Of course his focus is on Toronto, but according to this guy Canada has NO world class cities. They do mention Barcelona, and if you’ve been their you know that they go out of their way to encourage, well, just about EVERYTHING.

    But for those who don’t listen to the show, ‘diversity’ was very high up on the list. It’s harder for a maritime city to be diverse, however, there are small patches of diverse cultures that aren’t nearly celebrated enough (I don’t really consider having a parade once a year as ‘culturally diverse’). For a ‘world class city’ that WASNT” diverse the ‘expert’ mentioned Helsinki, which invests a LOT in culture. Toronto was way lower than US cities, it would be interesting to know where maritime cities rank. I think TO was 18 or 22 cents per person.

    Just to be judgemental, I think Brad Woodside did nobody any favours with all the hoopla about the gay pride parade. It’s one thing to ‘encourage’ groups, its another to outright discourage them.

  3. nbt says:

    I saw Florida speak at Mount Allison University as part of the Wilford B. Jonah Lecture Series. To my surprise, at least 50 per cent of his speech was dedicated to politics as he quickly took sides in bashing America to please the Canadian partisans in the crowd.

    Let me tell you, I lost a lot of respect for the guy. He came across more as an elitist hippie with no understanding of rural issues then he did a economic erudite, kind of like many of the NDP in New Brunswick.

    You know, that attitude that everything that’s happenin’ has to happening in a fair trade coffee shop and nowhere else. Very insular thinking. Geesh.

  4. richard says:

    “He came across more as an elitist hippie ..”

    But a rich one, thanks to the suckers who buy his books, not to mention the business school fools and academic chatterers who continue to give him work.