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Thread: Richard Florida and the Built Environment

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Richard Florida and the Built Environment

    The creative class - those people who apply talent to make a product or provide a service, choose places where they want to live. These entrepreneurs, engineers, software developers, architects, and the like are the people who fuel economic growth. Businesses, and economic opportunity, follow them to the places they choose.

    These people are looking for energetic, exciting, unique communities. They want places where they can interact with others; places that engage them. What does that mean for planning? Right, Richard Florida is a supporter of Smart Growth, Sustainable Development, and the likes of the Congress for the New Urbanism.

    I heard him speak last night. Some of this came out in the discussion after his presentation (very worthwhile, even though I have heard him before), but Florida stated it strongly.

    So what do you think, is the creative class a reason to support the planning agenda?

    (BTW, for those who do not know, Florida's PhD is in Planning.)
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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    So what do you think, is the creative class a reason to support the planning agenda?
    You know, I don't really understand what you are asking. Not that I am necessarily a good person to weigh in on this, having never read his book and all, but I am wondering if the reason you haven't gotten a reply is because maybe I am not the only one who just doesn't get it.

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    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I don't think one can create an environment for the creative. I believe they create their own. Florida finds the effect, then creates the causes.

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee
    I don't think one can create an environment for the creative. I believe they create their own. Florida finds the effect, then creates the causes.
    Your comment reminds me of a conversation I had with my sister some time ago. We talked about the fact that very talented/intelligent/creative people tend to be kind of footloose. They tend to move around. My sister went away to college and she has lived in several different cities in north Georgia. Even though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a GS-13. When she has done some job hunting in the past, she finds herself applying for jobs all over the place because a step up from where she is now, in the same kind of work she does, is not a very big job pool. You hear discussions like that in Cyburbia fairly regularly too: that if you want to advance your career as a planner, the odds are good that you will have to move around some. It is rare in the U.S. to be able to stay in one place and keep developing your career.

    And then there are all the hollywood stars who have two or more homes, in different parts of the world. The most creative people, the biggest wealth creators, often are hard to tie down at all. Alternately, if they do stay put, some of them do shape a region to a significant degree. Up in the Seattle area, the places near Microsoft have some of the most expensive homes. It seems to me like Microsoft has had a major impact on that entire region.

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    Which brings up another interesting question: if the most creative/wealth generating are indeed this footloose, how unique can a community be? Pretentious euro-style cafes can now be found in midwestern iundustrial cities like my hometown. Indianapolis is now pushing a "loft district" downtown.

    Are these environments any more distinctive/unique than the fast food/big box cluster at the freeway? Can there be a unique local culture any more?

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    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    BKM when was the unique american culture? Prior to settlement in the west? prior to railroads? prior to canals and steamships? Cheap transportation, information technology cause us to loose independent development.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Which brings up another interesting question: if the most creative/wealth generating are indeed this footloose, how unique can a community be? Pretentious euro-style cafes can now be found in midwestern iundustrial cities like my hometown.
    You know, it is nearly midnight and I am a little worried that this will sound snarky but I don't mean to be:
    I think the thing which bugs me most about what little I have heard about "creative class" theories is this style over substance point of view. (I haven't read the book so I could be completely wrong about the theory and maybe people just misinterpret it that way.) I don't think "cool euro cafes" are what make a community Cool and Creative. I think if the substance is there, "style" will follow.

    In my opinion, one of the things the creative class values most is education and an intellectual atmosphere. The best way to get that is to live near a big university, especially if it has a big impact on the environment a la "the college town" (Davis, CA; Manhattan, KS). When I lived in Manhattan, KS it was a town of 48,000 people and 11,000 were students. It was a very intellectual environment which supported an excellent used bookstore. It also had a lot of that "creative" stuff: It had two different art galleries at the mall, one of which I believe was space donated or rented out very cheaply so that local artists could sell their work to the public. It had two "children's museums" -- sort of an intellectual/creative version of "Chuck E. Cheese", where my kids could do all kinds of interesting, hands-on exploration for entertainment instead of mindless, noisy video games. Preschools from Topeka (the state capitol and an hour away) would book private parties there. The one at the mall was only open for a few hours, four days a week and the mall donated the space. They mostly hired college students majoring in early childhood education to monitor the place.

