Exploring the Dark Side of the Creative Class

Richard Florida, who gained renown 15 years ago with his book, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” is a progenitor of big ideas exploring the nexus of urbanism, innovation and prosperity, and he’s back with another book and another big idea. Having documented in previous works that a handful of “superstar cities” are sucking up the lion’s share of artistic, scientific, and entrepreneurial talent and creating a wildly disproportionate share of global wealth, he delves into the dark side of urban prosperity. The title of the new book lays out his thesis succinctly: “The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class—and What We Can do About It.”

The “clustering” effect – capital, corporations and talent migrating to large metro regions with deep labor markets – creates a huge economic advantage for the world’s biggest metros, and an economic advantage for dense urban centers within those metros. As the creative class grows in wealth and power, there ensues a competition for prime urban space. Prosperous inhabitants bid up the price of housing, while NIMBYs inhibit the development of new units. Soaring housing prices drive out the working and middle classes, and push the poor into enclaves segregated by income, race, and education.

The result is “winner-take-all urbanism,” says Florida. “The talented and advantaged cluster and colonize a small, select group of superstar cities, leaving everybody and everywhere else behind.” This baleful trend, he describes as the “New Urban Crisis.”

As with all of Florida’s books, “The New Urban Crisis” has much to recommend it. Florida is very good at descriptive analysis – showing what is going on. It is impossible to finish this book without agreeing with his conclusion that a handful of highly innovative supercities are more prosperous than others, that the combination of increasing demand and constricted supply are increasing the cost of housing, and that housing soaring prices in these metros are displacing the poor and middle class. Florida will convince you that prosperous cities are becoming more unequal, not less, and that the pervasive pattern of the past half century – prosperous suburbs and decaying urban cores – is being replaced by a patchwork pattern of highly affluent neighborhoods intermixed with neighborhoods of concentrated poor in both urban cores and suburbs.

Florida is far less persuasive with his prescriptive analysis. As a political liberal, he agonizes over the growing inequality within metro areas, particularly the impact on poor African-Americans. Despite the promise of the book sub-title, he devotes little attention to how metros fail the middle class. Hispanics are strangely absent from the discussion. As for whites in rural/small town America, he evinces no concern whatsoever.

As a liberal, Florida remains sublimely confident that government is the solution to what ails the U.S. He is realistic enough to acknowledge that the New Deal/Great Society paradigm is getting long in the tooth, and that America needs to realign resources to reflect 21st-century realities. He also regards the thicket of NIMBY-empowering zoning regulations and building codes as a prime cause of rising housing prices and income segregation, and argues that they need to be scaled back. But whether he’s writing about the minimum wage, mass transit and inter-city rail, and the scourge of poverty, his confidence in the beneficent power of government never flags.

In previous books, Florida attributed the success of large metropolitan areas in large part to three factors – talent, technology and tolerance. By tolerance, he means acceptance of cultural and ethnic diversity: gays, bohemians, and racial, religious and cultural minorities. In a North American context, he is undoubtedly right: Open societies do foster creativity and innovation. (I’m not sure how well his paradigm applies to Singapore, Seoul, Tokyo or cities in ethnically homogeneous countries like Sweden and Finland, but that’s an issue for another time.)

He views Republicans as retrogrades, and regards the election of Donald Trump as an unmitigated disaster. “Summoning up the political will to face up to the New Urban Crisis will be no easy thing,” he says. “And it will be ever more difficult with Donald Trump as president and the Republicans in control of both houses of Congress.”

Yet he is strangely incurious about one of his own findings: The more politically liberal the city, the greater the inequality. At least he acknowledges the phenomenon, even if he explains it away:

Our most liberal cities number among the most unequal. …. Across the United States, inequality is not just a little higher, but substantially higher, in liberal areas than in more conservative ones. … My own analysis of all 350-plus US metros found wage inequality to be positively correlated with political liberalism and negatively associated with political conservatism.

Florida never entertains the possibility that liberalism causes poverty and inequality. “Of course, inequality is not a direct product of liberal political views,” he says. “Rather, liberalism and inequality are simply both attributes of large, dense, knowledge-based metros.”

An alternative narrative would suggest that inequality arises from the juxtaposition of massive wealth creation of new industries with tragi-comic ineptitude of big-city administrations, mostly Democratic and mostly liberal. “Blue” cities are more prone to over-spending and fiscal crises. (The situation in blue-state Illinois has deteriorated to the point, we read in the news today, that the PowerBall and MegaMillion lotteries are dropping the state as a client!) Blue cities have larger under-funded pension liabilities, their taxes are more punitive, their inner-city schools are worse, their murder rates are higher, and unemployment is more chronic – all of this despite the immense advantages conferred by the presence of greater wealth to tax.

A core argument of “The New Urban Crisis” is that high housing prices are driving inequality and income segregation. Florida alludes to the work of so-called market urbanists who argue that eliminating restrictive zoning and building codes will allow developers to build as needed. “They make an important point: zoning and building codes do need to be liberalized and modernized,” he concedes. “We can no longer allow NIMBYs and New Urban Luddites to stand in the way of the dense, clustered development our cities and our economy need.”

