Language selection


CSPS Virtual Café Series: A Conversation on Cities, with Richard Florida (TRN5-V04)


This event recording features a conversation with Richard Florida, world-renowned best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class and acclaimed economist and urbanist, on how his ground-breaking work has contributed to modern perspectives on cities and urbanization and key public policy challenges that cities face in a post-pandemic world.

Duration: 00:58:04
Published: February 2, 2022
Type: Video

Event: CSPS Virtual Café Series: A Conversation on Cities with Richard Florida

Now playing

CSPS Virtual Café Series: A Conversation on Cities, with Richard Florida

Transcript | Watch on YouTube


Transcript: CSPS Virtual Café Series: A Conversation on Cities, with Richard Florida

[Taki Sarantakis appears in video chat.]

Taki Sarantakis Good afternoon, good morning, good evening, depending on where you are watching this today.

[Taki's panel fills the screen. As he speaks, a purple chyron appears momentarily in the bottom-left. It reads "Taki Sarantakis. President. Canada School of Public Service".]

Welcome to the CSPs Virtual Cafe, where we talk about policy and not politics, where we talk about ideas and not partisanship. Today we are really honoured to have with us one of the world's foremost thinkers on all things urban. Urban theory, urban work, the future of work cities. Professor Richard Florida, who is an American but we're very lucky we managed to attract him at some point to our World-Class city, one of our World-Class cities, Toronto, and he is at the University of Toronto, and he is also the head of the Roger Martin, I think Institute for Prosperity? Is that right, Professor Florida?

[Another chat panel appears to the right of Taki.]

Professor Richard Florida It's the Martin Prosperity Institute named after Roger Martin's parents.

Taki Sarantakis Thank you so much, sorry. The Martin Prosperity Institute. So we're going to start a little bit... We're going to talk about the pandemic. We're going to talk about kind of the the here, the now a little bit looking to the future. But let's look back a little bit. So you're an urbanist, and that's a relatively new phenomenon in the world, isn't it? Like cities like how old are cities, grosso modo?

[As Richard speaks, his panel fills the screen. As he speaks, a purple chyron appears momentarily in the bottom-left. It reads "Richard Florida. Professor University of Toronto, Author Rise of the Creative Class".

Throughout the conversation, Taki periodically joins him on screen when speaking, briefly filling the screen.]

Professor Richard Florida Well, cities are as old as all time, because really, when you think about the first human settlements, dense human settlements, that's where sort of basic advances in art. Well, you think of cave cave paintings or cave art and tools like the invention of things like rudimentary hammers that all came out of the then dense human settlements of all time. But the field of urbanism is probably a century old. Maybe a little more as as a academic field, an intellectual field. If you think about it, the first people who really started to do this formally were called vocation theorists, boring name, but they were people who just tried to figure out why do big companies, industrial companies, steel companies locate where they do and what they found, not surprisingly, as they locate near raw materials and access to markets? And then there was a group of urban sociologists at the University of Chicago back around the turn of the 20th century who began to think about cities as, you know, kind of models of cities, and they made a model. The first one was called the concentric zone model, where they were the center and then the warehousing district and then low wage working class housing district and a factory district and suburban housing. And then it went on from there. And I think the modern field of urbanism was really born. When Jane Jacobs wrote her famous book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" in 1961. So that's that's about six decades ago now. I got into the field early on. I think — you know, I got into the field in the 70s, really. And did my graduate work in the, really the early 80s. So and then I think since that point since I got into the field, we've really seen the birth of just a really big field spanning many, many disciplines.

Taki Sarantakis Jane Jacobs, another American who we kind of attracted to Toronto in, I think it was the early 70s and most Canadians know her not from her great work on cities, but most Canadians know her actually on her work in the halting of the Spadina Expressway, which was kind of the equivalent of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, that she also had a big role in stopping in New York. So cities, we've had them kind of since the beginning of time, but I think it's fair to say and you know, we think back that, you know, there are cities in Athens in parts of Islam and in Asia, but kind of cities as we know them now, they're relatively recent phenomenon, relatively new phenomenon, and probably in and around 100 years old, maybe less. Is that fair?

Professor Richard Florida If you think of them, the modern city, a large scale city, you know, linked by transportation, probably a century, a century and a half old. You know, and I have little kids four and five, and I was telling them the other day like, you know, when your grandparents came to America from Italy, so think about that, their grandparents. Now I had kids, admittedly late in life, but my kids' grandparents, you know, dad's house didn't have indoor plumbing. There was no such thing as air conditioning. People really didn't drive cars. They took maybe a subway or a cable car. There was no television. There was, you know, some people, many people had electricity, but many people didn't. So yeah, and if you look at the data, the data are pretty interesting here. You know, about the year 1800, probably well less than five percent of the world's population was urbanized. That means they lived in an urban settlement with a large city in a surrounding hinterland. By around nineteen hundred, you probably had five percent more or less, maybe 10 percent of the world's population, the whole world's population by around 1950. I'm—I don't have statistics in front of me, but let's say it was less than a third. If we look at the year twenty seven, you know, 2007. Think about that. That's not that long ago. That's the year that the world's population crossed 50 percent urbanized. So that meant that 50 percent of the world's population, roughly three and a half billion or so people, now live in urban areas. And, you know, we're projecting out, say by 2100, we might have 70 or 75 percent of the world's population urbanized. So these large scale agglomerations like the GTA, like Greater Ottawa, like Greater Montreal, like Greater Vancouver, you know, we're not that old. And then if you think of a new category, which I think we should talk about, Taki, a little later, the mega region. The mega region is something most people didn't pay any attention to till now. The mega region is really if you go from village to city to metropolitan area, city and suburbs, and then over time you get an even bigger unit called the mega region or the Megalopolitan area. That's an area like the Boston, New York, Washington corridor or the area that really stretches from, say even further. Hamilton, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa to Buffalo and Rochester, you know, linked by highways, and you could think of it with remote work, particularly as as a more integrated labour market, you know, people can now telecommute those distances. That's a relatively modern development. It was identified in the 50s by a great geographer called Jean Gottman. But you think about the rise of this mega region and you look around the world, there are now 40 or 50 of them. So yeah, I think the modern city, the modern metropolitan area, connected by transit, connected by planes, connected by now, the internet, that's a very modern development, and the scale of urbanization has really jumped off the chart in our lifetimes.

