Thursday, January 14, 2010

Omnibus Richard Florida post

You have to give Rich Florida credit. Very few people can stir a debate as he does. The most recent round of Creative Class warfare started a couple weeks ago with the article in the Prospect magazine that took the whole Creative Class thesis to task. If you have not seen it, you can read yourself: The Ruse of the Creative Class. The mere anticipation of that story was percolating in the urban planning scene at least a month before it came out.

The article itself is now old news, and has been commented on by many including our own Chris Potter, but also see Ryan Advent writing at Seeking Alpha and Jim Russell. There is more. An even harsher recent criticism comes from Germany where Der Spiegel has it's own 5 part series that is as pointed as the piece in The Prospect.  What really caught my attention was in part 4 there was some discussion on Duisburg in Germany's Ruhr Valley..   Germany's largest inland port and a veritable cousin of Pittsburgh. Looks like the Trib’s Mike W. is over in Germany and has been reporting back from the Ruhrgebeit. So it all ties together.

I've noticed that the Pittsburgh part of the Rich Florida story is beginning to be forgotten. I've talked to some people who are surprised to learn that he spent so many years here.  You could really trace the evolution of the Creative Class thesis while he was here. Somewhere in a pile of papers in my office I have his original report on focus groups he did with local young professional types looking at this question of what motivated them to stay or leave. A loyal NS reader has even told me about how he was recruited for one of the sessions long ago.  That report might have been destined for the micro-readership that many of these things get, but you can really see how his 'eureka' moment came some time during those sessions.  I often wondered if that one little project had not been funded how the Creative Class trajectory would have evolved, or if Rich would have wound up focusing more on other topics in subsequent years.

Love him, hate him, there really is no middle ground when it comes to Rich Florida. Too short a space to really take up the core issues. My personal take is that if strip away some of the funkier (read anything labeled 'Bohemian') points the fundamental debate boils down to whether people follow jobs or jobs follow people.  The former has been the paradigm since forever. The future may indeed become the latter. Where we are right now between the two is worth debating. It’s not a new debate and I have pointed out how some smart folks here at Pitt said much the same thing a half century ago.. Not that they were really listened to at the time. 

Long ago Rich had an oped here that focused on an idea that Pittsburgh would be saved if we would only build a rock climbing wall on Mt. Washington as a means to keep those young creative types in town. I give Rich some leeway that it was meant as hyperbole, but you can never be quite sure.  Nonetheless it really did inspire the real start of my oped career a few weeks later with my rant against Border Guard Bob. Of course, Border Guard Bob didn't do much good at keeping Rich himself here, nor some of his acolytes.  I once met a person who had inherited one of Rich's offices at George Mason University where he first fled to before moving on to Toronto.  It was a conversation item that she said she had an office in a suite painted the only non-standard color at the university and the reason was its former occupant.  Rich must have had it in his contract that he didnt have to live with the institutional beige on the walls.

Not meaning to pile on.. it's just that I still think this is one of the funniest YouTube clips I’ve seen.  So a good way to end the rambling is the video below which isn't really an anti-Florida piece at all really. You'll see what I mean, it may actually be one of the most creative clips out there on the subject.  Otherwise you can also see the ultimate Yin and Yang of cool in a video clip featuring both Rich and I during the first season of WQED's OnQ. 


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd also say that Rich alterned the Pittsburgh economic development debate in some important ways. One was the shift from retaining (or in the case of Border Guard Bob, restraining) existing residents to a goal of attracting new residents. A corrollary to this attraction strategy was that the region needed to be open to new populations, that those moving in would be different from those there at the time. This was a fairly major shift. Prior to that the primary target for attraction efforts was former Pittsburghers who had moved away, and now wanted a quiet, traditional place to raise a family.

Unfortunately, the whole thing shifted to attracting only "desirable" populations, mostly meaning young, well educated, and willing to work cheap. While the door opened, a velvet rope was put in front.

Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:22:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

a 'Creative Caste'?

Thursday, January 14, 2010 9:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judging by the lack of comments to this post, looks like locals are done with Florida. Funny how fast fads fade.

Friday, January 15, 2010 9:39:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon #3, it's not like the creative class is a baseless myth. There are even some of us here in pgh - young, ivy-educated, and without any prior ties to the city.

I wouldn't mind having a climbing wall on Mt. Washington.

Friday, January 15, 2010 2:44:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I wouldn't mind having a climbing wall on Mt. Washington.

Just wait until it is late enough that they shut down the incline and use that.

Friday, January 15, 2010 5:10:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Arsenal said...

Damn. Just read your CP essay on the subject and have to say it's the most kick-ass summary of my own views on RF from the past decade I've ever read. Why can't I articulate my own thoughts as well as you can? :P

Monday, January 18, 2010 4:26:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

You're not confusing me with Potter are you? Hair-challenged we both may be....

Monday, January 18, 2010 4:29:00 PM  
Blogger Mark Arsenal said...

Sorry, bad choice of words. I mean, I just read the City Paper and finally the Prospect piece as well, and your accumulation of all these together is something I've been trying to do for years.

There's also that first name thing to throw extra confusion at it all :P

Monday, January 18, 2010 4:48:00 PM  

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