While deregulation will help by building more housing and increasing density, he adds, the high cost of land combined with the high cost of high-rise construction will limit new construction to expensive office towers and will not create affordable housing. As evidence, he points to Houston, one of the few large metros in the U.S. where developers “can build what and where they want.” While Houston housing is more affordable than New York’s, L.A.’s or San Francisco’s, he says, it is “rather expensive” compared to that of most other metros, and the metro ranks high in his inequality and segregation indices.

I’ve never found persuasive the argument persuasive the argument that building luxury towers instead of workforce housing leads to higher housing prices for the poor. If the super-rich occupy the luxury towers, they relinquish the slightly less luxurious/preferable accommodations where they once dwelled. The merely rich move in, in turn creating vacancies in their less opulent quarters, which in turn creates openings for the merely affluent, and so on down the line. Unless Latin industrialists and Russian oligarchs are buying up all the luxury tower units as a hedge, new luxury housing eventually exerts downward pressure on housing prices down the line.

Edward Banfield described the economic logic in his classic, “The Unheavenly City.” Writing in 1968 at the height of white flight and the original urban crisis, the urban sociologist foretold the trends that Florida describes in “The New Urban Crisis.”

If present trends continue, thee will not only be more people in the cities in the next two or three decades, but a higher proportion of them will be well-off. … In this very affluent society, housing probably will be discarded at an ever faster rate than now, and the demand for living space will probably be greater. In the future, then, the process of turnover is likely to give more and better housing bargains to the not well-off, encouraging them to move even farther outward and thus eventually emptying the central city and bringing “blight” to the suburbs that were new a decade or two ago.

Eventually land in the suburbs would be worth more than land in the central city, Banfield predicted. “When this time comes, the direction of metropolitan growth will reverse itself: the well-off will move from the suburbs to the cities, probably causing editorial writers to deplore the ‘flight to the central city’ and politicians to call for government programs to check it by redevelopment the suburbs.”

Lo and behold, 40 years later, Florida describes a “suburban crisis” of flight from cheap-to-build but expensive-to-maintain suburban sprawl back into the city. At least he avoids the trap of calling for government programs to redevelop the suburbs.

Banfield didn’t foresee everything – he did not predict the growing preference for walkable, mixed-use communities in denser settings. But he understood basic economics: As the wealthy migrate to the most luxurious housing, the poor migrate to the least desirable and cheapest housing. At this stage in urban evolution, that means the poor are moving into the aging, 50s- and 60s-era ranch-style tract houses of the inner suburbs that no one else wants. That’s the affordable housing that Florida yearns for, but he does not see it for what it is.

There’s nothing that liberals love more than a good social crisis – it gives them meaning in life. As much as I appreciate Florida’s previous work, I can’t get as exercised as he does about the New Urban Crisis.

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31 responses to “Exploring the Dark Side of the Creative Class

  1. Dear Jim,

    I would argue that these phenomena are at least partly the result of having a sizeable part of the housing stock ruined by crime-ridden ghettos, and thus being “taken off” the market for housing for working people, i.e. reducing the supply especially at the lower end of the income scale, and constantly bringing in new immigrants to maintain high rents for housing for working-class people. Part of the inequality problem is thus rooted in a cultural barbarism within ghettos that leads to the collapse of schools and infrastructure, while the other part is imposed by Liberal immigration policies that favor landlords over tenants. Current residents of the working class, whether native born or themselves immigrants, cannot make much headway because the rents that they have to pay keep going up and up from the competitors that keep arriving. Liberal “tolerance” is the flip-side of landlord self-interest and political self-interest. “Nativism” is the flip-side, or the economic aspect, of not being able to catch one’s breath in a perpetual sellers’ market. So, to sum up, at least some of this crisis of inequality is rooted in policy that Liberals avidly support, i.e. immigration, and damn anyone who criticizes, while another part of it is caused mainly by Liberals’ staunchest allies, dysfunctional poor Blacks, whom they have elevated into being untouchable, uncriticizeable, clients of various efforts at government “uplift”, programs which Liberals in government administer, even though their effect is often morally pernicious to their supposed beneficiaries. (Meanwhile, too, Liberals advocate Global “free trade” what some call “labor arbitrage” to send work overseas to fetch the lowest possible wage. All of the is reminds me of the 1970s Saturday Night Live skit, “The Mr. Bill Show,” With Liberals being the “nice” “Mr. Hands”, the middle class and his dog spot being the mostly White middle class, and “Mr. Slugo” the mean, “in your face” Left. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3E_WARspaU&list=PL5N_EUL1g6EOvcD1pVSTrXXz2cbKA8xFC )

    Sincerely,

    Andrew

  2. Andrew.. I must say your taste in videos is … bizarre… and hopefully not indicative of the typical Conservative mindset!