    Yet, as a mom in my twenties, I bought almost all my clothes on trips home to Georgia because the only clothing stores were either teeny-bopper/college kitsch or too matronly and expensive. I was NOT the demographic they were aiming for. But, overall, I loved the atmosphere of Manhattan and we wanted to stay there (however, I am allergic to something there -- it is just as well that we left). When we moved, we discovered just how spoiled we had been. For example, the quality of the used bookstore in Manhattan is hard to find elsewhere.

    I think that there are two big factors that feed the creative class with substance: good schools (colleges, universities, massage schools, etc) and good support for entrepreneurial activity (and small business support programs are typically associated with a college as well). The shallow end of the pool empties first and fills last. If there is depth and substance, all that "stylish" stuff will grow out of it. If there isn't depth and substance, all that stylish stuff will die on the vine and fail to sustain real growth. The creative class usually doesn't value money nearly as much as it values the opportunity to pursue its dreams. I have read articles (or studies?) that suggest that most independent and successful entrepreneurs are very educated (well, Madonna and Bill Gates are both college dropouts -- but, hey, he dropped out of Harvard). For years, when I was fantasizing about the life I would like to live someday and where I might find it, I always had both a "places rated" book AND a college guide book on hand. Furthering my education was a major part of the equation for me.

    If you have the "substance" (mostly consisting of a good college), I think programs and policies that make it easier for creative types to do their thing, if done well, can get a lot of bang for the buck, so to speak. But if you don't have the substance, I think it takes a lot more effort to encourage it and there is a lot less pay-off.

    There are exceptions. Creative people are sometimes drawn to unique places with something to offer that no place else on earth has. When I applied for an internship at the national lab in Richland, Washington, I ended up interviewing (by phone) for a position on the Olympic Peninsula in a tiny town called Sequim that I had never heard of. It is the driest point north of, um, San Francisco(?) on the Pacific Coast because it is in the rain shadow of a mountain. Nearby is the only rain forest in north america. The satelite office of the national lab is there to study marine biology because of the uniqueness of the area. Sequim was on the internet in a big way for such a tiny town -- I was able to look over potential rentals, etc, while researching the place and deciding if I wanted to push hard for the position. You usually cannot find such things on the internet for such a tiny town. It is also not far from a port where ferries leave for Canada daily. Fascinating little town and it seems to me that it very much attracts creative, intelligent people (god, the guy that interviewed me was a major geek -- I mean that in the best way -- and he was shocked that I could follow any of what he said. I think if I had desperately wanted to do an internship in marine biology, I could have had the job. ).

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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Well if indeed the creative class appreciates good, communal, pedestrian-oriented urban design, planners could refer to David Suchers City Comforts for some ideas. But I think Michelle Zone hits a point that it's more about creating an environment where creativity can flourish.

    For some cities that are paying attention to RF's theory, it's not about "cool euro cafes" per se, but about encouraging the input and expression of the creative class via public input processes, public art expansion, start-up funds for businesses or civic projects. If indeed the creative types are doers rather than spectators, these should help in retaining the creative class. If cities and their planning agencies aren't amenable to this kind of citizen involvement, then they can kiss their class goodbye.

    I've long thought that the amenities often mentioned to attract the creative class -- arts districts, bars, trails and parks, restaurants -- don't just benefit the members of the class, but all residents. But while it's not the business of government to build bars and restaurants, I think it's fully charged with creating trails and parks that residents can enjoy. Arts districts are better created through nonprofit groups, with the assistance of municipal government, if necessary.

    Just my two cents.

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    A good indication of the type of impact that Florida's ideas have had is that far more people have an opinion of him and his book than have actually read his book (apologies to those who have read it)...Any attempt to connect the built environment with economic potential is going to meet my approval -- it holds out hope for declining cities, large and small, around the country, and provides some spur to producing more vital, urban-style neighborhoods. At least we are starting to think in terms of how our built environment determines who we are as a people, the type of society that we create, and what we value.

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Something else that has occurred to me: My understanding is that Florida uses some "indicator" about how friendly the community is to the gay population as a means to measure how "creative" it is. In my opinion, this is really an indirect measure of how educated and intellectual the community is: intelligent, educated people are more tolerant of homosexuality and of "alternative lifestyles" generally. It may be a good "rule of thumb" to measure how creative a community is but I think it is, again, missing the mark: another "style over substance" detail. The style is a lot easier to see and measure but it is really a consequence of having the substance. I think you have to be careful about using such indicators because it can be erroneous and lead you astray.

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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Florida needlessly politicized his theory when he mentioned gays. But I think people are misinterpreting his argument. I don't think his message that there is a direct relationship betwen gays and economic well-being. My impession is that he IS saying that it is indirect -- that tolerant communities, because they welcome new ideas and don't discount "alternative" lifestyles or opinions are better suited to prosper in this knowledge economy.

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    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Yes, I realize that. I often use secondary or tertiary indicators myself to make a guestimate or judgment call about things where I lack primary indicators. I am only saying that because it is a secondary or even tertiary indicator, it may not be the best rubric to use. Secondary and tertiary indicators tend to be less reliable than primary indicators and usually need other things factored in to make them more reliable and more useful. But people who make such observations often do not realize how many other things they, personally, are factoring in. It can be hard to explain exactly what you see going on. We often are not fully aware of our own thought processes and tend to be even less aware of how our thought processes differ from those of other people.

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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by oulevin
    Florida needlessly politicized his theory when he mentioned gays. But I think people are misinterpreting his argument. I don't think his message that there is a direct relationship betwen gays and economic well-being. My impession is that he IS saying that it is indirect -- that tolerant communities, because they welcome new ideas and don't discount "alternative" lifestyles or opinions are better suited to prosper in this knowledge economy.
    Exactly. Openness is the key to economic success. Florida's new book addresses this as a threat to our country. While he lauds the likes of Schwartzenegger's stem cell initiative, he is critical of an environment in the United States that does not welcome new people and new ideas. Whereas the likes of Einstein, Fermi, and other brilliant minds turned to the U.S. as the land of opportunity, the current generation of innovators is looking elsewhere, to countries such as (gasp!) Canada and New Zealand.

    With regard to the built environment, the relationship is clear. Are creative people going to find a franchise landscape stimulating? Can a community attract them by bragging about its new Outback Steakhouse on a pad lot in front of the Wal*Mart Supercenter? (Sam's Law in 13 posts)
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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Too much has been made of the "cool bars" part of the theory. What creative class people want is authenticity and vibrancy. Yeah, Wal-Marts and Outback Steakhouses are supercilious (I luv saying that word, thanks Frank Costanza). What I see happening is that cities are mistaking cool for authenticity. It's not about being hip, it's about being vibrant -- celebrating who you are and what you have. Generic communities won't work. What separates your town from others? What's locally thick but globally thin? In the end, opportunities for stimulation are what makes communities attractive.

    And as much as the arts are important to the creativity and innovation, arts groups are using RF as an excuse to boost funding pleas. It's diluting the message, I think. Another mistake of cause and effect. Arts groups don't automatically equal economic development. There has to be a fundamental change in attitude amongst the leadership and citizenry that creation, innovation, and volunteerism are keys to successful communities, not just paycheck collecting. The arts are a reflection of this spirit. It's tough stuff that arts and bars alone cannot achieve.

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    I'd like to agree with what has been said, but the self-proclaimed home of the Internet -- Fairfax and Loudon Counties, Va. -- are not urban, vital, or interesting. Yes, they are close to Arlington and Washington, but the built environment in NOVA's outer burbs is anything but stimulating. Same could generally be said for Silicon Valley, I suppose (I have never been there). When I first saw Fairfax County, I thought that its motto must be "A Ruby Tuesday within a five minute drive regardless of where you are." Of course, due to the traffic, sometimes it takes more than five minutes to get out of your driveway.

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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Well, my argument wasn't so much about the built environment, but the spirit of innovation. In Northern Virginia, I would have to believe that's due to the technology institutions and money concentrated in the DC area.

