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August 11, 2008
Rating: 8.5/10

What matters most to you: wealth, happiness, friends, family, work? However you rank those options, new research by celebrity academic Richard Florida argues that you've got it all wrong. In his most recent book, Who's Your City?, Florida posits the novel, although not entirely pioneering (see work from the late Jane Jacobs) theory that place matters more than anything, as it serves as the gateway for most of our desires. In fact, it is place that will lead to the realization of those other desires; your dream job or dream partner can't be found just anywhere. Additionally, Florida argues, place not only provides the context in which ideal mate/friend choices can be made and economic opportunities lead to thriving professional lives, but influences happiness levels as well. This psychological aspect to Florida's research is certainly welcoming, and adds a whole new dimension to his influential research.

In Who's Your City? Florida champions a social theory contrary to that of best-selling author Thomas Friedman (see The World is Flat), illustrating that the world is not flat, but spiky. For those unfamiliar with the competing theories, in a simplified overview Friedman states that through the influence of globalization (and especially the Internet) almost anyone in any location can compete in the global market. The importance of place, Friedman argues, is on the whole becoming increasingly obsolete. Florida, on the other hand, postulates that the world is far from "flat" and that cities and emerging mega-regions drive the world economy through what he terms the "creative economy." Thus, although the Internet may connect people to a much higher degree than before, particular areas of the world still attract the most influential talent. Both theories are certainly compelling, and offer policymakers, academics and job-seekers a litany of indicators as to where the global economy may be headed. When viewing one of the much-cited composite satellite images of the world at night, however, it is hard to argue with Florida's theory. All of the world's major economic and creative centers can be easily identified from space.

[Image from NASA.gov]


For those unfamiliar with Richard Florida, the so-called "creative class" - essentially those workers not in the manufacturing, agriculture, or service sectors - is an important foundational concept. Jobs in the creative class encompass the approach to most abstract and difficult problems, decisions, and resolutions, and they include not only the more traditional creative fields such as art and music, but also the more subtly creative fields in which journalists, investment bankers, and marketing consultants operate. While Florida may categorize many of these jobs as "creative," he also champions the idea that each and every person is in some way a creative type, and in turn can impact or change their employment situation for the better through a number of different avenues. It is this freedom of alteration that leads Florida to believe that the creative class is currently pioneering the global economy, and the author states his case with substantiating data provided in Who's Your City?, and in his two previous works, The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class.

In our post-industrial world, the creative economy is certainly expanding rapidly. Florida cites figures showing that in 2006 31-percent of workers were members of the creative class, while 45.7-percent were employed in the service sector, and 23.1-percent in manufacturing. However, the percentage of total wages paid showed a substantial incongruity with the populations engaged in each industry: the creative class garnered 49.8-percent, the service sector 30.6-percent, and the manufacturing sector 19.6-percent. From Florida's projections, the only sector predicted to have positive growth over the next decade will be the creative wing, while agriculture, service and manufacturing jobs will all be in decline. The creative sector, like its industrial counterpart, is also clearly concentrated in certain areas, especially within the United States. Not surprisingly, these concentrations of creative capital are remarkably similar to the mega-regions - areas of the world in which a staggering amount of economic activity originates - that Florida champions throughout in his book.

Though his entire premise is based on the benefit of these mega-regions, the uneven dispersion of talent does have Florida worried. He points out that 27-percent of the US population has attained a college degree yet, even with the increase in education levels over the last few decades, the spread of these graduates doesn't apply evenly throughout country. Regions such as San Francisco and Washington DC perform well; in both cities nearly half of their residents have college degrees. However, other areas, like Cleveland (4-percent) and Detroit (11-percent), perform extremely poorly. These statistics, like the night-time satellite composite, provide substantial evidence to bolster Florida's theory that some places are better at attracting creative talent than others. As a result, the United States is likely headed for staggering increases in inequality rates for various regions, in terms of economic activity and opportunity. Throughout the text Florida does an admirable job of pointing out these discrepancies, but he fails to expand on the inequalities in the same manner as in his previous works on the creative class. In the end Who's Your City? appears to be directed more at individuals than regions, cities and/or businesses.

