Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Richard Florida: How to Revitalize Rust Belt Cities

How to revitalize America’s great industrial cities? How to balance people- vs. place-oriented policies? And why mega-projects and bailouts don’t work, but organic, community, bottom-up efforts do. Richard Florida explains in this excerpt from “The Death and Life of Great Industrial Cities”, Chapter 12 of his recent book The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity.

One response to the problems of rusted-out industrial cities such as Detroit has been a new urban reclamation effort called “shrinking cities.” The idea, perhaps inspired by Pittsburgh, has caught on in smaller cities in the American Midwest, such as Youngstown, Ohio, and Flint, Michigan, and their European counterparts. The basic notion is that older industrial cities need not grow to improve. They can be better places by making do with less, by focusing on improvements in the quality of life for their residents, and by bringing their level of infrastructure and housing into line with their smaller populations. A June 2009 story in the U.K. newspaper the Telegraph bore the wince-inducing headline “U.S. Cities May Have to Be Bulldozed to Survive.”

The concept that certain places would be better off by shrinking has been around for a while. The notion of “planned shrinkage” was originally proposed in the 1970s by then New York housing commissioner Roger Starr. The late Senator Daniel P. Moynihan once suggested that benign neglect could be part of an urban policy. Though Moynihan meant to focus attention on dying cities – a cause he worked on over his entire career – the term “benign neglect” ultimately came to represent the Nixon administration’s neglectful attitude toward America’s urban centers: let hopeless neighborhoods fall to dust, and support the healthier areas that remain standing.

Today’s shrinking-cities advocates are much more sensitive to the issues facing older industrial communities. They recognize how globalization and market forces work against some older communities and sensibly suggest that such places would be better served by proactively managing the process of economic transformation and adjustment and by devising strategies to enable those communities to improve their quality of life and realign with the new economic and fiscal realities.

The most successful examples of shrinking, such as Pittsburgh’s, result not from top-down policies imposed by local governments but from organic, bottom-up, community-based efforts. While Pittsburgh’s government and business leaders pressed for big-government solutions – new stadiums and convention centers – the city’s real turnaround was driven by community groups and citizen-led initiatives. Community groups, local foundations, and nonprofits – not city hall or business-led economic development groups – drove its transformation, playing a key role in stabilizing and strengthening neighborhoods, building green, and spurring the development of the waterfront and redevelopment around the universities. Many of Pittsburgh’s best neighborhoods, such as its South Side, are ones that were somehow spared from the wrath of urban renewal. Others, such as East Liberty, have benefited from community initiatives designed to remedy the damage done by large-scale urban renewal efforts that left vacant lots in place of functioning neighborhoods and built soulless public housing high-rise towers. That neighborhood is now home to several new community development projects, including a Whole Foods Market, which provides local jobs as well as serving as an anchor for the surrounding community. This kind of bottom-up process takes considerable time and perseverance. In Pittsburgh’s case, it took the better part of a generation to achieve stability and the potential for longer-term revival.

The sad but unavoidable fact is that overall, and with few exceptions, places in the United States and in other advanced nations where the regional economies are based on blue-collar industries are headed for trouble. In my detailed statistical studies on hundreds of cities and regions, I found that those regions with large working-class concentrations have lower levels of economic output, lower incomes, lower levels of innovation, and lower levels of happiness. Our studies found this to hold true in a comparison of the fifty states and across the nations of the world, in a sample of more than one hundred countries. Stop for a moment and think about that. In both the nations of the world and U.S. states, locations with large working-class concentrations are far less happy. In fact they appear downright unhappy. Perhaps Marx was right after all about the alienation that comes from industrial work, or, for the purposes of our discussion, the unhappiness found in working-class locations.

The bigger question, then, is this: Should public policy toward hard-pressed, economically strapped cities focus on people, not just by encouraging retraining but also by helping them relocate to places with a better job market? Or should policies focus on places, by fostering geographically targeted reinvestment? For many urban economists the answer is simple – put people first. “While regional diversity within the United States might prompt politicians to pursue policies that target aid to distressed regions,” writes Harvard’s (Edward) Glaeser, “that seems likely to be counterproductive. America has always dealt with regional economic disparities through migration. … Today’s recession will also prompt mobility, probably toward more skilled, more centralized cities with less historical commitment to manufacturing.” My own view is that in most cases it makes sense to put people first. At the end of the day, people – not industries or even places – should be our biggest concern. As Clyde Prestowitz, president of the Economic Strategy Institute, aptly put it, “The plight of these people is also in a way our plight.” We can best help those who are hardest hit by the crisis by providing a generous social safety net, investing in their education and skills, and encouraging them, when necessary, to move from declining places to ones that offer better opportunity. Especially in tough economic times, we’re all better served by helping people. People need education and skills to shift from old industries to new jobs. And since these jobs are often in different places, they have to be able to move where the jobs are. This imperative is strongest for members of less-advantaged groups in declining areas, who we must prepare for new economic realities. There are times when it’s simply better for families to relocate to where the jobs are than to wait for longer-term efforts to rebuild declining industries to take hold.

That does not mean we should give up on places altogether. There is intelligent help we can offer to declining places that wish to turn around or at least stabilize themselves. First and foremost, their elected officials need to get over their love affair with big renewal projects. If we’ve learned anything over the past generation or two, it’s that large-scale top-down government projects to revitalize communities do not work and frequently do more harm than good. Bailouts of old industries are also a poor use of limited resources, because they simply forestall the inevitable and do little to bolster the prospects for older industrial regions.