Taki Sarantakis Yeah. So we crossed a threshold globally and you talked about in 2007 how we kind of tipped. And now humanity is more urban than rural. In Canada, it might surprise some of the people to learn this, in Canada we jumped that threshold much earlier. We like to think of ourselves as wide open country with a kind of a rural history and a lot of land. In Canada, actually, most statistics were, the way you count, we are over 70, 80 percent urban now. So Canada is one of the most urban countries in the world.

Professor Richard Florida I put Canada at about 85 percent urbanized or more. It is clearly one of the most urbanized countries in the world, maybe not as urbanized as Japan, which in many ways if you look at the satellite images of the night images is one giant mega region, the whole country. So it's completely probably 100 percent urbanized. But I think Canada is probably more urbanized than the United States, at least on some dimensions. The statistic you often hear, which I don't know is correct, is that 80 percent of Canadians live in two percent of the land area. I don't know if that's correct, but I've heard it so many times. I believe it to be true.

Taki Sarantakis We're a horizontal Chile.

Professor Richard Florida Yeah, exactly. And then and then I think the thing that's really interesting that most Canadians won't know. The U.S. has a large number of cities and metropolitan areas. It's a big country and very few countries have a geography, like the US. The U.S. has 360-plus metropolitan areas. Canada has about thirty five. Now that makes sense. The U.S. is 10 times bigger, but here's the one that I find fascinating. If you take the major metropolitan area in both cities, the New York metropolitan area holds about 10 percent of U.S. GDP, produced about 10 percent of U.S. economic output. The GTA produces more than 20 percent of Canada's economic output. That means the GTA is about the same for Canada as if you took New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Boston and put them all together. That means we are pretty darn urbanized. Now, I haven't done the research for the megalopolitan area. That area that I mentioned that spans Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal. But if you did that, you're probably looking at a third, you know, maybe more of Canadian GDP. So Canada, despite our mythology of this kind of rural country with forests and lakes and hinterlands and, you know, great countryside and moose and elks and all this mythology. I think the real catch. You know what's interesting Taki? The real Canada, is the Canada new Canadians see. New Canadians see a Canada of great cities. And for better or worse, that's more the reality. Not not to minimize the other part of it, but that's more the actual reality of Canada's a highly, highly urbanized country.

Taki Sarantakis Absolutely. And if you take kind of Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver and a little more recently, Calgary and Edmonton, that's the vast, vast majority of our immigration, the vast, vast majority of where new Canadians settle, like my parents who came and settled in Toronto in the 60s. Now you talked about some of those great American cities. Some of those great American cities have had kind of ebbs and flows and arcs of greatness and kind of valleys of despair. You were born and raised in kind of almost the poster child, maybe of one of those cities that went up and down; Newark, New Jersey. So tell us a little bit, I think you were born a little bit before the 60s, I don't want to kind of give away state secrets, but you were born a little bit before the 60s, and I think Newark in the 60s was kind of the zenith of its issues. So maybe is Newark a little bit of a microcosm of kind of how a lot of cities have kind of lived out a life cycle.

Professor Richard Florida So. Despite my youthful demeanour and appearance, I was born in 1957, so I remember Newark in its original incarnation. It's funny there's a new book out about Jane Jacobs and how she was shaped by her first city Scranton, later moved to New York and later moved to Toronto. I tried to follow Jane my whole life, by accident, but it's great that I did. But it talked about how Scranton was an industrial city with industrial factories and industrial workers. Well, I remember that city. I saw that city in my own Newark. My dad, my grandparents all came from southern Italy, from Avellino, a little bit south and west of Naples. My dad, you know, didn't get to go to high school. My dad had to go to work at 13 years old, when you can get working papers, he worked in a factory called Victory Optical. He served in World War Two, stormed the beaches at Normandy. Came back, met my mom, they got married in the 50s and they had two boys. So I was born in Newark in a little apartment and I remember Newark. I was right near the great... There's a great park in Newark called Branchburg Park. It was the Newark that a guy, you know, maybe he's fallen out of disfavor for some reason, but he's a novelist, Philip Roth. I remember Philip Roth, Newark. There was a downtown with great department stores. There were great little restaurants, Italian pizzerias. North Newark was a bustling area of Italian-Americans. My grandparents spoke Italian. It was amazing. And then, you know, some time as a young boy, my parents, like many people of their generation, decided that they would buy a single family home. The home they bought was very close by. It was maybe 10 or 15 minutes by car in a place called North Arlington. All of this stuff for you guys watching, you can see in the opening sequence of The Sopranos. When Tony takes that drive over the Pulaski Skyway, he literally drives through parts of Newark and then my hometown of North Arlington. And you'll know it because you'll see the Pizza Land Pizzeria. That's exactly where I was born. That's the main street of North Arlington. And by the way, not to prolong this, but the new movie The Many Saints of Newark is set, and it ends up Jim Gandolfini, the original player Tony Soprano, just slightly younger than me. He went to Rutgers. He was about four or five years behind me, but it's set with him as a young boy in my Newark roughly the same age. So this fall, you'll get to see where I grew up perfectly. But anyway, yeah, in the 1960 summer of 1967, about this time of summer, as we're talking today, Taki.