    Re; Richard Florida’s “ideas”, urban areas, liberals and inequality.

    Florida has always been an advocate of de-facto elitism for as long as he has been writing! Now, he sees the “other side” of policies that favor one group at the expense of others – inequity ? ummmm

    Remember Jim B used to fawn over Florida’s “ideas” until he started to suspect that Florida had “liberal” tendencies! Now that he’s totally out of the closet.. I’m sure Florida is now a “snowflake” of the first order but it does show an uncomfortable connection between “liberal” and “elitism”.

    but in terms of “liberals” and their role in inequality – are these the same “liberals” who have LONG supported unions for workers, trade protectionist rules to protect American factory workers , equal pay, minority and women rights, medicare for all, minimum wage, basic income, free pubic education including college, public roads by “taking” private property, etc? Are THESE the SAME “liberals” that are being blamed here for not only inequalities but the policies that CAUSED inequalities? WOW!

    That’s quite a looking glass!

    The truth about inequality is that it is damn hard to fix. You can throw a hell of a lot of money at it – and it will still be there… but if you want reality – and yes you must really want to see that reality -not confirm your own biases – compare the inequality in US cities with 3rd world cities and ask yourself if there is no difference – that things to help inequality had no effect and we’d be better off doing LESS or Conservative policies.

    The “right” seems to have no ideas of their own other than to blame those that try to do something for their “failures” and essentially to advocate for policies that look remarkably similar to the ones in effect in most of the world’s 3rd world cities i.e. let “nature” take it’s course… and that includes inequities fostered by those who have power over those who don’t.

    The two greatest boons to more equity are public schools and public roads. Both require taxing the wealthy and taking land from private owners for the pubic good. What would the US look like if there were no public schools or public roads? even 3rd world countries have public roads and some semblance of public schools , right?

    One of the strongest indicators of inequality in the world is the percentage of literacy… and the provisioning of pubic schools that do provide literacy.

    So it takes “wealth transfer” i.e. taking from the rich for the poor – to provide public schools, right?

    is that a Conservative idea? you know .. taking from the doers to give to the takers?

    Conservatives oppose the basic concept… but won’t admit it when it comes to public schools and Richard Florida is oblivious to it – he considers it part of what is “already there” for “creative” people to attain their “creative” status.

    well, make no mistake public education as a concept of taxing the wealthier to pay for it – is a fundamental “liberal” concept and yes.. Conservatives would “undo” it if they could.. in bizarre fashion by continuing to take the taxes but to put them towards funding de-facto private schools.

    Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing worse in this world than a tax and spend liberal who thinks taxes can fix any ill… unless it’s a Conservative who believes in no taxes and let them eat cake…

    Both sides have their idiots.

    • Dear Larry,

      Today’s Liberals, variously “Neo-Liberal” of the Clintonian persuasion, and the Cultural Marxist sort, have thrown the working class “to the dogs” of global competition. Were Cesar Chavez alive today, he would be on the “outs” with those who celebrate his name but denigrate his policy of opposing illegal immigration, since illegal immigrants hurt workers already here. So, yes, today’s Liberals HELP the 1% hurt the livelihoods and living standards of working people already here in America, including immigrants. Or do you not believe in the laws of supply and demand?

      Sincerely,

      Andrew

  3. It’s clear to me that many on the far right are intolerant of many other people and ideas that are not mainstream and traditional. Yet, their lack of tolerance is at least matched by many on the left who simply will not tolerate anyone with traditional values and who generally believe in a hierarchy of rights that both has no basis in law and has been created out of whole cloth based solely on liberal views.

    The bathroom fiasco provides a good example. I think most people would not care who enters a public restroom so long as they “all look like.” Any person who looks from the outside to be male should be left to relieve himself/herself in a Men’s Room. There is no need for genital inspection. Ditto in reverse for the Women’s Room. The idea of bathroom legislation is plain stupid.

    But as the facts change, the issues become more complicated. Beyond taking a young child into the restroom of the opposite sex, the presence of an adolescent, teen or adult of the opposite gender in a restroom can be quite disturbing and more to other people. I know a lot of women who vote all over the map who would be upset and, perhaps, even fearful to see a person who outwardly appears to be an adult male in a public Women’s Room. They too have rights.

    This escalates when the location at issue is a locker room, dressing room or shower. A few months ago, I was wrapped only in a towel in the men’s locker room of my local Fairfax County Rec Center when I saw a woman who had mistakenly walked into the wrong room start to undress. I felt extremely uncomfortable and politely informed the woman she had made an error. She quickly became uncomfortable, apologized and left.

    Yet, I have friends and acquaintances who believe the rights of a transgendered or, presumably, cross-dresser to get naked among people with different genitals must overtake the rights of those who don’t want to get naked with people with different genitals. They have no tolerance for people with traditional values.

    Tolerance is an extremely important value for society. But it’s a two-way street. So is intolerance.

