In the midst of some inappropriate optimism about the state of our deteriorating country today, David Brooks makes one interesting point:
In this election we’ve been ignoring the parts of America that are working well and wallowing in the parts that are fading. This has led to a campaign season driven by fear, resentment and pessimism. And it will lead to worse policy-making down the road, since prosperity means building on things we do well, not obsessing over the things that we’ve lost.
That was the inappropriately optimistic part. This is the interesting part:
But there’s another America out there, pointing to a different political debate. For while people are flooding out of the Midwest, they are flooding into the South and the West. The financial crisis knocked many Sun Belt cities to their knees, but they are back up and surging. Jobs and people are now heading to Orlando, Phoenix, Nashville, Charlotte, Denver and beyond.
There are two kinds of places that are getting it right. The first we might call Richard Florida cities, after the writer who champions them. These are dense, highly educated, highly communal places with plenty of hipsters. These cities, like Austin, Seattle and San Francisco, have lots of innovation, lots of cultural amenities, but high housing prices and lots of inequality.
The second kind of cities we might call Joel Kotkin cities, after the writer who champions them. These are opportunity cities like Houston, Dallas and Salt Lake City. These places are less regulated, so it’s easier to start a business. They are sprawling with easy, hodgepodge housing construction, so the cost of living is low. Immigrants flock to them.
As Kotkin and Tory Gattis pointed out in an essay in The City Journal, Houston has been a boomtown for the past two decades. It’s America’s fourth-largest city, with 35 percent metro area population growth between 2000 and 2013. It’s the most ethnically diverse city in America and has had a surge in mid-skill jobs. Houston’s diversified its economy, so even the energy recession has not derailed its progress.
We should be having a debate between the Kotkin model and the Florida model, between two successful ways to create prosperity, each with strengths and weaknesses. That would be a forward-looking debate between groups who are open, confident and innovative. That would be a debate that, while it might divide by cultural values and aesthetics, wouldn’t divide along ugly racial lines.
We should be focusing on the growing, dynamic places and figuring out how to use those models to nurture inclusive opportunity and rejuvenate the places that aren’t. Instead, this campaign will focus on the past: who we need to shut out to get back what we lost.
Houston and Dallas (including Fort Worth) are an urban planner’s nightmare, with Houston’s famous lack of zoning and the Metroplex’s spread so far out that John F. Kennedy flew from Fort Worth to Dallas (flying over former and current homes of the Dallas Cowboys and the suburbs between Fort Worth and Dallas) on his way to his intended speech at the Dallas Trade Mart. Austin is Madison with better weather and Tex-Mex food.
The Fl0rida model — entertain the cool people — is exemplified in Madison, which is certainly an entertaining place outside of its idiot left-wing politics. Of course, Madison also has an increasing number of crimes the city leaders don’t tell you about. (Including the current gang war that by dumb luck hasn’t killed a non-gang member … yet.) And it turns out Madison isn’t really that creative-classy after all. I quote from an earlier blog:
Jamie Peck is a geography professor who has been one of the foremost critics of Richard Florida’s Creative Class theory. He now teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but at the time Florida’s book was published in 2002, he was also living in Madison. “The reason I wrote about this,” Peck told me on the phone, “is because Madison’s mayor started to embrace it. I lived on the east side of town, probably as near to this lifestyle as possible, and it was bullshit that this was actually what was driving Madison’s economy. What was driving Madison was public sector spending through the university, not the dynamic Florida was describing.”
In his initial critique, Peck said The Rise of the Creative Class was filled with “self-indulgent forms of amateur microsociology and crass celebrations of hipster embourgeoisement.” That’s another way of saying that Florida was just describing the “hipsterization” of wealthy cities and concluding that this was what was causing those cities to be wealthy. As some critics have pointed out, that’s a little like saying that the high number of hot dog vendors in New York City is what’s causing the presence of so many investment bankers. So if you want banking, just sell hot dogs. “You can manipulate your arguments about correlation when things happen in the same place,” says Peck.