Taki Sarantakis And you're about 10 years old.

Professor Richard Florida Ten or eleven. I forget. Yeah, I was born in November, so I always get that math wrong. But anyway, you know, the city explodes into race riots. And actually, I experienced some firsthand because my dad was driving me to my guitar, he wanted me to learn an instrument he never could, I wanted to be a rock and roll guitar player like Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton anyway. So, I mean, my guitar lesson in his car and police pulled him over and said, turn around. My dad was smart enough, he said. Rich, get on the floor and we heard shots fired and there was a gun battle in Newark. There were tanks in the street. There were National Guard soldiers in the street. There was smoke, city streets were on fire. I observed that as a young boy. So I think that's why, you know, as a 10 year old I didn't say, 'Hey, dad, I'm going to become an urbanist today' I don't know what an urbanist was. I think that image of my city on fire, the conversations about moving to suburbia, the racism, to be honest, the racism and the racial activism and civil liberties, quest for, you know, voting rights and civil liberties. As a young boy, I think that just made a huge impression on me and I wanted to figure it out. And then over time, you know, it kept just bubbling up and bubbling up. But I think that day in July of 1967 was the day I became an urbanist.

Taki Sarantakis So in the 60s and early 70s, you have like Newark, you have New York. You know, the famous headline Ford to President Ford to New York drop dead. You have kind of earlier Buffalo you have kind of cities, Detroit, cities kind of emptying out like the era of the American city is over and, you know, like blight, the exodus to the suburbs, the factories, the little glove factories in Newark of Philip Roth novels abandoned and kind of cities became places not of hope, but cities became places of kind of despair. And we kind of forget that a little bit like we kind of think of cities, we always think of New York, as you know, having like this arc that's continuous and uninterrupted. And so how did how did cities start coming back? I mean, I know you didn't follow Jane Jacobs to Pittsburgh, but you also spent some time in Pittsburgh, and that was another one of those communities that kind of emptied out, metaphorically speaking, and now, you know, one of the great American cities again, how did we start having that renewal? What was the spark?

Professor Richard Florida So I'm, like, living history now. I'm old enough to become an oracle with living history, and I lived through all of this. So I know it firsthand, not by reading about it in the book or reading about it in a textbook. But I've lived through this, you know, been in those cities. So, yeah, I mean, by the early 70s, most people who could were leaving cities. Certainly, cities like Newark, like Buffalo, like Detroit, Pittsburgh, New York, affluent people, people with education, businesses. Businesses began to move their corporate headquarters out of cities. Retail, these department stores in New York all closed their doors. They moved to suburbia. I remember the first suburban mall being built in New Jersey. The factory my dad worked in, Victory Optical, where thousands of Italian and Jewish and Polish and African-American and Puerto Rican men were. That factory closed its doors. I experienced my dad's unemployment and deindustrialization firsthand. My mom was an ad taker. She was one of the women who took ads for rental apartments, or if you wanted to sell your car in the Newark Star-Ledger. I remember going with my dad because my mom didn't know how to drive to pick her up. The whole building was ringed with barbed wire fences. So cities very much became areas of desolation, decline and despair. I ultimately went to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I got a scholarship to the State University, and my parents were so proud. I was the first kid in my family to go to college. I remember after my folks wanted me to study, they wanted me to be a doctor like every good immigrant family. And after I told them, 'I can't do this, I'm getting bad grades', I convinced them I could be a lawyer. My mom said, 'That's great. You'll be a good talker, Richard, you're just like me'. In any event, I decided out my love for urbanism, I decided to give up guitar play and cut my hair, went off to graduate school at MIT and then finished at Columbia. So got to know Boston pretty well. Got to know New York pretty well, very early on in my life. But the point of fact is if you read the articles being written by urbanists at that time. They were calling, like, the city is a sandbox, the city is a reservation. These articles were saying cities were places that were emptied of any functionality. Any functionality or any economic... very different than the Canadian scene, which had seen some decline, but not like this. These were the places that the federal government had to provide policies for to just keep afloat. And you mentioned in 1975, New York experienced a fiscal crisis, a budgetary crisis. And that's when President, then President Ford said, 'Drop that we're not going to bail you out. We're not going to bail you out from bankruptcy. Fix yourself'. So here I am as a young person trying to understand and really all I was trying to do, I was not influenced by Jane Jacobs at that point at all, so on her kind of book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" was kind of this old school prose made little sense to me. She was talking about cities being vibrant and being damaged by urban renewal. I saw cities in desperate decline and all of my career really, from that point forward was trying to figure out how cities could resuscitate. So ultimately, I moved to Pittsburgh in the mid 80s and began to immerse myself in the long running efforts by Pittsburgh's business and political elite to remake that city and was actually a big part of that. And this is very important, I came to the conclusion that their strategy was wrong headed, that the strategy of trying to revive a city by building big stadiums or attracting corporate headquarters or attracting businesses by handing out incentives or building giant convention centres wouldn't work. Because I began to see, I was teaching at this university, Carnegie Mellon. It's kind of like Waterloo, that's the best pure university, for Carnegie Mellon, in the world. It's like a mini MIT, a mini Stanford. It had produced many great engineers, staff of Google, Microsoft, many of these tech companies, many of the great inventors. But those young people and faculty were going out to the San Francisco Bay Area or Boston to start their companies. That's when I got the impetus to start to think of urbanism in a new way. That's when I began to write this book that would become the rise of the creative class. And that's when I kind of rediscovered Jane Jacobs. So I it was that point in Pittsburgh in the 1980s that I began to sense that there might be hope for. But by the way, Taki and folks listening in, no one believed this. In the 1980s and 90s, no one in their right mind believed that cities could come back.

