Richard Florida Calls For New Urban Social Compact

Joel Kotkin, a paid shill for the right-wing ‘philanthropist’ Howard Ahmanson, recently suggested that Richard Florida had abandoned his ‘discredited’ creative class theory about the richness of cities. Not only did Florida respond, and dismantle the weak arguments that Kotkin arrayed, he went on to call for a new urban social compact, to extend the benefits of dynamic cities to all of their denizens.

Richard Florida, Did I Abandon My Creative Class Theory? Not So Fast, Joel Kotkin

We need to leverage density, skill, and knowledge to propel further innovation, economic growth and development (lord knows our economy needs it), and at the same time we have to build new institutions, new strategies, and a new urban social compact to improve the lot of those at the bottom.

That new social compact must address two important issues. One, it must work to lift the wages of those who toil in low-wage service and working-class jobs by harnessing more of their skills. My own research shows that when cognitive and social skills are added to those jobs it increases their wages, at a rate even greater than when they are added to knowledge work.  And second, this urban socialcompact must address the other side of the coin, making housing more affordable by increasing density, and making urban centers more accessible by improving transit. There is a lot that cities can and must do to improve the lot of the 66 percent who aren’t reaping the full gains of the creative age. This report from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (who I worked with) outlines some strategies for extending New York’s knowledge and tech boom to a much broader strata of workers and residents. It’s just a beginning.

Cities are back, as much as Joel Kotkin wants to deny it. They have turned the corner and are growing and flourishing again.  People with skill, knowledge, and creativity, entrepreneurial businesses, and small shops are returning to places that were once given up for lost.  Our suburbs are being transformed bit by bit into more walkable, denser mixed-use places. A new urban revolution is upon us, driven in large part by the returns to density, skills, and creativity.

As in all economic transformations, the invisible hand of the market can only take us so far. The rest is up to us. This is not a time to complain about or belittle this shift, or, as with Kotkin, to pretend that it is not even taking place. We need to build the new institutions and the new social compact that can harness its power and extend its benefits to everyone. And there’s reason for optimism here, even in the face of all the undeniable inequities and problems we have, because the logic of history is pointing in a positive direction.

Our future economic development no longer turns on pumping resources mindlessly out of the ground or tearing up the environment to build houses on the suburban periphery. Real economic growth and development turns on the development of the full talents and capabilities of all our workers in high-tech, knowledge and creative fields, and in factories, farms, and services. And the places that are best suited to that task are our dense, innovative cities—our greatest innovation of all.

The path toward more dense urban environments is accelerating, as more young people and boomers reject the suburbs and move toward a more urban lifestyle. If we are to avoid squeezing out the current residents of America’s cities, we need to extend the benefits that more dynamic and potent cities can offer to all, not just the creatives and bankers.

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