  4. Re: tolerance and gender…

    I’m conflicted by the issue but I do ask – before now – what happened to someone of the “wrong” gender if caught in the bathroom and reported?

    and I have to say – I’d be pretty uncomfortable if a dad brought a 5-yr old daughter into the men’s room … but are women similarly affected when a 5-yr old boy is brought into the Women’s room?

    Given the politics of it these days – I wonder how we dealt with these issues before… or did those of us without the problem simply not know or ignore what happened to those who entered the “wrong” restroom?

    so were we “tolerant” or were we clueless and okay with being clueless as long as it did not affect us personally?

    “tradition” and “ignorance” often go together and not in a good way.

    • Fairfax County Rec Centers have a policy and signs that say children 6 years and older must use the “correct” locker room. I’m a little troubled by kids who are five-ish, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. I’ve seen this policy ignored and it does make me more uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m alone. I suspect that, if reported, the staff would politely talk to the affected adult, remind him or her of the policy and ask them to cooperate. There is also at least one family/handicapped dressing room/shower at each Rec Center. To me this seems reasonable.

      I think that if a older person with or without a parent were in the opposite locker room, staff would take a more forceful approach, insisting the person(s) leave for the “correct” room. In case of refusal or worse, at a minimum, I think staff would remove the person or if there were violent behavior call the police.

      On the other hand, if a transgender person who looked the part simply went into a Rec Center restroom, I don’t think anyone would even notice or complain. Now if the person dressed as female, but had a full beard, I think there would be complaints and action taken by staff. I think both of these results are very reasonable.

      • TMT – I think … that we had transgender people all along.. and most of us were oblivious to the issue.. and now that we are not.. we’re conflicted and tentative as to what the “right” thing to do is – and could have our minds changed further as the issue evolves and we gain additional insight and perspective.

        the question is – are we going to dig our heels in.. rather than learn more and be flexible and prepared for more change?

  5. I haven’t read this latest, but I disagree with Florida’s basic thesis that a few urban areas are determined, deliberately and consciously, to suck the best of the Millennial’s lifeblood out of society to the detriment of every smaller town in America, causing pernicious inequality.

    As a factual matter, we are experiencing a rediscovery of the charms of urban life, particularly by young people. And yes, gentrification yields inequality among neighborhoods once comparably depressed — until the very economic and aesthetic forces that led to the initial gentrification expand its influence into those adjacent neighborhoods.

    But wait a minute! How did our urban areas, our street car suburbs, get so run down in the first place; so abandoned by those with education and money during the 20th century? People voted with their feet for the automobile-centric lifestyle that resulted. And now there’s a reaction to that among a significant number of urban pioneers. And why? Because cities can be walkable, and full of wonderful public institutions and arts, and great places to meet diverse and like-minded people, and public transit, and the jobs are there, with shorter commutes. But not all urban areas offer these in equal quantity, and so the growth and modernization has been concentrated where the young people have concentrated, in a spiral of successful gentrification mainly in a few, dominant cities. Certainly Washington, DC is one of those urban areas.

    And certainly, as a result of gentrification, Washington has its unequal neighborhoods. And certainly Washington has its liberals. But: cause and effect?

    I do think the person who’s most comfortable living in a diverse society, living in an area dependent upon public infrastructure, living in a community with higher densities and greater interactions among its residents, and living with concerns about poverty and crime on display nearby, is likely to be more liberal politically. But: cause and effect? The city did not create such people; they chose to move to the city because of who they were already.

    I am very pleased to see that Richmond has an abundance of opportunities for further gentrification, and a population influx intent on taking advantage of them.

  6. I think inequality comes in part from those who benefit from it – and do not realize it or reject it as the reason.

    Take the guy who got the job because of his color… he’s glad he got the job and not so interested in attributing it to color .. and even less enthused about doing anything about discrimination based on color and, in fact, objects to reverse discrimination to make up for years of discrimination…

    i.e. – “I did not discriminate against your daddy and grandaddy…ergo.. I’m not interested in helping those sons and daughters and grandchildren who claim they were harmed by it”

    i.e. : “affirmative action” is discrimination – and wrong.

  7. I should copyright my comments on this blog. I’ve been writing about the same situation that Florida describes for the last couple of years. Jim Bacon’s thesis of people moving from the suburbs back into urban centers has implications. One of the reasons people moved to the suburbs was to get the space they wanted for themselves and their families. The area of a circle increases exponentially as the length of its radius increases. Increasing the practical radius of travel into the jobs of a city center vastly increased the amount of land available for development. But … bad news … decreasing the practical radius of travel to the jobs in the city center (through traffic jams) vastly decreases the amount of land available for development. Decrease the supply of something while demand holds constant or rises and that something gets more expensive. The inevitable (and fatal) flaw in Jim’s “urban center theory” is the inevitable (and fatal) escalation of real estate prices. When new businesses can’t afford commercial real estate and new entrants to the workforce can’t afford housing the “city center theory” implodes.