Taki Sarantakis You wanted the suburban dream, right? You wanted to have a backyard. You wanted to be away from the crime. You wanted to be away from the blight. You wanted to be safe. So let's touch on that now. So we're kind of living parallel lives, even though you're much, much kind of younger looking than I am. My parents, also immigrants. My dad started working at 12. I'm the first person in my family to go to grade seven, let alone university. So now we have it's 2003, 2004 or something like that. I'm working in a department in Canada called "Infrastructure Canada", which was one of those departments where you talked about, kind of, 'let's build the stadium, let's build a convention center. Let's build a highway' and somebody comes in and plops a book down and says, 'This is our new Bible' and the book was your book. It was "The Rise of the Creative Class". What's the creative class? Talk to us a little bit about the creative class.

Professor Richard Florida Yeah, let's just back up just a little bit and go past some of our mutual history. So absolutely, suburbanization is the rage. In America, it's called the new American Dream. It's what people of mine in your parents' generation aspired to, but not just a movement of people. What's very important and what makes America a little bit different than Canada is that most offices, most retail, most businesses emptied out of cities. So New York and Boston were quite exceptional that they maintained, or Chicago a little bit, but most cities just completely emptied. If you look at the birth of what we call high technology industry; semiconductors, software biotechnology. That didn't happen in cities. That all happened in suburban complexes, which a former sparring partner of mine and adversary, Joel Kotkin, now a good friend over time. Come friends with some people, you debate dubbed at the time "Nerdistans". He argued at the time, quite appropriately, that these high tech engineers and inventors and entrepreneurs didn't want to be in a dirty, filthy, grimy city, maybe some Bohemians wanted to be there, but they wanted to be out in these pristine suburban research complexes like the San Jose, Sunnyvale, Silicon Valley area, like the areas outside of Boston along the Highway Beltway Route 128. Like the areas where Microsoft was created outside of Seattle, like the areas of some suburbs outside Austin.

Taki Sarantakis Richmond, Menlo Park,

Professor Richard Florida Everything suburbanize. So here I was, sitting in Pittsburgh in the 80s, 90s and 2000s, just doing work on this. Doing research on suburban research complexes, innovation centres in the suburbs and I guess about the late, let's say it was the late 1990s, you could kind of sense something was afoot. That we were at this basic hinge point. And that's when I rediscovered Jane Jacobs, and it was not her book on "The Death of Life of Great American Cities". It was a book on the economy of cities. And that book, she made a very simple argument that what was the key to innovation and productivity growth in modern capitalism was a clustering of people. And as soon as I kind of figured that out, I wanted to meld Jane Jacobs' insights on urbanism to the way capitalism evolves, innovation occurs, technologies are invented, new centres of innovation occur. And I began to look at this. And that's when I sort of came up with this idea about the creative class. I didn't call it the creative class. I didn't have a name for it. But what I could see looking at a whole bunch of data with a whole bunch of really smart people at Carnegie Mellon who knew data sets better than I, is that about the year 1980, we saw a big change in the nature of capitalism in the United States, in Canada, in Europe and in the advanced countries of Asia. About 1980, we not only saw manufacturing industry really sharply decline and manufacturing work really sharply decline. We saw the rise of this new group of activities and industries and work in science and technology and innovation and research, in management. What Peter Drucker, the great management theorist, called the knowledge based professions. What Daniel Bell, the great sociologist called a technocratic elite. But also arts, music, entertainment, design. And we began to see a divergence in where these people located. Between 1980, you see this group take off. It grows from like 10 percent of the workforce to thirty five percent of the workforce in about the year 1998-2000. But you also see this group begin to concentrate. It's not uniformly distributed like manufacturing work was. This group gets to be very concentrated in big cities, in metropolitan areas like San Francisco, New York, Boston, Austin, Seattle, I could go down the list, the San Francisco Bay Area. And we begin to see a big divergence in the location of this group. So that's when I started to say something new is going on. I want to describe it. I want to write about it. And beginning in the late 1990s, the book came out in 2002, so you got a pretty early copy, I began sort of writing this down in a large, long arduous and painful process that became that book "Rise of the Creative Class".

Taki Sarantakis And then, though, but it's it's more than the kind of the software engineers it's more than Peter Drucker's kind of management man. You start talking about like things that we never really kind of thought of as economic. You started talking about artists, you started talking about Bohemians, you started talking about kind of I think like Coffee Barista's. Like all these things that we never really thought of as kind of we thought of them more on the cultural side than on the economic side.