So what can be done? Instead of spending millions to lure or bail out factories, or hundreds of millions and in some cases billions to build stadiums, convention centers, and hotels, use that money to invest in local assets, spur local business formation and development, better employ local people and utilize their skills, and invest in improving quality of place. One leading economic developer, who has extensive experience in economic revitalization in the United States, Canada, and Europe, explained the shift in economic development toward older industrial regions this way: “Urban revitalization based on luring so-called big game projects no longer has a place in the advanced countries,” he said. “If economic developers want to do that today, they should move to China. That’s where all the big corporate projects are or are heading. Revitalizing older cities in North America and Europe increasingly depends on being able to support lots of smaller activities, groups, and projects.” He talked about how efforts to support local entrepreneurship, build and nurture local clusters, develop arts and cultural industries, support local festivals and tourism, attract and retain people – efforts that he and his peers would have sneered at a decade or two ago – have become the core stuff of economic development. When taken together, seemingly smaller initiatives and efforts can and do add up in ways that confer real benefits to communities. These are the kinds of initiatives that Jane Jacobs and others have advocated as plain old good urbanism. [O]ne of the most effective things the federal government can do to help revitalize older Rust Belt cities and regions is to invest in a high-speed rail network that would better connect them to one another and to other, more thriving economic hubs, shrinking the distance between them and building economic size and scale required to compete more effectively.

Cities can take bold steps beyond the remaking of their physical space. One brilliant and beautiful example can be found in the City of Brotherly Love, an initiative called “Graduate! Philadelphia.” I’ve been making the point for years that cities with a higher percentage of college graduates in their populations are better positioned for long- term prosperity. The city of Philadelphia recognized this, too, and also knew it ranked poorly among cities in the level of educational attainment of its residents. Civic leaders also knew, however, that a very high percentage of the people, although they had no college degree, had accumulated some credits along the way. A partnership among the city government, foundations, and other private institutions formed to offer guidance and support to any Philadelphian who wanted to go back to school and get a degree. Quite a few nearby colleges and universities became partners in the project. A related project, Campus Philly, has worked to make the city and region more attractive to college students and to retain as well as attract recent college grads. And the city’s major universities, especially the University of Pennsylvania, devised new, more cooperative approaches for revitalizing their surrounding neighborhoods by investing in local schools, supporting home and storefront improvements, and making their own health centers and facilities open to residents as well as students and faculty. Here is a city looking toward the future, developing a strategy to raise its competitive position by preparing more of its people to succeed in the postindustrial, knowledge-based economy of the Great Reset. It seems to be paying off. In 2009, while older Rust Belt and sprawling Sunbelt cities were literally hemorrhaging people, the city of Philadelphia saw its population increase.

As with so many things in life, the small stuff really can make a difference to the people living in cities. That sounds like an easy thing to say, but there is considerable research to back it up. The quality of life in the place we live is a key component of our happiness, according to surveys of tens of thousands of people conducted by the Gallup Organization. There are three key attributes that make people happy in their communities and cause them to develop a solid emotional attachment to the place they live in. The first is the physical beauty and the level of maintenance of the place itself – great open spaces and parks, historic buildings, and an attention to community aesthetics. The second is the ease with which people can meet others, make friends, and plug into social networks. The third piece of the happiness puzzle is the level of diversity, open-mindedness, and acceptance: Is there some equality of opportunity for all? Can anyone – everyone – contribute to and take pleasure from the community? My own work with cities across the United States and Canada and around the world convinces me that none of these things can be accomplished by government-sponsored megaprojects. Instead, they are organic in nature and require real leadership and the active engagement of the community.

This excerpt from The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity originally appeared in the Montreal Gazette. Reprinted here with permission of the author.

Topics: Economic Development, Public Policy
Cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh

47 Responses to “Richard Florida: How to Revitalize Rust Belt Cities”

  1. Lynn Stevens says:

    When I moved here, I found Chicago a difficult nut to crack in terms of plugging into social networks. There were so many native Chicagoans that seemed to have their social networks fixed, and they were content. The still existing racial spatial divide affects this as well. Unfortunately, I don’t think the city leaders are particularly open-minded and accepting. They tend to listen to, stick with whatever their version of the good ol’ boy network is. I don’t think most are particularly well-read and/or open to new ideas. There has been a focus on aesthetics in some areas. It would be interesting to evaluate, tho, if those areas comprise where most of the population lives, or most of those hardest hit by the global structural changes.

    I still maintain Chicago needs to focus on/step up improvement of education, at the K-12 levels for a big economic impact.

    There seems to be a present opportunity also to focus on small business development. The retail businesses especially seem to be adversely affected by a current nickle and diming approach to city revenue. Not that businesses shouldn’t comply with laws, but the city could counter their crackdowns with programs with benefits for small businesses, and they need to think beyond downtown.

  2. Anon says:

    Concentrate on small, local projects because big, expensive civic investments don’t work. But built a trillion dollar high speed rail network to attain economies of scale.

    Working people are unhappy, so we should place them in direct competition with millions of people around the globe earning subsistence wages. Set a floor on their wages, and soon…no more working people! If that fails, move from your indsutrial city to a college town, and try to forget that they exist.