    In recent years Jim has modulated his theory from “city center centric” to “walkable community centric”. Exactly right. If you could rebuild the Washington Metropolitan Area from scratch you wouldn’t put all the people and businesses into DC-proper (65 sq mi) and keep all the surrounding land as farms. You’d create a series of densely populated centers throughout the area connected to one another by effective mass transit. You’d use regulation to make it very expensive to put housing or businesses outside of the designated density areas. As the population grew you recategorize more of the land as designated density areas. You’d have separate real estate tax rates for the high and low density areas – maybe 1% of assessed value in the high density areas and 10% of assessed value in the low density areas. You’d also implement a very high vehicle milage tax for every mile driven by a private vehicle. Anybody rich enough to afford a home in the low density areas could live there. They would just have to contribute a lot of their dollars to the community.

    Why doesn’t this happen? Because America’s political systems are hopelessly corrupt. Why are they corrupt? Because we’ve never shown the will to keep money out of politics. How could we implement such a separation of money and politics? You’d probably need a materially amended or even rewritten constitution. Maybe somebody will start blogging about that someday.

  8. re: imploding cities and the fundamental “flaw”.

    hmm.. cities have been around a LONG TIME… and many… LONG BEFORE US cities!

    they did this organically … even as they had no electricity nor water/sewer.. they still sprang up… and to this point – not a single one has “failed”.

    so trying to put DJ’s thoughts in context… are all cities in the world doomed to fail from “corruption”?

    oh come on guy..

    Why do European and Asian cities seem to “work” where ours “fail”? do they not also have “corruption” ? 😉

    or perhaps that’s not true and DJ can attest to that from his own worldwide travels..

    “walkable” urban areas in the context of a 21st century where people and commerce are uber mobile….. makes little sense … it’s not that those places don’t exist but they’re more enclaves surrounded by the uber mobile than something that should be the standard for all settlement patterns.

    Dense urban cores do not exist independently . Ever ounce of food, every drop of water, every watt of electricity, every stick of furniture has to be brought into it – and you can bet it’s not hauled in from wherever it is made – on foot. Dense urban cores are artificial places that are totally dependent on externalities… other places that subsidize them… food, electricity, trash and poop removal… etc..

    They’re said to be “more efficient” but how efficient can they be if virtually everything they need has to be brought in from other places and their poop and trash taken away to other places?

    Cities are driven by the needs of Commerce for labor … not by any noble inclination towards maximum efficiency…

    • I didn’t say that cities would implode I said that Jim’s original theory of a mass exodus from the suburbs to the “urban core” would implode. It’s already happening in San Francisco, New York and London. The prices in those cities have gotten so high that a lot of people just can’t afford to live there. Income inequality has risen significantly, the middle class has been squeezed out and you have cities aligned along two poles – very rich and very poor – separated into distinct neighborhoods defined not only by economics but often by race as well. Either some spark starts a series of riots or the city becomes an honest to God socialist enclave (attracting more who want the benefits, raising the costs for the payers) or the last non-affluent person is forced out and the cost escalations continue.

      US cities didn’t die in the 1960s, they just got sick. The same thing is likely to happen again.

      As for corruption – it’s a part of the American political fabric. Whether the corruption violates the law is more a matter of how the laws are written than a matter of whether the politicians are behaving ethically and in support of their constituents. Bob McDonnell’s actions have been found to be legal. Do you believe his actions were corrupt? Didn’t you ever wonder why the Obama Administration didn’t prosecute banking executives in the wake of the so-called Great Recession? I guess his and Hillary’s big paydays giving speeches to those same banksters answers that question, no?

      There is a ton of money flowing through land use decisions. The arcane world of zoning transportation funding provides a huge opportunity for self-enrichment among the elite and a great feeding trough for their captive politicians.

      We have dysfunctional land use patterns because we have corrupt politicians. We have corrupt politicians because we have far too much money flowing from the elites to the politicians. We have too much money flowing because the American people have been cleverly led into an “us vs them” mentality by the Republicans and the Democrats. Rome was falling into decadence and corruption for centuries before it officially fell. What did the elite and the political handmaidens do to distract the general public? They sent them to the Coliseum to watch gladiators fight. The modern equivalent? Conservatives vs Liberals / Republicans vs Democrats. Step on up, pick you team, fight the “bad guys”, don’t mind the nice people stuffing baskets of your money into their pockets.

      Here’s a homework assignment …

      Figure out how Harry Reid or Ed Gillespie got so damn rich given the jobs they’ve held.

  9. So what is wrong about people living where they want to live? Dulles Toll Road users are paying massive subsidies so that people and work and live at greater density in Tysons. Manhattan imports damn near everything from somewhere else. People in a city pay more for postage and telecommunications services so that prices are kept lower in rural areas. Suburban residents spent time in crawling traffic and overcrowded rail cars while an urban resident may be able to bike or walk home from work. One’s home and work locations require tradeoffs. During rush period, Metrorail’s carbon emissions are much less than those emitted by the number of cars necessary to carry the same number of commuters. But in non-rush periods, Metrorail’s emission efficiency drops like a stone.