Professor Richard Florida So going back in time, you have to understand that now you're seeing a city go from death and despair and decline into something new. Like you really begin to see this kind of vibrancy happening in the Bay Area, in Boston, certainly in lower Manhattan. And now I'm trying to explain it. And so at around this time, people were talking about, you know, what's drawing these new people to cities, these techies and these innovators and affluent people with college degrees, what's drawing them to cities is amenities. They want to live around better coffee shops, better restaurants, better music performances, theatre, art galleries. Well, it's hard to measure that. And I wanted to measure it. I wanted to see if there was some connection. So at this time, the US Census was making available all of its data much more readily available. So we decided that we could take another cut at cities. Kind of long, wonky answer, guys, but it's important. Where most people were trying to look at where college educated people were locating, we said we could look at the kind of work people do. We could look at where different occupations, software engineers, artists, musicians, bankers, managers, lawyers. And ultimately, we used that occupational classification to create what we call the creative class. But here's what we found. The first thing we did is we said, could we create a mock measure of artistic amenities? So where musicians, artists, designers, writers actually live. And joking around at my office conference table one day I said, 'Let's call that a bohemian index'. Right? Pretty cool name. Come on. And we wrote that up, and it created a firestorm of it. I've never had like interest. And then the second thing that happened, which is even more interesting. So Carnegie Mellon at this time attracted a lot of young graduate students who wanted to work with this kind of census data. There was a young man there named Gary Gates, who was a leading student of the gay... He was a gay man trying to understand the propagation of the AIDS epidemic. He was trying to collect data which didn't exist on the location of gay men. So he created this algorithm that allows him to send, you know, are you single? Do you live with another man, whatever it was? I forget. But he had basically created this measure with four or five other very senior economist called the Gay Index. And when we met, he said to me, Rich, tell me your five leading high tech creative class hotspots. And I said, Well, that's San Francisco, Boston, Austin, Seattle. And what? You know something else? And he said, you just named five of the 10 gayest cities in America. He said my measure is not just a measure of gay men. My measure is the measure of amenities because gay men are very attracted to urban amenity. What if we put the two together and the statistical results were just striking. That we found this incredible statistical association between concentrations not only of Bohemians but of gay men. This landed me on "The Colbert Report". It became quite notorious. It led to a lot of popularity and a lot of criticism of my work. When you write about gay men, boy, does that bring out the wolves? And it's very interesting. But anyway. And that really those two analysis propelled the book. There are only about five pages in the book, a book of 500 pages. They propelled the book to bestseller status and headlines that read "Why Cities with Rock Bands and Gays Rule the World". But yeah, we began to find these weird associations. But the point was not that gays or bohemians drive city growth, but that gays or bohemians were proximate indicators, proxy indicators for some kind of underlying ecosystem that was open to new ideas, different kinds of people, different kinds. And let me give you the example I would use when I talk about this, I would say, and I was living in Pittsburgh. Imagine a young Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, the founders of Apple Computer, drove up and they had a VW Microvan, a Microbus, with their long hair. They had long hair, they had ripped Levi's jeans. They had, you know, these kind of flowing 60 shirts blasting the Beatles. They wore Birkenstock sandals, and they walked in with their Apple computer to Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh. They would have been run out. The security guards would have run them out. What are these two hippies? Well, I interviewed Donald Valentine, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist who funded Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. I interviewed him back in the 80s when I didn't know what he was talking about. This guy in a Brooks Brothers shirt, in a bow tie and a suit jacket on. And he said, I said, 'What? Why would you fund these two young hippies?' And he said, 'Richard. It's not the shell that matters, what people get blinded by is the shell of appearance, it's what's inside the shell. And these guys had a brilliant idea. Of course I funded them'. So the point I was trying to make is that places like the Bay Area or the Boston area or parts of New York, places that had long been home to artists and bohemians, the gay population places where those kinds of folks couldn't go before. Those were the kind of places that created a different ecosystem that when these techies came on the scene with a different kind of vibe, that's the places they they might have migrated to many places. But those are the places where they could build up enough support and enough financing, and they could build up enough momentum to bring their companies off the ground.

[As Taki speaks, a purple chyron appears momentarily in the bottom-left. It reads "Taki Sarantakis. President. Canada School of Public Service".]

Taki Sarantakis Yeah. So these geographies now these cities, these mega regions, they're magnets, they start kind of attracting talent, they start attracting industry, they start attracting creative people. One of the things your book did kind of more than I think almost anything in that period is you kind of put the city back in the center of public policy. Talk to us a little bit now about like, is it more important to kind of live in the right country or in the right province or in the right region or in the right city, like in public policy? We focus a lot on kind of especially in Canada, kind of like the constitutional orders of government. We have a federal government and then we have a provincial government and those are only two kind of constitutionally existent governments. But then there's this other order of government and the municipality or the local government, and you kind of put it right at the center. What is that kind of... What does that mean for public policy?

[Richard's panel fills the screen. As he speaks, a purple chyron appears momentarily in the bottom-left. It reads "Richard Florida. Professor University of Toronto, Author Rise of the Creative Class."]