  3. Jim Russell says:

    That book passage is a high-speed train wreck. I could spend all day deconstructing it. The examples of top-down policies in Pittsburgh are both misleading and incomplete. I’m still trying to figure out what grassroots neighborhood revitalization has to do with shrinking Pittsburgh. Geographic triage is still very much on the table.

    The argument is incoherent and poorly researched. There is a laundry list of dos and don’ts. I guess we are supposed to take Florida’s word for it.

  4. Anon says:

    Don’t invest in places. Invest in people, and then encourage them to move where the jobs are.

    Assuming we’re not investing in human capital to give it away, this would be done at the level that can recoup part of the investment – national. If we’re interventionist enough to encourage people to “move to where the jobs are,” why aren’t we interventionist enough to encourage jobs to locate where the people are? Isn’t this a global economy where anything can be done anywhere (even if it has to be agglomerated in certain areas)?

    Jobs are locating in greenfield states like Texas and Colorado to escape legacy costs of pensions, public debt, etc. in the populated states. From a national perspective, abondoning infrastructure in the north and rebuilding it in the south and west has to be inefficient. Florida is suggesting a national policy that tries to exploit the imbalance. How short sighted can you be?

  5. Jim, I’ll look forward to your deconstruction. There’s a lot in there, so I’m interested to see what you think of the various parts. I posted it because it is audience relevant, not necessarily because it’s exactly what I would have written. (That’s the whole point of including outsider writers). But I think there are some clear no-brainers in there, even if there are parts of it you don’t agree with (e.g., stop spending money on boondoggles).

  6. Lynn, I think the permeability of Chicago networks depends on what you are trying to do. The best book on Chicago politics is called “We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent”, and that pretty much sums it up. In some of the old neighborhoods there are bars you’re not welcome in if you haven’t lived there forever. But business networks are very open (if you meet the financial minimum threshold), and social networks in newcomer communities are as well from my perspective.

  7. anon 12:42, much of that vaunted northern infrastructure is obsolete and/or shot. We’re building the infrastructure no matter what. Also, the US has been growing strongly in population, so a lot of the growth is net new. And it’s not clear why anyone in Texas or Colorado should have to pay to bail out California or Illinois pension deficits that were clearly a result of local leadership/governance failures.

  8. Jim Russell says:


    I don’t see much with which I can agree or disagree. Sure, boondoggles are bad. But what about the other top down initiatives? The top down versus bottom up dichotomy is a false one. It’s nothing more than a rehash of Moses versus Jacobs with the facts pigeon-holed to fit the narrative.

    What’s so groundbreaking about stating that top down urban renewal is evil and grassroots urban neighborhood revitalization is wonderful? Furthermore, the shrinking cities paradigm is a top-down policy. Just look at Youngstown 2010.

    I can find redeeming qualities in just about any narrative. I don’t think Florida is advancing the discussion. For starters, at least give an honest account of the policy history.

    The above critique isn’t a reflection on you or the blog. I’m expressing my disappointment in Florida’s recommendations for Rust Belt cities. I think it does more harm than good.

  9. David says:

    “I don’t think Florida is advancing the discussion.”

    Are you sure about that, Jim Russell? Your views on urban matters weren’t completely shaken up by:

    “places in the United States and in other advanced nations where the regional economies are based on blue-collar industries are headed for trouble”


    “As with so many things in life, the small stuff really can make a difference to the people living in cities.”


    “In my detailed statistical studies on hundreds of cities and regions, I found that those regions with large working-class concentrations have lower levels of economic output”

    I actually agree with Florida here, census.gov does have some pretty cool data sets you can play with.

    I almost always learn something about new and different about cities here, so nothing against you Aaron. But as Jim Russell said, there’s little to agree with or disagree with here, because it’s all been said a million times before.

    Aaron, you should write a book. I’m sure you could advance the discussion further than what we’re seeing in this excerpt.

  10. Jim Russell says:

    “Aaron, you should write a book. I’m sure you could advance the discussion further than what we’re seeing in this excerpt.”

    Hear, hear!

  11. Anon says:

    I think a case can and will be made for migration recipient states sharing the burden of unwinding defined benefit pensions. Consider a conservative community in Illinios that promised modest pensions to the workers in its schools, public safety, parks, etc. — Modest pensions affordable if population and economic activity were stable. A generation of children recieves services for 20 years, and then half move to a subdivision in a formerly unincorporated desert. The remaining population can’t afford the pensions, so their economy slows to a crawl.

    Both groups recieved the same investment. Leavers pay only part of the cost and stayers pay extra. Its an externality because people don’t contract to pay the full cost of the services they recieve as local residents.

    Going forward, there should be no defined-benefit pensions or unfunded pension funds. But we have to discharge the current obligations.

    If this were a personal debt, I’d pay it or declare bankruptcy. But I didn’t run up this public obligation myself. My classmates now in Austin and Denver owe at least as much.

  12. John Morris says:

    It’s not a personal debt and lots of these obligations were imposed by de facto fraud in that as Aaron has stated here government books are a joke.

    You said the magic word. Bankruptcy is the only real thing that will create structural change. Investors dumb enough to have bought these bonds must take a big haircut and obligations have to be brought in line.

  13. John Morris says:

    I do strongly agree however that good policy means keeping these externalities to a minimum which in this case means limiting state spending on greenfield infrastructure. If the developer can’t find the cash to fund the roads, power or sewer hookups, the state should not be doing this.