    I’m not arguing subsidies are wrong or right in this context. But unless we layout all the subsidies, we can make no sensible arguments.

  10. “Cities are driven by the needs of Commerce for labor … not by any noble inclination towards maximum efficiency…”

    There’s a disconnect there. Cities ARE driven by economic efficiency. Implicitly and consciously. The “needs of Commerce for labor” are a factor in the overall economic efficiency of a city, although that’s a politically charged way to put it: it takes two to tango, and people need jobs as much as jobs need people, and those offering and selling either tend to go where the action is. Yes, a potential inefficiency — hauling most everything in and out of a city — would be a city killer if it weren’t offset by greater efficiencies like more jobs and more businesses and more retail stores, and also the cheaper/higher-quality of life if you value such things as museums and theater and urban parks and public transit. All that transportation of goods was a limiting factor on the size of ancient cities (not to mention, on the size of the human population) but we’ve had them for a long time and evidently will continue to have them in expanded form. Let’s hope we can deal with the population and environmental impacts here, and/ or export people to other worlds.

  11. re: “efficiency”

    well no… not necessarily

    I neglected to mention commerce… which is the real driver of cities – from the time when cities first formed -…. and one might challenge the idea that ancient cities were formed as a “plan” for more/better “efficiency”.

    Cities are not “planned” in that way, right?

    the “planning” comes AFTER the city has already formed.

    cities – are nasty and dangerous places without a central government.

    Don’t believe it – let me direct you to a few like Mogadishu where security .. trash disposal , potable water, sewage treatment and electricity are pure free market – i.e. they don’t exist for most …

    that’s not “efficient”… in any way, shape or form, right?

    so can we agree that cities don’t form organically because it’s a natural affinity for efficiency?

    further – can we agree that cities around the world have inequality – … and the poor and have for centuries without it being a consequence of “liberal” “do-gooder” policies?

  12. That’s the point. A city traditionally was not planned but grew organically, in response to market forces. It’s not a natural affinity for efficiency but efficiency by definition. Today the government plans certain aspects, restricts or forbids others, but still, the individual has the basic choice whether to move to a city or not and still, market forces accommodate that choice. The result, then, is more or less economically efficient. And yes, all cities have inequality within them. So, why would anyone move to Mogodishu? To improve lives, relative to starving in the countryside; to find a job; to find an education, a wife, medical treatment, etc. It may look unattractive to you and me but relatively it must be a net improvement over the alternative to everyone there — or why would anyone come?

  13. Jim has given us an excellent book review. In these times, when so many books are published and most people have so little time to read them, excellent and honest book reviews written by those who know the subject and who have the skill and prespective to treat each book fairly, perform an essential service to us all.

    Regarding Acbar’s comment: I agree.

    Today, and Florida’s book touches on this subject, a key long term problem is the lack of political competence to insure that people have a reasonable means and opportunity to move into those areas where they can maximize personal benefit and well being.

    This is a particular problem for people who can benefit from living close to the dense urban clusters. Those places where that they can have best access to the opportunities that such locales afford its citizens. This simple rule applies to the “creative young,” the middle aged worker, and the growing old elderly. This rule is seldom honored. Great benefit accrues when it is honored.

    For example, by age 14, I had lived in 10 different places. That is no different from living in one bad place. But at age 14 I was given a great gift. A young life planted suddenly for good in Chevy Chase Md / DC. Among many gifts given me that year (1958) by that place was the 12 year old girl living two doors down who now is my wife.

    What is just as remarkable as all the gifts that home place gave to me personally is how hard many local residents back then and ever since have worked to keep other people out of the neighborhoods along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor that passes through this neighborhood from Georgetown DC to the 495 Capital Beltway north of the US Naval Medical Center, a distance of perhaps 15 miles from Georgetown.

    The harm that injustice has done, despite the subway, is incalculable, and by and large gratuitous, to people of all generations and circumstances. This is our perennial problem: How to build places that maximize opportunity for real living people.

    For example, more Ballston to Courthouse corridors, and a lot more smaller clusters built in the same spirit. Here I exclude Rosslyn which is and has long been a planning disaster doing great harm to the region just like Tyson’s Corner. Arlington needs to own up to this truth. Owning up to our own mistakes and telling the truth, and using those truths to learn how to built for the future, is a primary ingredient to future success.

    See the Fiscal Fix article found on this website.

    • So this is NOT just about building neighborhoods that work for residents benefit. It is also about building into each neighborhood and its surroundings the means by which other people can access those benefits. Neighborhoods need to share their benefits with the maximum number of people within and outside the neighborhood, and do so in the maximum number of ways reasonable possible.

      Here, as Jim and Acbar point out above, we must be careful. Access cannot be forced by government fiat, mandate, or declaration. Such efforts are doomed to fail. Market forces must be harnessed instead. The key is to build what maximizes the advantages those market forces bring. This is the only way to create a gift the keeps on giving. And to avoid the reverse. And that reverse is often far worse. Government fiats typically create pernicious unintended consequences, reeking harms that infect society for generations.

