The Technium

Who’s Your City

Whos your city richard florida

Where you live probably has more influence on your life than almost any other decision you will make, says Richard Florida, the guy who studies (and coined the term) the “creative class.” Yet it is one decision we’d don’t make very thoughtfully. This book, Who’s Your City?, will make you reconsider where you are. And it will force you to reconsider the value of cities, and revision conventional wisdom on globalization. It’s a monograph 21-century urbanity disguised as a self-help book. The advice — to choose your location deliberately — applys to everyone. The insight — the economic engines of the world are not nations but mega-city clusters — has changed my idea of the future.

Sample highlights

It’s a mantra of the age of globalization that where we live doesn’t matter. We can work as efficiently from a ski chalet in Aspen or a country house in Provence as from an office in Silicon Valley. It doesn’t make a difference as long as we have wireless and a cell phone.

It’s a compelling notion, but it’s wrong. Today’s key economic factors–talent, innovation, and creativity–are not distributed evenly across the global economy. They concentrate in specific locations. It’s obvious how major new innovations in communications and transportation allow economic activity to spread out all over the world. What’s less obvious is the incredible power of what I call the clustering force. In today’s creative economy, the real source of economic growth comes from the clustering and concentration of talented and productive people. New ideas are generated and our productivity increases when we locate close to one another in cities and regions. The clustering force makes each of us more productive, which in turns makes the places we inhabit much more productive, generating great increases in output and wealth.

Despite all the hype over globalization and the “flat world,” place is actually more important to the global economy than ever before. Places are growing more diverse and specialized–from their economic makeup and job market to the quality of life they provide and the kinds of people that live in them. We live in a highly mobile society, giving most of us more say over where we live.

The place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being. It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose, and the options available to our children and families. People are not equally happy everywhere, and some places do a better job of providing a high quality of life than others. Some places offer us more vibrant labor markets, better career prospects, higher real estate appreciation, and stronger investment and earnings opportunities. Some places offer more promising mating markets. Others are better environments for raising children.

The stakes are high, and yet, when faced with the decision of where to call home, most of us are not prepared to make the right choice. If you ask most people how they got to the place they live now, they’ll say they just ended up there. They stayed close to family or friends, they got a job there, or more commonly, they followed an old flame. Some don’t even see that there’s a choice to be made at all.

Creative people cluster not simply because they like to be around each other, or because they all happen to prefer cosmopolitan centers with lots of amenities, though both of those things tend to be true. Creative people and companies cluster because of the powerful productivity advantages, economies of scale, and knowledge spillovers such density brings.

For some, the world today looks flat because the economic and social distances between the peaks have gotten smaller. People in spiky places are often more connected to each other, even from half a world away, than they are to people and places in their own backyards. This peak-to-peak connectivity is accelerated by the highly mobile creative class, of about 150 million people worldwide. They participate in a global technology system and a global labor market, both of which allow them to migrate more freely among the world’s leading cities. While the world itself is far from flat, the dense network of interconnections among its peaks can make it appear that way to a privileged minority.

The reality is that globalization has two sides. The first and more obvious one is the geographic spread of routine economic functions such as simple manufacturing or service work (for example, making or answering telephone calls). The second, less obvious side to globalization is the tendency for higher-level economic activities such as innovation, design, finance, and media to cluster in a relatively small number of locations.

Gulden likes to say a mega-region is somewhere you can walk all the way across, from one side to the other, carrying nothing but some money without ever getting thirsty or hungry

“What can people be paying Manhattan or downtown Chicago rents for, if not to be around other people?”

When people–especially talented and creative ones–come together, ideas flow more freely, and as a result individual and aggregate talents increase exponentially: the end result amounts to much more than the sum of the parts. This clustering makes each of us more productive, which in turn makes the place we inhabit even more so–and our collective creativity and economic wealth grow accordingly. This in a nutshell is the clustering force.

Unlike biological organisms, all of which slow down as they grow larger, cities become wealthier and more creative the bigger they get. They called this phenomenon “superlinear” scaling: “By almost any measure, the larger a city’s population, the greater the innovation and wealth per person.”

Our model also forecasts a world increasingly dominated by massive mega-regions. By 2025, our world will be considerably more concentrated around mega-regions than it is today. By then, something as sci-fi sounding as a mega-region with several hundred million people may exist. It may sound far-fetched, but given historical precedents and current rates, such a world may well be far from fantasy. Think of it this way: just two hundred years ago, the largest cities held fewer than 100,000 people; back then, a city of 1 million people was unimaginable.

When social scientists talk about mobility, they are typically referring to socioeconomic mobility – the ease with which people move up or down the ladder of social and economic status. But my research and personal experience have convinced me that socioeconomic mobility and geographic mobility are interdependent and far from mutually exclusive.

Survey data estimates the monetary value of frequently seeing friends and relatives. The study found that seeing friends or relatives in person almost every day is worth more than six figures in additional income. For example, Powdthavee found that if you relocate from a city where you regularly see your family and friends to one where you would not, you would need to earn $133,000 just to make up for the lack of happiness you feel from being far from those people.


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