    Anyway, my prediction is that as the government goes broke we will finally get back to thinking about the basic economic blocking and tackling.

  14. David says:

    “Bankruptcy is the only real thing that will create structural change”

    And now the teachers unions in California are seeking guarantees against bankruptcy that would effectively have the rest of us bailing them out.

    But progress is being made, with even Andrew Cuomo copying a lot of the Chris Christie reforms in his campaign for NY governor. This is an issue not just for muni governments, but transit systems as well, which have the same crushing pension burdens.

  15. John Morris says:

    I’ll tell you what. Bailouts on that scale are just not going to happen. Look closely at the electoral maps which are shifting from purple too shades of either bright blue or bright red.

    The next step from there is an actual break up of the country. The semi solvent states like Indiana will have to break away like you would from a burning exploding aircraft carrier or sinking Titanic.

    Anyway, this is the elephant in the room.

  16. Jim Russell says:

    Bottoms up!


    There’s 37 neighborhoods in Youngstown, and not enough time. Worse yet, the federal government provides more roadblocks than it does guidance and money. The federal government doesn’t have a vision for shrinking communities like Youngstown. In Phil’s words: “Whatever money Portland’s going after, it’s probably not the same kinda of money that Youngstown is going after…we’re looking to take 22,000 vacant lots in Youngstown and find a productive use for them. Portland’s probably thinking about, you know, how does light-rail work in the northeast neighborhoods into downtown?…that is language that Youngstown will never speak for maybe thirty years. Hopefully in thirty years we’ll be talking about it. It’s just a way different context.

    “This isn’t something that it’s like, ‘boy wouldn’t it be great if’…we don’t have that kind of time here! We don’t have that. If this stuff doesn’t get fixed, if we aren’t able to cut the chains here, then we’re gonna lose these neighborhoods, and all these communities. And…all this talk of rightsizing and how sexy that kind of thing is right now, it won’t mean shit—it will not mean shit—if we can’t cut the chains, and let us do our work.”

  17. John Morris says:

    I kind of agree that Florida is pretty much warmed over Jane Jacobs in lots of ways. However, repeating bromides doesn’t make them untrue. Clearly in spite of all the very obvious evidence, not many people and particularly politicians are listening. Small businesses in Pittsburgh are always raped for political mega junk.

    No time to go into it in one comment but Pittsburgh is a great study in contrasts. The relatively small amounts invested in things like the Main Streets program, The Penn Ave Arts Innitiative and the tiny Sprout fund grants have paid pretty clear dividends.

    Still, local politicians and connected hacks and The Post Gazette bend into pretzels to tell us why all the huge mega stadium projects and parking garage B.S. has helped the city so much.

    The contrast between The South Side and The North Shore is like East and West Germany. In fact almost every area the political class have “helped” is now a near disaster area. It might not look that bad only because cash subsidies from the rest of the city and county have papered over the fact that almost no viable self supporting economy exists there.

    Now the Rivers Casino is teetering on the edge of default (In fact one rating agency has described the recent restructuring as a selective default)and if it fails to make payments to the SEA, we will see just what a big hole those projects were.

  18. Jim Russell says:

    I didn’t write that the bromides are untrue. There are plenty of top down projects that qualify as boondoggles or even development failures. But that doesn’t mean bottom up is better than top down. You might have a point about big ticket versus small ticket initiatives, but Florida doesn’t discuss that.

    Read what Michigan Future is saying about the Pittsburgh success story and why Detroit can learn from Pittsburgh. Plenty of top down celebrated in the report.

  19. John Morris says:

    Geez, I was just on a blog called Null Space and he pointed out that Three Rivers Stadium still has it’s website up, 10 years after the stadium was blown up.


    This isn’t a historic website put together my nostalgic folks, but what looks like the actual website kept alive since what, 2000!

  20. John Morris says:

    “Plenty of top down celebrated in the report.”

    Well, of course it is. These people work for big government agencies or in some pork dependent “business”.

    They see very much what they want. Michigan is Porkolopolis. Detroit, at this point doesn’t seem to have much economy other left than the remains of one porky project or the hopes for another transfer of some kind.

    It’s like Keynesian economics. It’s the solution politicians want to work so they say it works.

  21. Jim Russell says:

    Top down isn’t synonymous with pork and a lot of what is celebrated has little to do with throwing big money at a problem.

    You see what you want to see.

  22. John Morris says:

    I might not make freinds or get a job by saying this but when I see Michigan on a report, I do take it with a grain (mountain)of salt.

    This is a state that has had an unemployment rate over 12% for something close to five years. When Obama called Granholm his favorite governor several years back, I pretty much choked.

    Sure they have had the decline of the car industry but really, does that explain the the rapid continual decline of almost every industry in the state? There is absolutely nothing like it in America.

    Michigan Future is based in Ann Arbor, where no doubt they feel like a few hundred billion or more of other people’s money pumped into university research would do them very well. Of course they love Pittsburgh with it’s hoard of major schools funneling in government cash and student loans.

    Whatever one thinks about Pittsburgh it’s a niche model and in the context of the assets we have we are an underperformer. Why not go all out and say every city should copy the D.C. area?

    The real wave of the future, if there is going to be one is about blocking, tackling and voluntary business oriented development.

    By the way, Cleveland is also looking to Pittsburgh as an example and they also seem to credit the stadiums, convention center and the like. Not a surprise with great thinkers like this, Cleveland is looking like the next Detroit.

