on September 5, 2008
It's frustrating to read books like this. Florida's insightful observations are undermined by the number of errors in this book.
Florida melds psychology, sociology, and economics to try to determine the importance of humanity's displacement from rural areas to cities and, now, megalopolises. Some of the ground he covers is well-trod, but he comes up with a number of ideas that I find insightful. I particularly liked his categorization of urban districts into such places as, e.g., strollervilles (wealthy neighborhoods full of two-year-olds being strolled around by nannies while Daddy is at the law firm and Mommy is either working or doing something else), designer digs (e.g., Aspen, La Jolla), ethnic enclaves (think Fremont, Calif.), preservation-burgs, and boho-burbs (chic neighborhoods, often on old streetcar lines, with lively shopping areas; e.g., the Sellwood district and N.W. 23rd Ave. in Portland, Ore.). The Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland, Calif., is both a strollerville and a boho-burb. Florida goes beyond the usual accolades one might expect to be conferred on such places to point out their drawbacks. It's very well done.
If only Florida and his publisher had taken better care to vet the manuscript before publishing it! I'd read only a few pages before I started noticing typos: paarticular, New "Dehli" (must have excellent pastrami sandwiches), São "Paolo," Brazil (must have changed its official language to Italian). Then I started noticing factual oddities: Seoul, Korea, described in two different and seemingly mutually exclusive categories; San Francisco described as a place in which single women predominate when the accompanying map shows just the opposite. By the end of the book, the number of glitches had made me suspicious of every empirical datum Florida was presenting--so that when I read his statistic that only 1 in 20 U.S. households contains someone living alone, I couldn't trust it. It sounded too low. I went to the Internet and found an Associated Press report that "About 27.2 million Americans lived alone in 2000, accounting for about 26 percent of all households . . . ." That sounds right. A Population Reference Bureau web page confirms that Florida's statistic is highly inaccurate.
In summary, the book is well worth reading for Florida's impressionistic observations, but I'd be careful about relying on any conclusion he draws that is based on empirical data.
on February 27, 2008
Richard Florida does it again. In his bestselling "Rise of the Creative Class", he demonstrated the world's move to a creativity-based economy. But also that this emerging economy is increasingly concentrated in about a dozen cities in the US, and two or three dozen worldwide.
In "Who's Your City", Florida goes in two directions. First he lays the groundwork, expanding on his research of a clustering force of creative people that is making some regions economic and cultural winners. He explores the emerging "Mega-regions" (Bos-Wash, Northern California, Greater London) that are replacing nations as the organizing force of economic activity. He also plays with the idea that cities have personalities that attract different kinds of people.
Then in the last section Florida brings it all together, and shows why the book got its name. He says where we live is one of three major life decisions (along with choosing a mate and a career), and in fact can have a strong effect on the other two. But most people give it little thought, especially compared to love and work.
Then he gets personal. He gives us a 10-step process for deciding on a new home. To his credit, Florida doesn't assume we should all move to creative class Mecca's like Austin or Seattle. He recognizes that for many people, staying near family and friends is paramount, and that the search for experience isn't for everyone. What he does do is say that this can be a conscious decision.
But if you ARE looking for a new place to live, Florida's 10-point list is certainly the best tool for organizing your thinking -- from identifying what's important to you to generating a short list, researching the options and making a final decision.
Even if you're happy with your city and not planning to move, "Who's Your City" is a fascinating study of how the world is changing, from macroeconomics to popular culture. Recommended for everyone.
on May 20, 2008
This is a wonderful book. R. Florida counters the theories of the The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century. At the beginning, he outlines how just 40 Mega-Regions dominate the World economy. While those account for just 17% of the World's population, they generate two thirds of its GDP and over 85% of its innovation (measured by patents and scientific papers). Additionally, the GDP of those Mega-Regions are growing faster. So, the concentration of economic power in those centers is accelerating. He calls this the "clustering effect." Thus, the World is not flat. It is spiky and getting spikier. Risk taking, creative, and talented people represent the "creative class" a concept he introduced in The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. The creative class members have strong incentives to cluster where the action is (the Mega-Regions). He demonstrates how the main economic scale has shifted from Nations to Mega-Regions and MSA level. The first two Mega-Regions (greater Tokyo and the D.C., New York, Boston corridor) both generate GDPs greater than $2 trillion. They would rank as the 3d and 4th largest World economies second only to the U.S. and Japan.