Along with establishing place as perhaps the most important consideration for the development of adult life, throughout the book Florida also hammers home the concept of the mega-region, where creative jobs flourish. Many of these mega-regions have economies that rival most nations. The State of California, in which Florida distinguishes two mega-regions, has long ranked in the top ten largest economies on the planet, outpacing the entire national GDP of both Canada and Russia, members of the G8. More interestingly is the fact that the Tokyo and Bos-Wash (Boston to Washington DC, including New York) mega-regions each produce over $2-trillion in economic output every year, and if counted as individual states would be the third and fourth largest economies in the world. There are also four other megas that produce over $1-trillion a year: Chi-Pitts (Chicago to Pittsburgh, $1.6-trillion), Am-Brus-Twerp ($1.5 trillion) in Europe's low countries, Japan's Osaka-Nagoya ($1.4 trillion) and greater London ($1.2 trillion). These megas don't just produce an astonishing level of activity, they drive the global economy. This unquestionable distribution of jobs, wealth, and ideas between a limited number of geographical areas are what prompts the world to spike in the way that Florida describes:

.: The spikiest, most innovative centers in the United States are California's Silicon Valley and North Carolina's "research triangle" near Durham, Raleigh, and Chapel Hill. However, these places also boast the nation's highest levels of inequality as well.

.: The top 40 mega-regions are home to 1.5 billion people, or 23-percent of the global population.

.: The world's ten largest megas produce 43-percent of the world's economic activity, 57-percent of patented innovations, and 53-percent of the most cited scientists.

For all of its fresh-faced insight into the dynamics of global creativity and production, one of Who's Your City?'s major sticking points is the nature in which Florida constructs his mega-regions. Why are some cities and regions included within a mega while and others are not? The concoction of some megas seems extremely selective, and some cities/regions seem to be included for "research" purposes while others are shut out of the equation completely. For example, the divide between some of the regions becomes arbitrary when analyzing Florida's map of North American megas. The Tor-Buff-Chester region dovetails with the Bos-Was mega, which itself stretches so far South that it could easily interact with the Char-Lanta mega as well. The Chi-Pitts mega looks like a mangled spider web stretching from Minnesota nearly to the Atlantic Ocean, while the so-called Southern Florida mega is primarily located in mid-to-Northern Florida.

[Image 2008 by Richard Florida]


The European megas seem even more arbitrary. From a quick look at Florida's map, the Rom-Mil-Tur mega seems to encapsulate the whole of Italy. Lon-Led-Chester almost spans all of England, while the Prague mega stretches into Germany and a bit of Poland as well. Additionally, the Barce-Lyon mega does include Barcelona and Lyon, but also includes most all of the eastern coast of Spain, and the whole southern coast of France, while extending into central France as well. The issue is not that Florida hasn't accumulated plenty of data when researching the distribution of the creative class, but rather that the inclusion/exclusion aspects of the boundaries for the subsequent mega-regions are never thoroughly explained.

[Image 2008 by Richard Florida]


For all the vagueness and complexities of Florida's organization of data sets, Who's Your City? is a thoroughly remarkable and interdisciplinary look at the creative class, one that touches on not only the geography of economic dispersion but also the psychology of it. Part II of our feature provides more insights on the notion of place, more astounding statistics from a customized Gallup poll regarding place and happiness, and a final word on the book.

SEE ALSO: www.whosyourcity.com
SEE ALSO: www.creativeclass.org
SEE ALSO: www.perseusbooksgroup.com/basic/

--
Brian Christopher Jones
A student living in Scotland and working toward a PhD in law.

See other articles by Brian Christopher Jones.

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