  23. John Morris says:

    OK, the official BLS chart for Michigan doesn’t show an unemployment rate over 12% for five years, but it has been at or near the top for many years. The state is also a huge exporter of people ith a massive net outflow.

  24. Jim Russell says:

    “I might not make freinds or get a job by saying this but when I see Michigan on a report, I do take it with a grain (mountain)of salt.”

    I would suggest reading the report first, but there is a variety of strategies being suggested within the state.

    I’m curious about your claims about Cleveland. Where are you hearing that Cleveland thinks the big boondoggles in Pittsburgh are the way to go? That’s not what I’ve read.

  25. John Morris says:

    I have to get back to you on that but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that. As you know, Cleveland is now going deeper into hock to build The Museum of Science and Trucking, I mean the super Med Mart or whatever and now it’s trying to socialise the costs by grabbing cash from almost all the counties in North East Ohio.

    It’s not their problem that your town is a parking lot for single use mega attractions that had almost zero chance of paying off and the people who wisely chose not to live in town are just being smart. (Now it might be smart to leave Ohio)

    The whole thing is a symbolic slur on all the small business owners and average taxpayers when they are told over and over again that what they are doing is not as important as what a few connected goons have in mind.

  26. Alon Levy says:

    While Texas and Colorado are net federal tax donors, the rest of the Sunbelt greenfield states aren’t. For decades, New York and Illinois and California have been subsidizing Georgia and Florida and Arizona. Complaining about how those latter states shouldn’t be subsidizing the former states is a little bit hypocritical.

    (Off-topic: I’m reading up on payrolls in various transit agencies, and it’s teaching me a lot on the actual way US government incompetence works. The crib notes are that it so far seems to be mostly administrative overstaffing – not pensions, or high wages, or unions.)

  27. Anon says:

    Would love to see this attitude adopted in Birmingham. It continues to flail due to history. Folks here don’t seem to realize that just b/c “it’s always been this way” is no reason to keep it this way.

  28. John Morris says:

    One of my best freinds in Brooklyn was from Birmingham. Let’s just say that in spite of the much lower costs and the way she is struggling to do her work, she ain’t goin back.

    Ever seen a guy named Reverend Vince Anderson?

    I’m not entirely sure from the thread what you mean by “this attitude”.

  29. John Morris says:

    Ooops sorry, of course I see what you mean. I got a little lost and blurted out a comment i thought might have been on The Cincinnati thread.

    From my somewht limited experience, Florida’s spin resonates.

  30. George Mattei says:

    I’m somewhat skeptical of Florida’s claims that essentially you don’t need to produce goods to have a healthy society. In fact he consistently downplays the production of goods and hypes up the creative design of those goods.

    Any economic activity is basically done to make money. Money is a proxy for goods and services (before we had money we bartered goods). A good more or less has an intrinsic value of some level. In order for services to be valuable, they must help you produce or distribute goods in a better, more efficient or cheaper way. Without the basic goods, the services are worthless. Even education as a general rule involves investing in people that go on to produce something.

    Of course the arts and humanities don’t get eaten and often are not useful except for enjoyment and enrichment. I won’t say they are not valuable-they are very valuable (see David Brook’s recent editorial in the NY Times). But without the basics first, physical goods to consume, the arts won’t have meaning, because we won’t be around to consume them. The first thing that goes when you lose your job is the entertainment budget.

    I fear that the focus on the creative misses this important fact- if we just try to design and move items but don’t actually making these items, we create a hole in our economic fabric. An economy has to produce hard goods, or at the end of the day we are consuming what we have and not replacing it. That’s economic decline, and I fear that our nation has fallen somewhat into this trap. Some cities may be able to focus on these pursuits, but building a national economy based SOLELY on creative pursuits concerns me.

  31. Pete from Baltimore says:

    One thing that strikes me is that Florida mentions the various levels of Government but then mainly credits local community groups and non-profits.

    But he seems to totally ignore local business owners as people who help a neighborhood prosper. At least where i live in Baltimore there was a big wave of houses being re-habbed in SouthEast Baltimore. a lot of new stores and resturaunts opened up. The City Government tried to take credit and so did a few non -profits.

    But really mosst of the credit should have gone to the business owners who had the courage to invest in the neighborhoods.

    My own neighborhood is somewhat rundown. We had one local resturaunt which closed. So about 10 neighbors got together and bought the property so that it wouldnt be bought by slumlords. A new resturaunt is ready to move in soon.

    There seems to be an atitude that if someone is interested in making a profit that they are somehow greedy.But a lot of business owners make less than non-profit owners. And many bussiness owners realise that they have not only a personal interest[many live in the neighborhood] ,but also a financial interest in seeing the neighborhood thrive.

    I go through my neighborhood all of the time picking up trash and volunteering at tree plantings,ect. I hate trash and want my neighborhood to look nice. The fact that im a homeowner adds to this and the fact that i run a small construction business that is dependent on the neighborhood getting better also adds to this.

    I think that Richard Florida and sadly many other urban planners spend a lot of time focusing on local government and non-profits at the expense of localy owned small businesses.

  32. Alon Levy says:

    Pete: Florida has internalized the Northeastern attitude that since nearly everyone who’s very rich is really just corrupt and rent-seeking (which is more or less true), every business activity is inherently bad. Part of it is lack of imagination – he can’t imagine cities that don’t fit with his prejudices, so he tries very hard to shoehorn them into his theories. It’s the same with business. While there’s a great tradition of small business activism even in big business-run New York, talking about it as an economic driver requires acknowledging that there are vestiges of middle class in America, whose interests are in conflict with those of the upper creative class.