With other eminent social scientists, he studies the allocation of human resources in the U.S. in many ways. He shares the resulting maps of: a) the U.S. Mega-Regions, b) areas by % of college graduates, c) areas by income, d) areas by % belonging to creative class, e) areas by home prices. He uses similar color coding for each of those five maps that focuses on those different variables. And, the five different maps are very alike. It is as if you are seeing the same map five times, but with different legends. Thus, the high income, educated, creative class clusters within the Mega-Regions of the West Coast and the North East.
Next, R. Florida introduces the reader to the Big 5 Factor psychological model with the factors being: extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and openness to new experience. He invites the reader to take the test at a mentioned website. My whole family took it. And, it was fun and revealing. The website captures the anonymous psychological profiles and zip codes. From this data, Florida and his colleagues create a map of personality types that shows where the conscientious types live, etc... Now, we can add a sixth dimension to the map: Openness. Thus, it is the open-minded, high income, educated, creative class that all clusters in the Mega-Regions of the West Coast and North East. And, that's where the most expensive real estate markets are.
R. Florida analysis states that society is increasingly sorting itself by location. His analysis reminds one of Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life (A Free Press Paperbacks Book) where Hernstein and Murray indicated that society is increasingly stratified by cognitive abilities. Thus, accountants, lawyers, doctors, and investment bankers all have increasingly higher cognitive abilities vs a few decades ago. The same happens within the mentioned Mega-Regions of the West Coast and North East. Individuals with higher capabilities and income opportunities migrate to those areas and bid up local real estate values. Others find themselves priced out and move out of those "Superstar Cities" leaving room for other creative class achievers to move in further bidding up real estate prices. The creative class achievers need to move to those Superstar Cities to fulfill their potential. R. Florida has all those specialized regions mapped out in Figure 7.3: The New Geography of Work. If you want to be an investment banker you need to be in Manhattan. If you are engaged in hi tech you need to be in Silicon Valley.
R. Florida's work relates closely to another of Murray's book Human Accomplishment : The Pursuit of Excellence in the Arts and Sciences, 800 B.C. to 1950 where Murray develops a regression model estimating how many luminaries lived at any one time in a specific country. The variables included GDP, human capital (top notch universities), networks (# of political and financial centers), and population of largest city (clustering). R. Florida explains how, why, and where people cluster. Murray explains the historical implication of clustering (# of luminaries in various fields at a specific time period).
In the last few chapters R. Florida focuses on the best places to live for various stages of life. He finds that a few cities perform well on many criteria. The San Francisco Bay Area performs well in 20 different categories. Boston is second ranking well in 13.
Within those last chapters, R. Florida shares many interesting insights. He finally addresses the relationship between likelihood of moving and life stages; a 25 year old is three times more likely than a 45 year old to move. This entails that cities that loose the young adults are loosing talent permanently. Once a college grad leaves town, he is unlikely to come back. Young college grads cluster in just a few cities. Those are the winners in the competition for talent. Empty nesters over 65 are likely to move further than their counterparts a decade younger. Where the Boomers will move as empty nesters will impact real estate prices and culture. He anticipates a mild generation conflict between Boomers and the younger creative class that will inhabit the same communities. Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069is an excellent book that further covers generation conflicts.
He shares other interesting statistics. The real jobless rate for black male high school drop out in their 20s including those in jail was 72% in 2004. Within this same group more are in jail then working. On another topic, chance of a high school graduate marrying a college graduate shrank by 43% between 1940 and the late 70s. People mate increasingly within equal education level. This is causing a rise in household income inequality as education is highly correlated to income.
If you find this review interesting, you'll find the book fascinating.