      In counterpoint, small but persistent acts by private residents to open their neighborhoods where good planning allows can and most always will make a huge difference, the difference between a successful city neighborhood, and abject failure, whether it be jump started into a death spiral over a decade, or result in the slow death of a community beset by broken opportunities.

      Remember all communities, like people, fail over time. And the root of most all failures lie with the failure of everyday citizens to act on behalf of their communities. And the failure of community leaders to lead with courage. And to instead do nothing out of weakness and/or cowardliness and/or to demagogue the issues and mislead their constituents in order to take private advantage for themselves of public problems. Unfortunately, this is the norm. Unless private citizens step up to confront what is going on. Private acts that are too rare these days. To few look after their communities. And those who do are too often incompetent or ill willed to the task.

  14. re: ” but efficiency by definition” and… is “efficiency” the same as “productivity”… and is either of these inherent in the formation of a city?

    just because something occurs organically does not mean it is , by definition, “efficient” – even if there is a purpose to it forming it could be very inefficient if it was just a bunch of people who show up to “trade”. What other reason would motivate people to be in that particular location with others to start with?

    No one would claim that Mogadishu is “efficient” even though it is by far a less expensive place to be than other cities that are much more costly and in effect require much more labor and resources to exist there.

    but I do think discussions like this are useful in terms of understanding what the purpose of cities are – especially in the 21st century…

    For instance, if cities ARE more efficient -how come they STILL have the poor and inequity? And how efficient is a “city” if it’s workers commute 50 miles a day – one way so the last 400 feet is “walkable”? If you “fixed” it so the last 1000 feet was “walkable” would that be “better” if the workers still used 99% of resources to commute?

    I don’t know the answers – don’t presume to know them but I see contradictions and for me contradictions mean perceived reality is not exactly what one is seeing.

  15. see.. here is the “dark side” of a “walkable city”:

    EVERYTHING than is needed for food and drink and other goods are “delivered” by monster wheeled vehicles to the doors of the places that are said to be “efficient” walkable places…

    then .. nearby “within walking distance” are car parking lots.. city transit buses and subways…

    I’m not arguing that these are things that are necessary to be “efficient” in the delivery of services and goods…. I’m challenging the notion that when you add up all the “externalities” necessary to actually support a “functional settlement pattern”… is it any more – or less “efficient” that other types of settlement patterns?

    In fact… goods and services typically cost MORE in cities – not less.

    One might think that the more concentrated the settlement – the greater efficiencies would, in fact, deliver needs for less cost

    but the opposite is true for most if not all cities.

    If you had to build the coal power plant IN the city or even NEAR the city like was done originally – it would be a downright unhealthy place to be…

    so they MOVED it further away and now it is an “externality” where city folks get the benefit of the electricity – at a cost to someone outside the city.

    All those roads that “smart” city affectionatoes hate – and want to convert to sidewalks and bike lanes… how would you deliver food to those walkable/bikeable places if you did not have roads of sufficient size to convey the trucks with food?

    I’m not arguing against cities but I am asking aren’t we trading some things for other things as opposed to it be more efficient than other settlement patterns?

    so , from Wikipedia:

    A city is a large and permanent human settlement.[1][2] Although there is no agreement on how a city is distinguished from a town in general English language meanings, many cities have special administrative, legal, or historical status based on local law.

    Cities generally have complex systems for sanitation, utilities, land usage, housing, and transportation. The concentration of development greatly facilitates interaction between people and businesses, sometimes benefiting both parties in the process, but it also presents challenges to managing urban growth.[3]

  16. Here’s something else to read … and probably not agree with but it’s a viewpoint:

    ” The Hoarding of the American Dream

    A new book examines how the upper-middle class has enriched itself and harmed economic mobility.”

    [excerpts]

    ” In Dream Hoarders, released this week, Reeves agrees that the 20 percent are not the one percent: The higher you go up the income or wealth distribution, the bigger the gains made in the past three or four decades. Still, the top quintile of earners—those making more than roughly $112,000 a year—have been big beneficiaries of the country’s growth. To make matters worse, this group of Americans engages in a variety of practices that don’t just help their families, but harm the other 80 percent of Americans.”

    “I am not suggesting that the top one percent should be left alone. They need to pay more tax, perhaps much more,” Reeves writes. “But if we are serious about narrowing the gap between ‘the rich’ and everybody else, we need a broader conception of what it means to be rich.”

    The book traces the way that the upper-middle class has pulled away from the middle class and the poor on five dimensions: income and wealth, educational attainment, family structure, geography, and health and longevity. The top 20 percent of earners might not have seen the kinds of income gains made by the top one percent and America’s billionaires. Still, their wage and investment increases have proven sizable. They dominate the country’s top colleges, sequester themselves in wealthy neighborhoods with excellent public schools and public services, and enjoy healthy bodies and long lives.”

    https://www.citylab.com/equity/2017/06/upper-middle-class-economic-mobility/530619/?utm_source=SFTwitter

    • Thanks for the article. It struck me as rather superficial and generalized. I don’t know whether that stems from the review, the book itself or both. It seems to boil down to “These people have more money; they must be bad; and we want to tax their wealth from them.” Meanwhile, the one percent or whatever ultra-elite group remains the same.

