4 ways to read “Who’s Your City”

Richard Florida, Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.

Where you choose to live may be the most important decision in your adult life — at least according to Economist Richard Florida. And he makes a compelling case for it in his latest book. Your choice of city will shape who your friends are, who you marry and your career possibilities. More people have the means to be mobile than ever before in human history, with profound implications for the 21st century.

Therefore, the book’s content will interest a wide range of people from urban economic development specialists to college students with their futures ahead of them to people who simply want to understand better the relationship between urban development and the world and US economies.

Rather than write a standard book review, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on how four different groups could read and benefit from the knowledge in Who’s Your City.

1. Newer Urban Studies students (graduate or under graduate level or self-taught).
The book offers a valuable background on scholarship and theories about cities. The first half of the book (or so) centres around explaining why and how the world is spiky, refuting Thomas L. Friedman’s assertion that is is flat. The highest levels of economic growth and development is concentrating in cities, and certain cities are experiencing much faster economic prosperity expansion than others.

The power of clustering is a key reason why and through several chapters Florida “unpacks” clustering, explaining in detail the multifaceted aspects of this phenomenon. Who’s Your City offers a good foundation on which to build a knowledge of how cities work.

2. Seasoned urbanologists – aka knowledgable city buffs – In addition to the details on how clusters work, Florida offers a new approach to understanding cities that is intriguing. Examining clustering in detail led him to wonder whether certain cities and mega regions tend to attract more of particular personality types. He investigated and it appears that indeed they do. For example, extroverted people gravitate toward Chicago and other cities in a swatch heading southward including St. Louis, Memphis and Atlanta. Neurotic people cluster very heavily in New York. Open to experience people cluster in California and Cascadia, among other places.

As a result, you could say that cities have personalities. Florida suggests that people may be happiest if they find a city that matches their own personality because this means they’ll find more like minded people. Something young people looking for their city-mate might want to keep in mind.

3. College juniors and seniors as well as young people generally who will soon face a location choice. Often it seems Florida is talking directly to this group — particularly in later chapters although throughout the book are sections that read like college lectures, perhaps where he field-tested the material before publication.

In the final chapter, Florida offers a series of questions and steps that people should follow in order to find good potential urban matches. He suggests people consider everything from the quality of the airport to traffic congestion, schools, entertainment, energy level, crime rates and ease of networking.

While he recommended people visit potential city-matches, I was disappointed that he didn’t suggest “test driving” a city. While still in college people have good avenues for doing this such as doing a semester exchange to another school in a potential match city, or finding a summer job or internship in a different city.

4. Planners and economic development specialists.
Florida points out that cities are increasingly finding themselves competing for talented people. The skilled are attracted to a combination of urban amenities and productivity in their field, not all of it within the control of civic officials.

Some cities appeal more to certain demographic groups than others. Florida divides them into young singles, young families and empty nesters and offers analysis as to which cities best fit people at these life stages. Some cities — such as San Francisco — perform better for wider ranges of people than other places, and intriguingly this often correlates to high innovation rates. An obvious conclusion the reader can draw is that making cities accessable to people at all stages of their lives is important. HOwever, Florida focuses on his strength of pointing out trends and leaves it to policy makers to decide how to handle this information.

One key finding that is a dangling thread in this book is that places with highest levels of innovation also seem to have highest levels of prosperity, but also poverty. As Florida states, this may be one of the greatest political and social challenges to come in the 21st century.

****

This book has something for everyone. This leads to my main critique: it doesn’t have one strong thread tying everything together — it often seems like a series of essays — fascinating ones, but not always connected ones.

The book’s main purpose appears to be the message that place matters. And yes, Florida illustrates that. But somehow the early chapters on the growing importance of clusters and the rise of mega regions don’talways seem connected to the later chapters on personality as well as “where we live now?” and Place yourself. This all may be because we hear two different voices from Richard Florida. One, the analytical academic — particularly in the earlier chapters that may have been stand alone articles previously — the other a friendly, casual tone that offers some personal, autobiographical content. Both styles are enjoyable reads, just sometimes seem forced in this book.

This is a minor quibble. Florida offers a highly accessible analysis of how cities and megaregions work, including new perspectives including the notion that cities have personalities.

One comment

  1. I agree that, more than his past books, this one “seems like a series of essays” with the central theme that place matters.

    This blog is a jewel of a find for me, a former WSJ reporter with an MA in planning and a continuing interest in how physical places help or hinder people connecting, playing, working and collaborating.

    Kudos to All About Cities
    Kare, movingfrommetowe.com

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