on April 9, 2008
The broader topic of this book is Human Geography - the how and why behind peoples' movement and why they tend to cluster around specific geographic regions. The author describes several 'mega-regions' that hold a majority of the worlds' population, power, light, scientific advances, etc. Several maps are included that show the distribution of income, singles, jobs, etc. and they make for interesting viewing, but don't hold any surprises. I suppose that was the biggest disappointment in this book - there are no surprises here and the maps and information come together exactly as you'd expect - the highest incomes, most scientists and creative people, etc. in the USA are in the most populated places and the most populated places are the two coasts. There is a heavy reliance upon statistics in this book, which was nice, but I wish the author had focused less on statistics and more on globalization and what might happen in the future to US cities. He does make mention of globalization and how it will force job clusters to cluster even more, but he didn't reference the subject much. The author makes the case that co-location (of people and specific industries) is beneficial, despite the fact that it ends up raising prices of homes and services for the average person. For instance, the Silicon Valley is known for its computing industry so the author states that up-n-coming computer companies will benefit by locating to the Silicon Valley to take advantage of services and amenities already in place. This is obviously true, but when others move into the area they cannot afford the high prices and costs associated with these areas. The author does attempt to answer the question of why people pay such a premium to live in places like the Silicon Valley, but it's still a puzzlement overall. There are several appendices in the book, which list the best places for singles, professionals, older adults, and retirees, but the lists are, again, very similar to anything else you'd see elsewhere. There is no consideration given to affordability of the regions (the author ranked San Francisco #1 for retirees - ummm... NOT at all possible on a fixed income and in a city with few senior services!). That was the other failing of this book - it seems to only consider the needs and abilities of people with means and money; it wasn't written for average workers and families, but for the people who are 'wanna-bes' in their fields and willing to follow trends. Anyway, you have to take the data with a grain of salt and look at it from a much broader perspective - look at the world picture and notice that several areas are surging ahead while others are seemingly being left behind. This is definitely a topic in need of further investigation and insight. The book, unfortunately, will not tell you where to live, but it might open your eyes to some areas that are burgeoning with opportunity. There is actually a very helpful chart in the back of the book (the Place Finder) to help focus your search and look for specific things in the place(s) you're considering. The one piece of advice the author gave that I wholeheartedly agree with: VISIT the place you want to move to and, regardless of statistics or perceived desirability by others, if it doesn't feel right to you forget it.
on May 22, 2008
What a disappointment! The reviews here are far more favourable than those elsewhere. Probably in part due to the fact that this is completely American-centric and is next to useless for those not interested in relocating to the United States. The only international city the author cites with frequency is Toronto (the authors former home), which leads me to my next point; this reads like a poor combination of scholarly research and self-important recanting. Much of the book reads like a laundry list of statistics borrowed from periodicals and census, ie; "the best cities for young gay couples are...the best cities for empty nesters are..." The information is not presented in alogical manner nor offered in a way that would be directly applicable to the reader. The opening chapters talk of arbitrary configurations of "mega-regions," geography scholars' flavour of the year. Florida offers that one day Tokyo will expand to encompass all of Honshu but fails to acknowledge that Japan is already completely urbanized and its population is shrinking by half a million per year so this is unlikely. What's more is that these early chapters don't mesh well with the second half of his book. If this was the authors dissertation he would never have got his Phd and gone on to write this tripe. If only.
on July 31, 2008
Who's your City? has a great conceptual framework and makes you think about the personality of different cities.
In the first section, Why Place Matters, shows some nice black and white 3D maps about economic development. It highlights developing regions around the world and why people with certain talents would tend to congregate together.
However, sometimes opportunities are better for creatives in small towns outside of the most competitive cities. It can be better to be a big fish in a little pond than a little fish in a big pond.
Many of the assumptions could be challenged that provide the basis for his research. Little is said about the business regions outside the large cities.
Creatives can be business savvy in rural areas whereas the elites can
be happy with just doing business as usual and afraid to challenge the existing business norms in large cities.
Sometimes business people in rural areas have to be the most creative just to survive. Small time business owners and farmers have made some of the most productive use of the internet of any sector in America.
Many small business owners directly feel the impact of their business decisions, whereas many business elites do not directly feel the impact of their business decisions and can afford to make mistakes and write off billions of dollars of losses and continue to function as a business.
Just studying the areas where patents and scientists are most prevalent does not accurately measure business savvy and creativity. Many patents are filed just for marketing and lawsuit intimidation purposes and have very little business or creative merit.
The second section of the book, the wealth of place, discusses jobs, mobility, superstar cities and where the brain power is.
This section provides a broad theoretical framework with which to think about the issues, but there are so many exceptions to these rules that the suggestions and conclusions appear to be simplistic.
For example, there are outposts of technology all over the country. Silicon Valley is not the only place for high tech computer people. There is Silicon Alley in NYC, Silicon Beach, Silicon Dominion, and many other high tech areas where opportunity might be greater. Many in Silicon Valley are being priced out of the market and are rushing back to the DC area to work for Government contractors that provide excellent opportunities and new cutting edge technology.
Informal business networks in each city around the country have their unique set of knowledge and opportunities for entrepreneurs.
While LA maybe the entertainment capitol of the world, the competition is so tough that many never make it, yet many other cities have a thriving entertainment industry where many people do very well because opportunities abound and competition is low.
Many times innovation happens in small local communities and filters up to the large cities.
