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.