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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.

In 2010, Silicon Valley accounted for the lion’s share of venture-capital investment by far: $9.1 billion, or about 40 percent of the total. New England, with its high-tech complex running from Cambridge and Boston to the surrounding Route 128 area, was second with $2.6 billion, 11 percent of the total. New York, with its newly ascendant Silicon Alley, was third, with roughly $2 billion, or 8.6 percent. The Southeast states — mainly North Carolina but also Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama — attracted $1.2 billion (5.1 percent) mainly concentrated in biotech, software, telecom, and media. Texas accounted for close to another billion ($942 million), or 4.1 percent with its investments mainly focussed on energy as well as software, media, and semiconductors. And while the level of venture investment in the South-Central states (including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Louisiana) remains low relatively speaking, the region saw a staggering 540-percent growth between 2005 and 2010, the largest increase across any region of the country by far. Overall, roughly one in ten of the nation’s venture investment dollars are spent in the South.

- Richard Florida, The Spread of Start-Up America and the Rise of the High-Tech South

Florida is making a super weak argument here. The entire south — southeast and south-central states, and Texas — collectively raised about $2B in venture in 2010, which is the same as New York City.

Besides, innovation culture is an emergent property of cities, not broad geographic regions. Would be much more useful to see this broken out by cities, where I am sure that the Geoffrey West superlinearity equation — Y(0) = N0Y(t)B — would predict that a city of 2 million will get 1.15 times as much as a city of one million, on average, because B ≈ 1.15.

The Econolypse Is Hollowing Out The Creative Class, Too

Richard Florida’s ‘creative class’ is being savaged by the economic mess just as much as others, although they were supposed to be the answer to the future of the US.

It’s not just manufacturing and public sector jobs being empheralized in this slide into the New Depression. Media people, writers, actors, artists, musicians, and other creatives are being put out of work, and moving back in with mom:

Scott Timberg, The creative class is a lie

[…] for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level — the working- or middle-classes within the creative class — things are less cheery. Book editors, journalists, video store clerks, musicians, novelists without tenure — they’re among the many groups struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold.

It’s happening at all levels, small and large. Record shops and independent bookstores close at a steady clip; newspapers and magazines announce new waves of layoffs. Tower Records crashed in 2006, costing 3,000 jobs. This summer’s bankruptcy of Borders Books — almost 700 stores closed, putting roughly 11,000 people out of work — is the most tangible and recent example. One of the last video rental shops in Los Angeles — Rocket Video — just announced that it will close at the end of the month.

On a grand scale, some 260,000 jobs have been lost in traditional publishing since 2007, according to U.S. News and World Report. In newspapers alone, the website Newspaperlayoffs.com has tracked some 40,000 job cuts since 2008.

Some of these employees are young people killing time behind a counter; it’s hard for them, but they will live to fight again. But education, talent and experience — criteria that help define Florida’s creative class, making these supposedly valued workers the equivalent of testosterone injections for cities — does not guarantee that a “knowledge worker” can make a real living these days.

“It’s sort of like job growth in Texas,” says Joe Donnelly, a former deputy editor at L.A. Weekly, laid off in 2008 and now pouring savings and the money he made from a home sale into a literary magazine. “Gov. Perry created thousands of jobs, but they’re all at McDonald’s. Now everyone has a chance to make 15 cents. People are just pecking, hunting, scratching the dirt for freelance work. Living week to week, month to month.”

The answer is complex, but hinges on what makes up a  society. We need the manufacturing and engineering of things in our society, too, and having exported a great deal of that to other countries we find a critical spark — and the economics that goes with it — comes from the making of things.

The creative class — at least the largest fraction of it — needs a multi-layered society to support it. Not all of our creatives are making art that appeals to the entire world. For example, some great chefs cook in small restaurants in second-tier cities, not just in the top 100 restaurants in New York, Shanghai, or London. But if people can’t afford to have dinner out, those cooks will be back working at Olive Garden or on a food truck.

Research by Stephen Shennan at University College London, Robert Boyd at UCLA, and others indicates that shifting demographics was an important cause of early leaps in human development. Shennan’s research—which notes that artistic and technological leaps similar to the one in Europe had occurred in Africa and the Middle East tens of thousands of years earlier—suggests that what all these leaps had in common was the growth of local population density beyond a certain threshold. (Many of these cultural blooms withered, Shennan observes, when populations subsequently shrank.) Boyd’s research shows the close relationship between toolmaking advances and population size. As people gathered into larger groups and came into contact with one another more frequently, knowledge was shared, retained, and advanced more easily. From the earliest periods of modern human history, cultural development and technological development have been closely linked to rising population density.

They still are today. One simple indication of the economic advantages held by large, dense cities is their explosive growth over the past century and more—growth that is still continuing rapidly. America’s largest cities, each of which held no more than a few hundred thousand people in the mid-19th century, surpassed 1 million by the century’s end. By the middle of the 20th century, New York City had surged past 10 million residents; today, Greater New York contains more than 20 million people.

More than half the world’s population now lives in cities and metro areas, a proportion that is projected to grow to more than 70 percent by mid-century. China’s economic development in recent decades has been propelled by the rise of its cities—130 of which are home to 1 million people or more, including Shanghai with a metro population of 19 million and Beijing with 17.5 million. The Tokyo metro area, home to more than 35 million people, produces almost $1.2 trillion in economic output each year, roughly as much as Australia.

Researchers [Geoffrey West and Luis Bettencourt] affiliated with the Santa Fe Institute have identified the mechanism that underpins city growth and development as an accelerated rate of “urban metabolism.” Unlike biological species, whose metabolism slows as they get bigger, successful cities exhibit faster metabolism as they grow—a phenomenon that the researchers dubbed “superlinear” scaling. “By almost any measure,” they wrote, “the larger a city’s population, the greater the innovation and wealth creation per person.” There seems to be no limit, as yet, to the relationship between greater density and faster growth.

For centuries, the specific geographic advantages of cities tended to obscure their underlying social role. When agriculture powered economic development, cities grew near fertile soils. In the industrial age, access to raw materials and ports became critical, along with the presence of enough physical labor to run large factories. But as those factors become less important, we can see more clearly what has arguably mattered the most all along.

Cities are our greatest invention, not because of the scale of their infrastructure or their placement along key trade routes, but because they enable human beings to combine and recombine their talents and ideas in new ways. With their breadth of skills, dense social networks, and physical spaces for interactions, great cities and metro areas push people together and increase the kinetic energy between them.

Richard Florida, Where the Skills Are

Florida looks at US cities and wonders if something big is coming as our cities grow, and as we are concentrating certain skills in different areas. And he cautions that cities can’t do what they are designed to do — efficient creation of ideas and their application — unless we take care of the physical, infrastructure side of urbanism. Since they are meant to be a place for people to interact, we have to make sure that they are social spaces.

But Florida never delves into the post-industrial city, where online interaction is just as critical and deep as off, where cooperation is easier, and chance insights are even more low-cost. More to follow in ‘Liquid City’, my book, in process.

In the latest installment in the Future Of Work series at Podio, The Future Of All Work, And Not Just For Creative, I look into some research cited by Richard Florida that shows us barreling forward into a two class society of creatives and the help. I hope we can shake things up, to rework that.
Read it!

In the latest installment in the Future Of Work series at Podio, The Future Of All Work, And Not Just For Creative, I look into some research cited by Richard Florida that shows us barreling forward into a two class society of creatives and the help. I hope we can shake things up, to rework that.

Read it!