Professor Richard Florida Well, look, I was very excited that things that were taken for dead were going to come back. So, yeah, I was, and remember when I wrote "Rise of the Creative Class", most of the early criticism of that book differs from the more recent criticism of my work. Most people thought I was insane because I believe cities could come back. Most people thought that after 9/11 in New York, cities would surely empty. And then certainly when the tech crash came and then 2008, with the economic crash, that cities were going back to gloom and doom and everyone would decamp for the suburbs. And so one of the things which I think was my greatest error in all of my work is I kind of backed off my predictions of urban resurgence. I think I was actually underestimating how fast and in how big this back-to-the-city movement could be. So, you know, it really my book came out in 2002. I was thinking about it and kind of hoping for it and prognosticating that it might occur. Backing the, you know, really caveat-ing my claims. And all of a sudden, in 2010, it just takes off, you know, after the 2008 recession, we get this unbelievable back to the city movement, which is not just New York and San Francisco and Boston, but places you mentioned. Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cleveland. Now the other thing that happens is that urbanism becomes a field. Now, urbanism starts to attract much smarter people than me. Much better statisticians great econometricians. There's another fellow named Ed Glaeser at Harvard, who is writing about these things, and another guy named Bruce Katz at Brookings, the three of us were the three really writing about this stuff. But then Ed's students come on the scene and all these young people from Harvard and MIT and Stanford, and you just get this outpouring of work in urban sociology and urban geography, and that's fantastic. So then we begin to see this unbelievable urban revival and really gentrification. There's a guy named Alan Ehrenhalt. He's a great writer. He's not an academic kind of in the mold of Jane Jacobs. He writes a book called "The Great Inversion". And the basic hypothesis or argument of this book is that for most of our lives, in the past hundred years, we've seen people move from cities to suburbs. Wealth and activity and business and talent, and now we're seeing an inversion. Wealth and activity in business and high tech is moving back to cities, and the suburbs are becoming poorer. They're becoming what the cities were. So yeah, there is this real turn. And just to take it full circle in light of your question, you know, at this point, I really rediscover Jane Jacobs. I get to know Jane Jacobs. I had not quite yet moved to Toronto. We moved to Toronto in 2007, but I got to know Jane. In the early part of the 2000s, 2002, 2003 I would come to Toronto, actually gave a talk with her at the distillery district called "Lunch with Dick and Jane", pretty funny. Unfortunately, we only have pictures and notes. Nobody taped it or video. That's how I mean, it sounds funny, but that was the early 2000s. Anyway, I began to get very interested in... and I got to know Jane. And so what got interesting to me then is that Jane was really beginning, had seen that cities were the real source of innovation and that suburbanization was kind of a diversion from the historical norm. So that's when I really began to go back and read Jane's work not only in death of life, of great American cities, but in the economy of cities and cities and the wealth of nations. And, you know, she she said something really profound and everyone listening. This is her. And when asked what were her biggest insight was, she said something which is so humble. So Jane, she said, 'I think I figured out something that other economists have missed'. She said 'most economists think that wealth is created by increasing specialization in the division of Labour'. So breaking down tasks into smaller and smaller components into doing things more efficiency and efficiency equals productivity, and productivity equals wealth. She said, 'Yes, that's important, but it's not a theory of economic growth'. She said 'What I think I figured out is that economic growth comes from cities'. And why is that? Because economic growth comes from innovation. And there's great economists like Joseph Schumpeter, who showed that a long time ago. But Schumpeter was concerned that innovation in companies was winding down because companies were becoming too big and bureaucratic and not entrepreneurial. Well, Jane Jacobs said, is 'what histories do, what cities do in history is ignite the entrepreneurial and innovative impulse by bringing people together, by forcing them to combine and recombine, by pushing them and mashing them together in cities. You get waves of innovation'. So that it was cities and the conglomeration, and there was a great economist won a Nobel Prize, Robert Lucas, who basically wrote an essay called "The Mechanics of Economic Development", who said in that essay, 'I credit the theory of economic growth to Jane Jacobs'. This woman who doesn't have a Ph.D. didn't study economics, the theory of economic growth belongs to her, and he gave it a formal name. He called it a human capital externality. It's the external economies or positive economies or spillover benefits that come with people cluster, you said. Let's call that a Jane Jacobs externality. So that's when I really rediscovered Jane Jacobs and she told me that she said, 'I think I discovered something that economists before missed', and that's why she's become of such interest to people who study cities.

Taki Sarantakis Yeah, she's she's wonderful. My favorite Jane Jacobs work actually is "Systems of Survival", which talks about kind of the commercial syndrome versus the guardian syndrome and how society needs both.

Professor Richard Florida Two footnotes before we go further on this, I think that two books that are, there are three books of Jane Jacobs that are undiscovered. One, there's a fantastic book on separatism that was part of her CBC lectures, which is amazing.

Taki Sarantakis You mean "Dark Age Ahead"?

Professor Richard Florida Yeah. The second is "The Systems of Survival", which really anticipates what we think of as the natural movement, natural cities, greening. And the third is "Dark Age Ahead". And oh my god, as we sit here having witnessed, you know, Donald Trump and then, you know, think about the vaccine hesitancy, folks. Think about this, you know, and I'm an American, where it's much worse than Canada. But you know, you think about all these people who are refusing to get vaccinated. They think it's fake science. Jane Jacobs in the early 2000s anticipated this and said that this anti-science moment, this questioning of science was the signal of a dark age, and we would get these crazy populists like Donald Trump. So you know, one thing about Jane and we go back to our subject is that she was an incredible intuitive and she could intuit and people thought when she wrote "Systems of Survival" and "Dark Age Ahead", she was a loon. The reviews.

Taki Sarantakis I remember that the reviews for "Dark Age Ahead" were like, 'she's lost her mind'

Professor Richard Florida And both books have proven to be incredibly prescient.

Taki Sarantakis So now we talked about kind of cities and revenge of geography and people coming together. Let's fast forward to COVID now. It's, you know, a year ago like cities are like, Oh my God, let's get the hell out of here. Let's not only let's go to suburbia, let's go past suburbia, let's go to the country. What happened there?