The third section, geography of happiness, provides broad guidelines to think about. There is a ten point guide to help with decisions. This can be helpful, but people would do well to do further research on their own when deciding where to move.
I had to pick up this book. I've written about relocation, both as an academic and a self-help writer. My own book, Making the Big Move, was published by New Harbinger. I now sell it from my website as a virtual book and I continue to deal with relocation questions from clients and blog readers.
Florida of course takes an academic research perspective. As a sociologist, he explores broad trends. There he's very good: he emphasizes how place predicts individual success on many dimensions. And he's very good at identifying clusters of innovation and economic growth.
Unfortunately, the book tries to do everything: advise on real estate, help readers choose a place to live, and offer a broad-scale view of trends.
On pages 82-83, Florida describes a dilemma that clients frequently bring to career consultants like me: A move is distinctly advantageous to one half of a couple but not the other. He describes a man who moves back to his hometown for a higher-paying job and lower living costs; the girl friend loses everything. More commonly, one partner wants to retire to Arizona and the significant other wants to keep working in a field with no jobs in Arizona.
As he points out, today most moves are voluntary. He seems to suggest that socioeconomic status makes moving easier, but it's not clear cut. Professional licenses and health insurance keep middle class and even affluent citizens rooted to places they've outgrown a long time ago.
I was surprised to learn that people claim they move for family and wonder if that's changing. My own experience tells me these moves can be treacherous: empty nesters want to be closer to their grandchildren, but their own children often prefer to keep their distance. Giving up a good career can breed deep resentments, too.
On page 87, Florida refers to research pegging the cost of being away fro family at $133,000. He does give the citation but I would have liked to know more about the assumptions behind the research.
On page 105, Florida describes an encounter with a young woman who gave up a career with the government to become a self-employed cosmetologist. It's almost amusing to read as he expresses astonishment: how could she opt for a low-security, lower-paying job? Yet the young woman refers to earning a good income.
These days, government jobs are not 100% secure. Layoffs (RIFs or Reductions in Force in government) happen. Twenty years from now, this young woman could own her own spa or private practice, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Or she could take her entrepreneurial spirit in a whole new direction.
The best part of the book comes when Florida takes a more analytical perspective, dealing with what he knows. He questions the persistence of home ownership: it's not always a wise investment and it does restrict mobility. I would like to see broader questions raised about issues of mobility.
For example: These days, do we really need state licensing of professions? I realize it's almost impossible to change the pattern, due to stakeholders who gain from this economic inefficiency. For example, a psychologist friend moved to a state with absurd requirements for licensing: she had taught in prestigious programs, yet she was asked to bring recommendations from her own professors of 20 years ago. The state obviously wanted to restrict the supply of mental health professionals.
Health insurance also restricts mobility. Doesn't it seem absurd that a 60-year old can't leave a state where jobs in his field are limited, because he had a heart attack ten years ago? He's self-employed and he can't get insurance if he moves.
Finally, Florida is right about places giving us energy. My own energy has shifted as I've moved and I cringe when someone brings out the old chestnut, "If you're not happy here..." He cites evidence that moving doesn't always bring the rewards that were expected, but I suspect there's a pretty wide standard deviation there. Some people move and blossom.
In my own case, I found that moving from a small town in New Mexico to Seattle not only brought psychic rewards. For some reason, clients respond to a Seattle address. I'm told that direct mail response also varies based on the addresses of the sender.
Bottom line: place is important. Florida has done a great service by writing a book that will be read a lot more widely than most books on the topic. I wish I'd waited to write mine till after this one came out, and I think the research is only just beginning.
When I picked up this book I expected, and half hoped, that it would end with a several-page quiz I could take that would give me an answer to the title question -- in other words, tell me where I should be living (I also expected, especially after reading the first few chapters, that it would tell me I should be living in Seattle, which I would consider something of a cop-out [since that's where I was living when I posted this review; I have since moved east). But it turns out that "Who's Your City" contains nothing so simple -- although the author's website, which is the title of this book plus "dot com," does have a questionnaire to help you make up your mind. In fact, Richard Florida argues that your choice of where to live is every bit as important to your professional success and personal happiness as are your choices of what profession to go into and who to marry. Yet few of us give that first decision the sort of thoughtful consideration most of us give the other two. In the "creative economy," he argues, this is a serious error.