    To be fair to him, a lot of other Northeasterners just can’t imagine government working properly, unions not engaging in rent-seeking, business not cheating its clients, and so on. It’s just that one expects an academic urban theorist to be less parochial.

  33. Pete from Baltimore says:

    In this article Florida claims that working class people are “More unhappy” than the “Creative Class”. First of all i dont think that you can use statistics to measure happiness.Secondly i really have to wonder if Richard Florida has actually ever been friends with or ever even known someone with a blue collar job.

    Florida ‘s atitude seems to me to be incredibly condecending. I work as a construction laborer. According to Florida i am therefore unhappy[i learned something new today.Im apparently ” unhappy”].

    Therefore it must be because of my work. therefore i should get a job with the “Creative Class”. Maybe become an artist or something.Instantly i will be happy.

    Excuse me for being blunt but this kind of thinking is the biggest piece of crap that i have ever read.

    Florida’s premise is that the “working class” is unhappy so we must turn the working class into the “creative class”.

    Did MR Florida build his house himself? Im guessing not. Im guessing that it was someone from the “working class” that MR Florida wants to do away with.And you know what. I LIKE helping to build houses. Its what i enjoy. And its a practicle job which needs to be done. Im not a buggy -whip maker whose livlihood is obsolete.

    As for myself i have always considered mysellf a middle class guy who has a blue collar job. I dont like being patronisingly thought of as a member of the lumpenproletariat that needs to be re-structured by people like MR Florida.

    I am glad that MR Renn posted this article. Its good to read different views. But i have to say that there are very few opinion makers that i disagree with more than Richard Florida.

    im sure that he has the best intentions. But i find his proposals usually to be impracticle .Theproposals that he makes that ARE good tend to be very obvious ones that everyone knows about.Yet Florida acts like they are somehow original thoughts of his

  34. motorless says:

    Just for clarification, the “Creative Class” Richard Florida refers to is not just “creative” people, as in artists and musicians. The “Creative Class” also includes people from science, engineering, education, computer programming, research industries.

    Also, it’s fairly easy to determine happiness. You just have to ask people to report their happiness.

    Finally, “In both the nations of the world and U.S. states, locations with large working-class concentrations are far less happy”, does not mean any one person is unhappy.

  35. Pete from Baltimore says:

    Regarding comment 34 by motorless
    I am very sceptical about using statistics to measure happininess.Especially since different people define happiness differently.

    But what i most object to is for Florida to say that it stems from “the alination that comes from industrial work”.Yet he offers no proof whatsoever for this claim.

    as for the “Creative Class” i am aware of what he means by this term. i have read many articles by Richard Florida[i subscribe to the Atlantic Monthly]. Yet Florida doesnt explain how a laid off steel worker is supposed to become a bio-engineer.

    When the process of de-industrialisation started in earnest in the late 70s and in the 80s some economists said that we shouldnt worry and that all of the laid off factory workers would find other jobs .

    And the low unempoyment rates of the mid to late 90s seemed to prove them right.

    But what happened was that many of these laid off mill and factory workers moved out of thier home states and went to work in construction in more prosperous areas.

    I worked in construction in the Washington DC area in the late 80s and early 90s . And a lot of the workforce was laid off miners,mill hands and factory workers from Pennsylvannia and West Virginia.

    Some had moved to the DC area. Others lodged together for the week and went home on weekends to visit thier wife and kids. I personally knew about 15 West Virginians that crammed themselves into a small rented house during the week and went back home every weekend.Apparently it was the whole working age male population of a small town in West Virginia.

    But they survived.They may have made less then in the factories . But they had work. Until the reccession.

    Its one thing for an agricultural laborer to have become a factory worker during the industrial revolution or during the Great Migration during the 1950s.And its one thing for a laid off coal miner to become a construction laborer. and quite another for a laid off construction worker to become a bio engineer.

    I still say that blue collar work is not obsolete. Yes machinry is replacing a lot of it. But a tremendous amount is going overseas.

    It will take years for the constructionindustry to recover. And even then we probably shouldnt build as much as we did in the 90s and 2000-2010 period. It WAS a bubble.

    So what are the laid off factory workers to do ? I personally dont see MR Florida having any answers to that question

  36. cdc guy says:

    “The next step from there is an actual break up of the country. The semi solvent states like Indiana will have to break away like you would from a burning exploding aircraft carrier or sinking Titanic.”

    Indiana is solidly purple. More Ds than Rs in our congressional delegation, split of senators, R governor, R state senate, D state house. Indianapolis has a Republican (white retired Marine) mayor and a Democrat (black Muslim) congressman.

    More to Florida’s topic: Indiana’s also the state with the highest percentage of residents working in manufacturing (and has been so for some time).

  37. cdc guy says:

    Pete, I read Florida’s piece to suggest investment in re-training the laid-off factory worker so that s/he might be more suited to available jobs in growing fields (wherever they might be).

    I think that’s the one clear good idea in the piece: priority should be placed on vocational and educational investment in displaced workers.

    I think it’s problematic to expect every displaced worker to be willing to pull up stakes and move, though. I think that’s where people sense a fault in Florida’s reasoning: not everyone is mobile; many are unwilling to move to a new city later in life.