Professor Richard Florida So it's funny. Just last night, a guy tweeted, a very well-known famous urban-ish tweeted, something I wrote in 2017. I wrote a book called "The New Urban Crisis", but I wrote an opinion editorial for The New York Times in 2017, which I titled "The Urban Revival Is Fragile" and the New York Times, titled "The Urban Revival is Over". And he said, you know, Florida was pretty prescient because he saw trends like the expensive cities, the unaffordability of city, the gentrification of cities. My favorite Jane Jacobs quote when I asked her about gentrification, she said, Richard, when a place gets boring, even the rich people leave. You know, cities just when they're not exciting, people don't want to be there. And I said the increase in crime in the U.S., the increasing urban crime and violent crime in the US would begin to call into question... I said this urban revival that I witnessed that people are bitching about is a very fragile thing. I saw cities on their death's door. I saw cities come back, but don't take this for granted. So look now COVID adds another blow. There is no doubt that the COVID 19 crisis, not so much in Canada, but particularly in U.S. cities has accelerated an outward movement of people, and of business and in particularly Taki what you said; remote work. Remote work, to my mind, is the single biggest change in the organization of work in the past, since maybe since the invention of the assembly line. You know, I would say 50 years, but you know, Taylor-ism, scientific management, the invention of the Assembly line, this ability to do what we're doing right now that we have these technologies and capabilities to remote work reasonably effectively is a big shift. So the math on this is about less than five percent of people work remotely for the pandemic. That's going to go up to about 20 percent. What that does, to be honest with you, is it allows a few people to jump to second cities. You know, there are people who are going to go from New York to Nashville or New York to Miami or the Bay Area to Austin or the Bay Area to Boise. And that's happening. That is really happening. But the bigger job which as you identified, is that somebody like my dad, a worker, or one of my uncles who worked in an office, my dad worked in a factory. They could suburbanize and commute to the factory by car, by train or by subway or cable car, or they could commute to the office. But they had to live in a suburb where the drive was 20, 30, 40, 50 minutes. Now many of those people can go further afield and as you said, quite accurately, what it's doing is stretching the boundaries of metropolitan areas further than the traditional bedroom suburb out to the rural periphery. Now, if you look at the fastest growing places in the United States in the pandemic, they've been the Hudson Valley towns outside of New York City. They've not been Miami. They've not been Austin, although Austin has grown pretty quickly. They've been those those remote, you know, kind of the equivalent of Prince Edward County to Toronto, to be honest. So yeah, you've seen a lot of people, and I think this makes sense to me. You know, the creative class has never been a very suburban animal. It's always wanted something unique. And if you look at Canadian history or American history, you see the same thing. Let's take, for example, this group of Canadian guys that migrated to the United States. There were musicians playing in Yorkville. They migrated to the United States in the early 1960s to be the backup band for Bob Dylan and dub themselves "The Band". Living out their dreams in Greenwich Village. Where did they relocate to make their famous albums? Did they make those albums in Greenwich Village? No. They followed Bob Dylan and many other great musicians and artists out to Woodstock, New York, Hudson Valley. There has been this long part of our history of of rural. Do you know what I'm saying? Creativity that we discount and that's been reignited. So we have now with COVID 19 people who are quite advantaged to have a lot of, you know, who have a lot of advantage, who have high levels of education, who can engage in creative activities are now saying, you know, I'd prefer to live in rural areas. That said, look, cities, you can't count cities out. I think cities already, you know, people are saying now, well, now in New York City, because New York ahead of Toronto. So in fact, folks, we should check back in because I'm going on a fact finding mission to New York next week to to actually take a look at reopening. But what we're seeing in New York is record sales, you know, record consumption of inventory, record rental rates, record sales. Now prices are down, which is a good thing. But we're seeing New York come back much more quickly than people would have imagined, so I wouldn't count cities out. Here's what I think. I think cities, particularly in the U.S., I think Canada is different. We should distinguish, I think, having provincially supported education and relatively low violent crime, although we have property crimes, an issue in Toronto, I think, but relatively low levels of violent crime mean that more families feel safe and secure in the city. In the United States, where education in cities is, it's not very good. I mean, I don't want... Many people decide they have to put their kids in private school. They have to drive long distances where kids have to commute long distances to school, and crime is a real issue, much bigger issue, violent crime. I think that people with families are now once again deciding that the suburbs and rural areas are in some ways more attractive, that you're seeing a demographic shift. But young people are streaming, you know, young people post-college are streaming back to cities.

Taki Sarantakis Yeah. So now and this is our... Oh, how do we close this off here? You saw some things in kind of the late 90s or throughout the 90s and you wrote about them in the early 2000s and you've been writing about them since and different, different phenomenon. Talk to us a little bit, as policymakers in the government of Canada, as program people in the government of Canada, as people, that kind of give advice to ministers and run programs. What are some of the things we should be worried about? What are some of the things that we should be noticing and maybe acting on a little faster? Is it education? Is it crime? Is it? Is it social cohesion? Like, what are the things that like, demand more of our attention from what you can see that we're not giving enough attention to?