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    Quote Originally posted by boiker
    BKM when was the unique american culture? Prior to settlement in the west? prior to railroads? prior to canals and steamships? Cheap transportation, information technology cause us to loose independent development.
    True. Certainly true.

    Even if we still had a national culture back in the "good old days" though, at lease the economy was not so nationalized-and the trends didn't spread quite as quickly.

    Of course, even in this post, I am probably all wet.

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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    I'd like to agree with what has been said, but the self-proclaimed home of the Internet -- Fairfax and Loudon Counties, Va. -- are not urban, vital, or interesting. Yes, they are close to Arlington and Washington, but the built environment in NOVA's outer burbs is anything but stimulating. Same could generally be said for Silicon Valley, I suppose (I have never been there). When I first saw Fairfax County, I thought that its motto must be "A Ruby Tuesday within a five minute drive regardless of where you are." Of course, due to the traffic, sometimes it takes more than five minutes to get out of your driveway.
    Except here I think we are missing something-something that Joel Garreau caugfht in "Edge Cities" when he talked about "Nerdistands."

    The technical side of innovation-the engineers, the software writers, the testers, etc. don't care all that much about urbanity or stimulating built environments. Silicon Valley is almost as awful and banal as Fairfax County. They (and I am seriously, seriously generalizing here) focus on their jobs-and they need someplace to unwind at night. These places are orderly, have good schools, are tightly regulated, etc. Irvine, Santa Clara, suburban Austin, the south Denver suburbs around DTC-none of these are urbane environments. Heck, Tulsa was for a while a major telecommunications center (Williams Companies).

    Even these banal environments may share some of the social and education aspects-particularly openess to "foreigners" bringing ideas and technology. But, the Nerdistands are hardly artsy urban centers.

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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Heck, Tulsa was for a while a major telecommunications center (Williams Companies).
    Tulsa may not have the population, but it had the workforce and is more urban than popularly thought.

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    Quote Originally posted by oulevin
    Well, my argument wasn't so much about the built environment, but the spirit of innovation. In Northern Virginia, I would have to believe that's due to the technology institutions and money concentrated in the DC area.
    If the nation's capital, with its $2 trillion+ budget, much of which is spent in the DC area, weren't in close proximity, Northern Virginia, economically, would be a lot more like Northern Nebraska.

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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Kovanovich
    If the nation's capital, with its $2 trillion+ budget, much of which is spent in the DC area, weren't in close proximity, Northern Virginia, economically, would be a lot more like Northern Nebraska.
    I've never been in NOVA, but I would have to agree. But have to stress the institutions that set standards are part of the reason. There are generators, not just consumers, located around and in the beltway.

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    Quote Originally posted by oulevin
    Tulsa may not have the population, but it had the workforce and is more urban than popularly thought.
    True (and I love those Art deco kyscrapers! )

    But-Is Tulsa very tolerant/welcoming like Florida purportedly posits as necessary for a Creative Class city? Its pretty rock ribbed Baptist, no? Not being critical (or at least, not really), just an honest impression from the "media" of what Tulsa is like.

    Maybe it is still the cosmopolitan escape valve for a State that just elected James Coburn to the Senate

    (And-I know California has its share of wacko politicans too. But, they usually are not elected to the Senate! As for home state (Indiana) for every Richard Lugar, there seems to be a Dan Quayle )

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    Cyburbian oulevin's avatar
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    Well, no Tulsa is indeed very conservative, socially and fiscally. Oral Roberts University is based there. It's in central and southeastern Oklahoma where you have a stronger moderate Democrat presence. As I've noted to Tulsans, who agree with me, Tulsa is much more entrepreneurial and white collar than the other two, but because of conservative attitudes towards government (and private sector success), have less infrastructure to deal with market failures. Tulsa's telecom success was due in large part to Williams, who had the resourcefulness to turn former oil pipelines into conduits for fiber optics.

    Personally, I haven't liked much of our Congressional delegation since David Boren left the Senate to take the reins of the University of Oklahoma (quite phenomenally so far).Tom Coburn is in a sense more conservative who won't be much of a team player in bringing pork back to OK. Just what we need. Another Ernest Istook, the anti-public transit Transportation committeeman.

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