    I think non-mobility is an alien concept to a highly-educated academic who is a “world citizen”. So to Florida, it seems a given that re-training must be accompanied by a willingness to relocate for a job. To the rest of us, that may not be so clear-cut, and we may perceive a need to help the places where displaced people feel rooted in some way, as well as the people themselves.

  38. John Morris says:

    The trend is still in it’s early phase, mostly because most Americans are still very unaware of the country’s true financial position.

    A rapid move towards a bailout like that would help concentrate the mind. Like during the civil war and the early revolutionary period there will be border states. I think I read that during the early Revolutionary period, 70% or more of the public was opposed to breaking from Britain.

    What’s likely to happen is that as the reality of a breakup gains steam people will start to move towards the states of their choice with blue folks heading towards blue states and red types doing the opposite.

  39. Pete from Baltimore says:

    cdc guy
    Thank you for your reply

    i think that my points about the difficulty of training factory workers for the often highly speciaised and highly trained jobs that are in demand still stand.

    As far as mobility , i think that it is often misunderstood or misrepresented.

    For instance there is very little construction work for me now in Baltimore so i have been riding my bicycle down to Northern Virginia to work for a friend . i stay at a cheap motel for a week or two and then return to Baltimore when the work runs out or when i have work in Baltimore.

    Many would say that if i didnt own a house then i could move to Northern Virginia and be more flexible. They would regard my house as a “trap”.

    But i paid only $45,000 for my house and put a third down. My mortgage paymentsare around $500 a month[that includes home insurance and taxes]. There is no way that i could find someplace that cheap to rent in Baltimore,let alone Northern Virginia.

    So the fact that i own a house is the main reason that im able to survive. And while my small construction business is slow i work with other guys when i dont have work. And they work for me when they are slow.

    There are about 4 or 5 of us who do similiar work but not similiar enough to be competitors. We survive the slow times by working for each other .

    If i moved i would lose those contacts.

    Its not just always emotional reasons that keep people where they live. Many have good financial reasons for staying.

    Mt problem with Richard Florida is that he doesnt seem to realise that people like me with blue collar jobs are capable of wieghing our options and making the right choice. He doesnt seem to think that we are capable of making the right financial decisions.

    Florida sees people remaining in towns like Detroit and Gary and just assumes that te people arent smart enough to realse that they should move. He doesnt take into consideration that thier entire support network that they spent thier whole lives building up is where they live now.

    the only reason that i found work in Northern Virginia is that the company owner’s girlfriend used to live in my neighborhood in Baltimore.

    as i said in my other comment. i really dont think that Richard Florida has ever known any people with blue collar jobs.

  40. John Morris says:

    Will be back with more thoughts about Florida. Obviously, artists themselves are a weird type in that many do lots of physical work with their hands, are skilled at “crafts” and can use power tools and weld. In fact in NYC, the most common job of artists, I knew was to work as art movers, art installers or do stuff like paint, build out walls and install major works in Galleries or Museums. After that, plumbing and carpentry are common jobs.

    In fact, half the benefit of attracting lots of starving artists to your town is that lot’s of them can rehab old buildings. Other people do stuff like industrial design which is pretty closely related to Manufacturing.

    I honestly was never interested enough to have read tons of Florida’s stuff. I read The Rise Of The Creative Class but in a sort of skimmy way. As I remember it he placed lots of people in this “class”.

    Anyway, half of my reasoning in terms of bringing and nurturing artists in “The Rust Belt”. is that can play a synergistic role in developing more light manufacturing.

  41. Jim Russell says:


    Have you ever met James Pernotto?


    I met him in Youngstown via a chance encounter and he showed me his studio. Your melding of the manufacturing ethos and the artistic endeavor reminded me of his work (and his efforts to revitalize Youngstown).

  42. John Morris says:

    No, I haven’t but I once posted a video about his work and I linked to his website.

    If you are in touch pass along my blog and a request to be in touch.

    The reality is that I was only in Youngstown once for that recent conference that I meant to post more about. I actually live here without a car and my significant other is working a lot. We hope to get back to Youngstown to at least see The Butler sometime this summer.

    An Cleveburgh artist conference in Youngstown would be a great future idea.

  43. cdc guy says:

    Pete, I fully agree with all you’ve written about support networks and investment in place, and especially agree that Florida might view you as “stuck” in Baltimore while I see you making the best choices you can in order to do the work that makes you happy…work which I consider creative work in a true sense: you leave something lasting behind you.

    [My first job with a paycheck was in construction, just a part-time kid helper…the lowest form of life on a jobsite. But don’t try to tell me that a framer or drywall finisher or trim carpenter or plumber or electrician isn’t creative. :)]

    Think how much worse off you’d be if you had migrated to one of the construction boomtowns of the last decade: no job, no house (or house worth less than mortgage and no way to make payments or sell), and no real support system.

    I should have been more clear about retraining. I agree with you that laid-off factory workers aren’t usually good candidates for graduate bio-engineering programs. But some might make good equipment technicians, auto-repair technicians, welders, plumbers, electricians, HVAC techs, elevator servicemen, truck drivers, apartment maintenance person, etc.

    Most of those occupations are stable or growing, and most don’t require a degree. Some are unionized, and some are construction related but all have some work related to maintenance. Granted, most won’t pay UAW or USW wages, but nothing today pays that well. All require some level of training; here in Indiana our community college cooperates with our unemployment office when companies close and layoffs occur, and many people have access to re-training at no cost.