What was missing, however, was any actual proof that the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants was causing economic growth, rather than economic growth causing the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants. Some more recent work has tried to get to the bottom of these questions, and the findings don’t bode well for Florida’s theory. In a four-year, $6 million study of thirteen cities across Europe called “Accommodating Creative Knowledge,” that was published in 2011, researchers found one of Florida’s central ideas—the migration of creative workers to places that are tolerant, open and diverse—was simply not happening. …
Perhaps one of the most damning studies was in some ways the simplest. In 2009 Michele Hoyman and Chris Faricy published a study using Florida’s own data from 1990 to 2004, in which they tried to find a link between the presence of the creative class workers and any kind of economic growth. “The results were pretty striking,” said Faricy, who now teaches political science at Washington State University. “The measurement of the creative class that Florida uses in his book does not correlate with any known measure of economic growth and development. Basically, we were able to show that the emperor has no clothes.” Their study also questioned whether the migration of the creative class was happening. “Florida said that creative class presence—bohemians, gays, artists—will draw what we used to call yuppies in,” says Hoyman. “We did not find that.” …
Today, Creative Class doctrine has become so deeply engrained in the culture that few question it. Why, without any solid evidence, did a whole generation of policy makers swallow the creative Kool-Aid so enthusiastically? One reason is that when Florida’s first book came out, few experts bothered debunking it, because it didn’t seem worth debunking. “In the academic and urban planning world,” says Peck, “people are slightly embarrassed about the Florida stuff.” Most economists and public policy scholars just didn’t take it seriously.
This is partly because much of what Florida was describing was already accounted for by a theory that had been well-known in economic circles for decades, which says that the amount of college-educated people you have in an area is what drives economic growth, not the number of artists or immigrants or gays, most of whom also happen to be college educated. This is known as Human Capital theory, mentioned briefly above, and in Hoyman and Faricy’s analysis, it correlated much more highly with economic growth than the number of creative class workers. “Human capital beat the pants off creative capital,” Hoyman said. “So it looks like growth is a human capital phenomenon—if you’ve got a lot of educated people. We’re in a knowledge economy, where human capital is worth a lot more than just showing up for work every day.” In other words, if there was anything to the theory of the Creative Class, it was the package it came in. Florida just told us we were creative and valuable, and we wanted to believe it. He sold us to ourselves.
The important demographic Florida’s cities are rotten at serving is the family. (Conversely, I have been in Salt Lake City twice; the people are almost pathologically nice, but I cannot imagine living there as a single person.) Families, you see, are concerned with such uncool things as safety, schools and things kids can do. Madison used to have excellent schools, but Madison doesn’t anymore. Official Madison now ignores neighborhoods that have crime problems that official Madison doesn’t want to admit.
Kotkin suggests a different model that is kind of the 21st century small town. In an era where thanks to the Internet people can choose where to live not necessarily tied to their work corporate office, he goes back to the days where people lived above the Main Street business they owned. Small towns aren’t necessarily exciting, but you’re also not likely to be mugged or shot walking at night.
I did a search for Kotkin on Facebook, and found this, from the Chicago Daily Herald:
The notion that people are dying to leave the suburbs is just not true, an internationally recognized author on global, economic and social trends told nearly 600 business leaders Friday morning at the Lincolnshire Marriott.
Joel Kotkin, the keynote speaker at the sold-out event held by Lake County Partners, a nonprofit economic development organization, joined other presenters who addressed the economy from local and worldwide perspectives.
Kotkin said most of the job growth and affordable housing are in the suburbs. He explained that the Millennial generation, specifically those in their late 20s, might be attracted to Chicago right now, but their desires will soon change. Millennials, he said, are doing everything later, including getting married, buying a home and having children.
“This idea that the suburbs aren’t going to be attractive to the next generation is not true,” said Kotkin, who just released his latest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the Rest of Us. He said the suburbs are where people want to raise children.
Children! Families! That is the model to follow, not Florida. (Richard, that is.)