Professor Richard Florida Yeah. Let me take that question in two parts. Big picture, and then what I think policy can focus on. Big picture is I think we come out of this pandemic better and worse, and I think we only can look at the 1920s after the Spanish flu, the roaring 20s as a pretty good historical analog of what we're likely to see. So I think our cities come out of this better in certain respects. They become younger. They become more affordable. The creative class can afford to go back. Rich people leave. The people who are buying these big penthouse apartments and not using them, they decamp to the suburbs or their, you know, rural compounds, and they move to South Florida, whatever they go. Back to south of France, Paris, whatever. And I think cities become more walkable. The parks are invested in, you know, I'm a cyclist. We were riding yesterday in Toronto down to the waterfront, saying 'this place is glorious'. I mean, there are bike lanes everywhere and you don't have to confront traffic and the trails. We were looking at the park on the waterfront, what's been done? It's unbelievable! It's unbelievable. But we get extraordinary levels of inequity. You know, look at just how COVID 19 impacted visible minorities, less advantaged Canadians, essential workers, while we could work safe and stay safely at home and remote work. I think it compounds the pandemic because it escalates housing prices it causes certain people to decamp from cities, so it compounds these inequities. And suburbs also get better. In other words, suburbs get more urban, they get more co-working facilities, they get better town centres. But again, for the advantaged. So in many ways, if you take urbanist terms, our cities become greener and more sustainable, and more bike lanes, and our suburbs become more urban and dense and more working. But they also become incredibly... And what was the 1920s? A boom with record levels of inequality. So what does public policy need to do? Well, I think public policy needs to double down on creating more inclusive, resilient and sustainable metropolitan areas, not just cities. So we need to invest a lot in our cities to make sure that they're inclusive, they're resilient, they're sustainable, that everyone can participate, that there's affordable housing, that there are jobs, these service jobs in which 45 percent of Canadians, essential work jobs, getting our groceries, delivering things to us, working in warehouses, working in factories, that those jobs are elevated, they're made safer, they're paid better. You know, my dad always told me a great story. He went to work in a factory at age 13 during the Great Depression. It took nine people to support his family. He came back from the war and the same job, he could get married, buy a house, have two kids. We made factory work high-paying work. We, through unionization and the New Deal and federal policy in Canada, in the United States. We elevated factory jobs and made them middle class jobs so that people could buy cars and buy television sets and washing machines so that the industrial that flywheel going and create economic growth. We need to do the same for service workers. We need to really invest in building better suburbs. I mean, like it or not, Canada is not an urban nation. It's a suburban nation, and our suburbs are not nearly as sustainable or resilient or inclusive as our cities. So we need really to work on dense-ifying, building more parks, building, you know, better places in our suburbs. We need to engage our rural communities, make sure they have good broadband access, make sure people in rural areas have access to health care, make sure they don't get too rapidly gentrified. But going back to a question you raised earlier, I think the big... And infrastructure. Look, we need to invest. We're going have a boom in infrastructure funding in the US and Canada. We need to invest in the infrastructure of the future, not the infrastructure of the past. I mentioned broadband, but you know, things like bike lanes, walkability, pedestrian safety. Smaller schools. Not like these gigantic assembly line neighbourhood schools, which is what I love about Toronto. Actually, every neighbourhood has good schools, better parks. We need to build an urban fabric, investing in and thinking about social cohesion as a kind of infrastructure. But in order to get there, I think we have to really think hard and long and kind of tweak or reset this tool that we have called federalism. Our Federalist tool and the US Federalist tool distinguishes between three levels of government and national government, a provincial or state level of government and a local level of government. In the US, I can tell you the federal government has way too much power. You only needed Donald Trump to see that. Our federal government is not, doesn't have too much power, but our provinces, really, that's the big difference. Our provinces have humongous power and our cities and municipalities have less power even than their U.S. counterparts. So I think the real key to our federalism is to over time shift to recast that federalism to a better balance where cities and localities have more power. The principle urbanist use here is called subsidiarity. It's very simple principle for all of you to think about. The place that can best solve a problem that is closest to a problem should be the place that solves that problem. So there are certain areas like local park maintenance or local school governance that are probably best done at a neighbourhood level. There are certain things like metropolitan transit, right, so that are probably done best at the metropolitan level. There are certain things that might be best done at the provincial level, and there are certain things like national defence that are probably, that have to be done at the national level. But we need to rebalance it, and I think we have to shift the responsibility for certain government functions down to the city level. And look, I think it's a long process, but I think it's already starting to happen.

Taki Sarantakis Yeah, maybe we'll close on Jane Jacobs because I think what you just hit on there is the challenge of governance and how do you make decisions and how do you allocate responsibilities.

Professor Richard Florida You know, I have one last thing to add to this and I'd love everyone to introspect about. I think coming out of this pandemic, we owe it to ourselves to do a really hard rethink of our pandemic response. And you look at like great disasters, 911 or when the challenger fell out of the sky or when President Kennedy was assassinated or when we've had other pandemics, you know, the SARS pandemic in Canada, the retrospective analysis. I think we need a big one here, and I think we've been hesitant to do that because we're in the middle of it. And we took some extreme measures. But I think we need to be really thoughtful about one how to deal with these things happening in the future and how to get back. The great success story of this pandemic is going to be the right vaccine and the RNA vaccines, and how to get them out even more quickly. And I think we can. But I think this balancing of public health and economic activity, that should be a really interesting conversation. And who should do what? Should the federal government? Should the provincial government? Should the city government? Who has responsibility for what? Thinking about in a modern society... And I think what happened was we diverted, because we were all scared to death, to like early 20th century public health. Like we just say, OK, restrictions, lockdown, close and those may be the tools we should use. But I would suggest that we have an incredible time now over the next five years to really think about, because it's probably won't be the last pandemic, how would we respond? What would be the best measures? What works and what doesn't? How do we balance economy and public health? How do we protect the vulnerable? How do we ensure that we get vaccines rolled out quickly? Like, I think this is really, really important. And I actually think that experiment, if you will, that retrospective analysis could ground a deeper conversation about what certain levels of government should do and what effect, because it includes everything, right? It includes the environment, includes public health. It includes infrastructure. It includes city governance. It includes medical intervention, vaccine roll-out. I mean, it's an amazing interdisciplinary mix of policies. So I would think that, with a very open mind, honest, not to blame, but we should go into this with a real... And then how do we think about building better cities, better metropolitan areas, better suburbs in light of this post-pandemic reality? I think that could be... There's no silver lining in this great tragedy, but coming out of that should be our lesson, and it's something we give our kids and our grandkids. A better way to deal with this in the future.

Taki Sarantakis Very well, said Sir. Professor Richard Florida. Thank you for your time. Thank you for your energy. Thank you for your insight. But most important of all, thank you for being a friend of Canada's public service. And please let us know on your scouting trip to New York how New York is today, so we can all kind of spend a little bit of of our time and our energy of the world's greatest metropolitan.

Professor Richard Florida I love this country. I love what it's given us. It's our, you know, my wife and I still are American citizens, we're permanent residents because we travel a lot and we're low on days. But both our kids are dual. And I'll tell you, it's I think we've given them a lot of gifts, but I think the greatest gift that we've given those kids is their dual citizenship so that they're citizens of this country. They still don't understand what I'm saying. I don't think they know that they're two countries, what that means. They know they go to visit them and their cousins live in the other one. But, you know, I tell them, I really do tell them every week, you're really blessed to have this gift of being the citizens of these two great countries. So yeah, thank you. Thank you. Thank all of you for adopting us and bringing us here. It's been a great gift to us, so it's great to be with you. Please feel free to call on us if we can help in the future.

Taki Sarantakis Absolutely. Thank you so much, sir. Be well, take care. Bye.

[Both video panels fade out.]

Related links

Date modified: