Florida vs. Kotkin

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.)

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