      I think it boils down to the fact that some progressives have figured out they cannot achieve their world of giveaways and power by taxing the one percent alone. Exodus 20:17 KJV “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.” A real tough one for anyone to keep.

      • Back at you TMT:

        1 John 3:17-18
        But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

        • Larry – I agree with both and fall short on both. The difference is state action. I read personal responsibility into both Jewish and Christian Scriptures. What that means in specific situations is often subject to fair debate.

  17. This otherwise solid book review and the ensuing discussion deteriorates into a largely irrelevant and wrong-headed bashing of “liberals” who are seen as the bad guys in urban politics, economics and sociology. Can’t we just address the topics int he book (although I haven’t read it)? I am no fan of Florida (a big deal pop sociologist) but is it necessary to point out that he is a “liberal?” Why is that relevant? Does it matter?

    The ills of gentrification have been written about for decades. Ok, we get it: when well-to-do folk discover or re-discover inner cities the market changes and those with less money are, once again, caught in the middle and forced to move.

    But to blame liberals or irresponsible African-Americans for the ills of urban centers is a bit much.

    Let’s unpack the African-American thing. In the late 19th century and then in the next one, Jim Crow laws and farm mechanization forced African-Americans from the rural South to move north to cities like Richmond, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and so on. Both Jim Crow and mechanization were the brainchildren of white elites, not snowflake lefties.

    Cities were not prepared for the influx. SO, we ended up with urban renewal which was the big buzzword of the 1950s and 1960s. Take Norfolk. The city fathers (hardly liberal) organized one of the most massive programs ever to buy up slumlord properties, move the occupants to public housing in other parts of the city or Portsmouth and then rip down the dwellings.

    Same deal in Richmond. City fathers (white conservatives) decided to rip apart one of the most thriving Black neighborhoods in the country — Jackson Ward, displacing residents. Court-ordered school integration and the automobile drew city while folk to the suburbs. Richnond has been struggling ever since.

    And if you want to beat the unfunded liability drum, look no farther than Chesterfield County, a major mecca for white flight. The county has serious problems with unfunded liabilities in its school retirement program. Who was in charge? Not liberals. Try white Republicans.

    Lastly, I am not sure that the big move of monied people to inner cities, where they would over consume all things good, is a sustainable paradigm. (Gee whiz, Jim, you have been writing about this stuff for as long as I have known you and it has become a mantra).

    Anyway, I don’t know if I will get around to reading Florida’s book and I am glad that Jim has read it for me. But to tag “liberals” with the ills of all cities is just plumb stupid.

    • I agree with one thing Peter says above: Liberals aren’t the only ones who screw things up. Peter points to the under-funding of pension liabilities in Chesterfield County, a “red” county. He’s right — and I have blogged about it.

      When you look at pension under-funding by the states, Illinois (blue state) is at the top of the list, but Kentucky (red state) is No. 2 on the list. And New York (a super-blue state) has one of the better-funded pension systems in the country.

      But overall, blue states are in much bigger trouble than red states. That’s because a major constituency of the Democratic Party in the blue states is the public-sector unions. Dem politicians have been trading generous retirement benefits for votes for decades. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. Illinois will be the next Puerto Rico.

  18. Do you think the unfunded pension problem in CHesterfield is due to “unions” or Dems paying for votes?

    isn’t it possible that irresponsible fiscal policies -is probably the more common thread especially since a slew of Red states like Kansas are also seeing rating downgrades due to the loss of manufacturing… mining, etc?

  19. any real correlation here:

  20. Here’s a more comprehensive look at state debt which is more than just pension obligations, it includes retirees health care and generalized debt, and destroys the myth that States,unlike the Feds, must have balanced budgets.

    Complete 50 state data is here:

    http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/multimedia/data-visualizations/2014/fiscal-50#ind4

    It’s hard to look at this level of data and try to attribute some of it to “Dems buying votes” beliefs… while ignoring the data that does not support that view.

    I think when we do that – we actually divert the focus from irresponsible policies and turn it into yet another partisan dispute.

    Kansas is a good example of grossly irresponsible fiscal policies – driven by ideological beliefs that ignored obvious realities.

    I don’t implicate the GOP for Kansas – I implicate those who harbor ideology over sound fiscal management. Both “sides” are guilty of it. Both sides ALSO have states that ARE fiscally responsible…

    Which is worse? Blue state Illinois or Red state Kansas or for that matter – Alaska or Hawaii which have far worse pension problems than Illinois… ?

    Jim appears to be looking at these issue with a narrow partisan lens..and can’t seem to shake it!

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