A popular, even dominant, portrait of the knowledge worker in that wired "creative economy," as painted by Tim Ferriss and others, is of a writer, designer, or entrepreneur working on her laptop while laying on a beach in the South Pacific, or in her funky studio in Barcelona or Buenos Aires, networking effortlessly with colleagues and clients around the world. In other words, location doesn't matter anymore. We can work equally effectively from anywhere in the world, provided we have a fast net connection and inspiring surroundings. Richard Florida doesn't buy it, and the research, he argues, bears him out. As the truly innovative, productive parts of the global economy cluster into fewer and fewer mega-regions, it's in fact more important than ever that people locate themselves in those areas and become part of the self-sustaining network created there. In one sense, it's kind of a circular argument, but in another it's almost irrefutable: creative people go where the creative people are. As he points out fairly early in the book, if you love acting but hate New York and Hollywood, your career probably isn't going to go as far as it otherwise could.
A lot of this book is like that. It's pretty evident cities have, for lack of a better word, personalities. Omaha "feels" different than San Jose. And the correlation of location with life-events isn't new either: young professionals settling in hip urban environments then moving out to the suburbs after their first child is born is practically a cliché. What Florida has done, though, is ask why that's the case -- what drives it -- and what implications that has both for communities and for individuals. It's really a pretty interesting read, and one with quite a bit of relevance to current economic conditions, too. Richard Florida's work always, justly, draws a lot of attention. And while you won't come away from this knowing, necessarily, where you should be living, you'll know the questions you should be asking yourself and have the tools to help figure out the answers. And that's not a bad start.
The most memorable part of this book is the first few chapters, in which Florida explains that the world is "spiky"- that is, that most innovation and wealth is concentrated in a few regions or groups of regions (not just within the U.S., but worldwide). His discussion of "means metros" is also interesting; he points out that the most educated regions are far more educated than they were a few decades ago, while the rest have stagnated.
I was less impressed by the last few chapters, which try to create a laundry-list of livability factors and try to create a list of "most livable cities." This analysis fails to answer the question: why are some low-ranked cities growing? Why, for example, do people choose to live in Louisville or Salt Lake City (two regions that Florida gives low rankings to for most age groups, but which nevertheless continue to grow)? My suspicion is that not everyone needs to live in a super-white-collar, super-"creative" metro; some people are happier in a lower-cost, more culturally conservative place.
on January 25, 2011
Richard's "Who's Your City?" is a frenetic, sloppily edited, fact-filled book that suffers from identity crisis. Is it a self help, economics, business, city planning, popular psychology, or sociology book? By trying to be everywhere, Florida risks going nowhere. Despite an underlying manic confusion of ideas, however, Florida still manages to conjure up plenty of interesting demographic and economic facts in an entertaining and digestible way, making this, his latest installation, worth the read.
In the opening chapter, Florida positions his book as advice, "I have structured my advice around three key ideas..." These three ideas end up not being the cohesive thread we are lead to believe, in the book's introduction, they will be. One of Florida's "key" ideas is a clear repudiation of those espoused in the popular book "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman, "Despite all the hype...over the 'flat world', place is more important to the global economy than ever before." Florida posits that the world is in fact becoming increasingly "spiky", or concentrated into a few dozen mega-regions, where all creative talent and wealth creation is collecting and snowballing. But the majority of the book that follows seems less an elucidation of these three ideas as a way to offer advice, and more a bunch of ideas, facts, statistics, and citations.
In the heart of the book Florida bounces from references to city planning visionary Jane Jacobs to psychologists Martin Seligman and Abraham Maslow to everything in between, not within the context of a cohesive thread, but rather with the juvenile sense that more facts, despite their efficiency and relevancy, strengthen an argument. Florida attempts to make up for a lack of cutting purport with manic energy. Florida has written a book that is sure to be cited, re-tweeted, and talked about often; but this facet of the book's construction compromises the impact of its central arguments.
In the concluding chapter, suddenly the book that for 280 pages has veered from being anything resembling a self-help book, and has been more an idea biography, is now suddenly, frustratingly reshaped as a "ten step" guide. We are suddenly being sold a "basic framework, some real-world tools, and a ten step plan."
Despite my frustrations with this book's lack of a focus or well-crafted narrative, I read it in a week's time, found it entertaining, and at many moments provocative. I was invigorated by some of its insights. Many of these ideas helped be better understand the cities in which I have chosen to live, why I may have made those decisions, why others may have decided to live where they do, and how shifting demographics are impacting immigration patterns and the character of cities, suburbs, and mega regions.
Place is indeed becoming less and less a function of nation states; it is becoming divided along far more elusive lines. Florida's tireless energy is both his blessing and his curse: up to the might of tackling such a big idea, but constantly undermining the tautness of his argument.