When it comes to globalisation, it's as though we've heard it all before. “The world is flat” we are told, “It’s a global community” or “We are living in the global village”. What all these phrases imply is that, with modern communications and transport, it's almost irrelevant where we live as we can communicate from the middle of nowhere and fly to anywhere we want. Or is it? The latest offering by author Richard Florida, “Who's your city?” tells us that despite all these advances, where we live does make a difference.
Professor Florida has made a name for himself over recent years for putting commonly held perceptions under close scrutiny. Born in Newark, New Jersey, he is an expert in the field of urban planning. He is currently the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and Professor of Business and Creativity with the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. His latest book, “Who's your city? How the creative economy is making where to live the most important decision of your life” continues on from where his previous books left off.
In 2002 his book “The rise of the creative class: And how it’s transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life” caused quite a stir. In it he depicted the rise of a completely new social class. The creative class, he went on to explain, is the new engine of growth in the modern economy. These people create new ideas, new technology, and new creative content.
Now, Professor Florida makes the case that cities play a crucial role in fostering this creativity. Cities, he says, “encourage people to do more than they otherwise would, such as engage in more creative activities, invent new things, or start new companies.” People, he argues, despite their ability to communicate anywhere in the world or the ease of travel, still congregate in certain areas. They do so, as he explains in his book, “because of the powerful productivity advantages, economies of scale and knowledge spillovers such density brings”.
The world isn’t flat – It's spikey!
And because people are drawn to these “creative” cities, the end result is not a “flat world” as described by some, but instead, a “spikey” world. “Today's key economic factors – talent, innovation and creativity – are not distributed evenly across the global economy. They concentrate in specific locations,” Professor Florida writes.
Using data to back up his hypothesis, Professor Florida isolates these spikes around some key cities. The tallest of these spikes centre around innovation hubs such as Seoul in Korea and San Francisco in the United States, which generate the most patents. Other spikes are concentrated on areas he terms as mega-regions. These include the greater Tokyo area and the Boston-to-New York-Washington corridor, both of which generate over USD 2 trillion in economic output, and the greater London region, which generates USD 1.2 trillion.
These cities produce what he calls a “clustering force”. A power which not only attracts the key economic factors, but also acts as a catalyst which reinforces these factors. “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 turn makes the places we inhabit much more productive, generating great increases in output and wealth.”
In the United States alone, over 90% of all economic output is produced in metropolitan regions, with the largest five making up 23% of it. These cities form loci of wealth and creativity which spill over into their surrounding metropolitan corridors, transforming them into mega-regions where a population of millions of people produces trillions in economic output.
Finding your place
“Place remains the central axis of our time – more important to the world economy and our individual lives than ever before.” What's more is that each location offers us something different, and we can congregate on areas that best suit our needs at each stage of our lives. For example, some areas offer better education services, or are safer, while others have a thriving job market.
Again, Professor Florida points out that these observations are not new, citing economist Dr Charles Tiebout who outlined the opportunity cost involved in choosing a place. According to Dr Tiebout, communities offer a bundle of services – and when we choose a place to live, we are not only selecting a location based on scenery, but also selecting the goods and services being offered. People, Charles Tiebout argued, “vote with their feet” in selecting a location which suits their needs.
Each location has something unique to offer people. Those with a passion for finance and a desire to be at the top of their field, for instance, will ultimately be drawn to New York or London, despite the associated high cost of living.
What also becomes clear in his book is that the size of a city’s population does not matter. What does matter is the skill level of the people entering the cities and the way of thinking they bring. Certain cities are becoming the focal point for the highly educated and entrepreneurial, who then reinforce the prevailing attitudes in that city. Other cities, the author adds, are focal points for certain types of personality traits. The most conscientious of people in the USA, for example, can be found to congregate in the Sunbelt.
The book appeals to the reader on many levels. It offers some deep insights as to the role of innovation in today's world, and the role that cities play in encouraging it. It also engages with the reader on a more playful level, offering quirky data such as where the most neurotics can be found, and which is the best city if you are single.