  44. Pete from Baltimore says:

    Regarding comment #43 by cdc Guy

    cdc guy
    I agree completly with what you said about there being a great demand for highly skilled blue collar labor.

    I know a “headhunter” that told me that those kind of positions are the hardest for her to fill. She said that someone with a high school diploma could get a $100,000 a year job at a nuclear power plant if they had the right skills.

    And if Richard Florida was talking about that i would agree with him.

    Reading Florida you get the feeling that he thinks of the “creative class” as being made up of single young 20 something hipsters who dont care about a city’s school system[since they dont have kids] ,but are only worried about whther a city has good bike trails.

    He doesnt seem to realise that many highly skilled proffessionals have kids. Florida often mentions making cities “gay friendly”. Well there is a very nice lesbian couple on my block that are getting ready to have children [possibly adoption or artificial insemination, they’re not sure yet].And they have already told me that they will leave the City when the child is old enough for school.

    Florida doesnt seem to realise that highly skilled proffessionals and gay people have a lot of the same concerns as the average blue collar worker [ not to mention the fact that many gay people ARE blue collar workers].

    To me a neighborhood or a society in general needs many types of people. It needs older people.It needs younger people. It needs laborers,plumbers,artists,scientists and much , much more.

    We are defintly entering a period of time when workers will need more skills and new skills. Everyone knows this.

    Florida reminds me of Thomas Friedman. Both take a premis . In Friedman’s case its that the world is getting more interconnected. In Florida’s case its that workers need to be more skilled and cities need to attract skilled workers.

    Both premises are so accepted by everyone that they are almost cliches.

    So Friedman and Florida add a few twists. For Friedman , he delares that “The world is flat”. For Florida he comes up with the term “Creative Class”.

    They both then take thier premises into some wierd territory due to overgeneralisation.

    They both make good points sometimes. But they both get carried away so much that they both become unreadable to me.

    And they both tend to aviod details.

    I have read several Florida articles. And your very short comment to me ,cdc guy, had more details and practicle suggestions then all of florida’s articles put together.

    i will end by saying that my main problem with Florida is that he has created many “strawmen”. No one thinks that the economy will be all maufacturing. It never was ALL manufacturing. We all know that we are in the high tech age.And cities and states have always tried to attract skilled workers.Great Britain let the Huguenot refugees into Britian in the 1600s for many reasons. Their weaving skills were among the reasons.

    Im sorry but it does bother me that Florida acts like he’s discovered something new.

    Best regards to you cdc guy

  45. John Morris says:

    “Granted, most won’t pay UAW or USW wages, but nothing today pays that well.”

    That gets to one of my biggest beefs with Florida. From what I can tell from what I read he considers areas with deep pools of high skill and creative workers to be bullet proof.

    Not surprisingly he published his first book right around the time the Tech bubble was just off it’s peak. No doubt the view from CMU at that time was that almost all those kids would be making millions if not Billions. Costs just didn’t matter cause any dumb idea could go public. (Just like any package of bad home loans could be slapped with a AAA seal and sold)

    The fact is that there’s always a push and a pull between benefits and costs in everyplace. As the economy goes down more people will be looking hard at costs vs. benefits.

  46. Alon Levy says:

    Pete: yes. Thank you.

    The bit about gay people revitalizing cities has some basis in truth. So do the bits about education generally increasing your living standards.

    However, both come with a lot of ifs and buts. This being 2010, gays aren’t captive to just a few places; and the more gay rights spread, the more they will adopt or have kids themselves. There are plenty of good skilled jobs that require high school education. Your nuclear power plant example is one. And while the returns to education in the US are growing, tuition is growing even faster. The indifference of the “Send ’em all to college” types to skyrocketing tuition and textbook prices is callous.

  47. Matt Petryni says:

    I’m going to echo a lot of the comments on this board and suggest that Florida’s best moments are those rare ones when he’s channeling Jane Jacobs. Except as her echo, he’s mostly deadweight. Incoherent, stream-of-consciousness deadweight, at that.

    Especially the part about “people first.” I can tell he’s latched onto this because it sounds real nice. It’s like a hot cliche. But he then moves on to say: your current job sucks, whatever attachment to home you might have is merely sentimental and you should go where the jobs are, and yeah, gay people are the key to urban revitalization, which is of course not really necessary because, you know, “people first.”

    It’s bullshit. I’m surprised it’s not more obvious to people not reading Aaron’s blog that it’s bullshit.

    Investing in people first would suggest not building high-speed rail to existing cities (“places”), but instead funneling that money to retraining and relocation programs. Right? I mean, investing what’s leftover after supporting local arts, local business, local tourism, local culture, local people, local “clusters,” local entertainment, local festivals and souvenir spoons. But you know, not local places. Those are history. Might as well help the locals move away.

    But then he also suggests high-speed rail. But you know, not that top-down, big project high-speed rail. The small-scale, localized grassroots kind. More Jane Jacobs, less Robert Moses. But more Robert Moses who cared about people first. And liked trains. High-speed ones. That connect cities we might as well let die.

    Aggggh. If it weren’t considered top-notch planning theory, it’d be considered schizophrenia.

    (No offense to those with schizophrenia. I know it’s probably offensive to be compared to the likes of Richard Florida.)

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