Sunday, November 27, 2011

The New American Dichotomy According to Richard Florida: The "Stuck" and the Mobile

Is anyone still taking Richard Florida's simplistic, self-reverential tripe seriously?

And more importantly, why is Atlantic Cities,  an otherwise admirable project to provide an outlet for contemporary American urban thought and criticism, still publishing it?

Admittedly, Florida was able to discern and accurately describe an important trend- that what he coined the "Creative Class" (or the young, tech-savvy, mobile and creative demographic) is an important economic driver in some places, and that by considering the needs and desires of this subgroup,  a legitimate approach to economic development, one beyond chasing large companies with tax abatements, might be found.


He has long since gone too far, writing off broad swaths of the country as economic losers incapable of ever attracting the mobile, creative types which are, in his view, the sole path to future prosperity.   A 2009 American Prospect article, "The Ruse of the Creative Class" deftly shines a bright light on the many holes, contradictions and shortcomings of his arguments:
A tautology lies at the heart of Florida's theory that has limited its instructive value all along: Creative people seek out places that draw a lot of creative people. Florida has now taken this closed-loop argument to another level by declaring that henceforth, the winners' club is closed to new entrants.
By pegging the economic hope of the future on a single narrowly defined demographic subgroup,  he has discounted not only most places, but most people.

And now, in a breathtakingly overly simplistic analysis of state-level census data showing the percent born in their state of residence, Florida has created a new American dichotomy- the "mobile" vs. the "stuck" to serve as evidence for his views:
America can be divided into two distinct classes, the stuck and the mobile. The mobile possess the resources and the inclination to seek out and move to locations where they pursue economic opportunity. Too many Americans are stuck in places with limited resources and opportunities. This geography of the stuck and mobile is a key axis of cleavage in the United States.
Let's not even begin to attempt to define the meaning of "axis of cleavage."

It's hard to know what conclusions to draw from this map.  Florida reads it this way: states with high percentages of native-born residents (primarily the midwest) are centers of the talentless and uncreative: the "stuck." Those with low percentages (the coasts and the Rocky Mountain states) are magnets for the creative, talented "mobile."


But the coasts have long been the first point of immigration from other countries and the destination of recent college grads- many of whom eventually end up settling in or returning to the more affordable midwest.  Not a new story.

And yes, clearly the midwest has lost population with the decline of manufacturing.

But does that mean all or most of it's remaining residents are "stuck?"

What about those who choose to stay in or return to their native-born state, who weigh the tradeoff between a higher cost of living far from family, and an affordable one with friends and family nearby, and decide that staying put makes sense?  Do they lack talent and drive? Are they "stuck?"

What about those who are invested in a place, who have deep roots and care about their community, who know who they are and where they come from? What about those with economic connections- a family business-  or emotional connections-  a family history?  Do they lack some creative gene, dooming them to economic and cultural doldrums?

I wonder about the long-term sustainability of places like San Diego, Seattle, Boston and Portland, places well-known for catering to particular demographic characteristics and lifestyle preferences.

I wonder about places where no one has parents.

I wonder about a "class" of people defined primarily by their mobility; their willingness to surrender their roots, to move from place to place in pursuit of the next big thing.

Scott Russell Sanders in Staying Put: Making A Home in a Restless World writes:
For me, the effort of being grounded in family and community is inseparable from the effort of being grounded in place.
On the flip side of mobility, maybe there is economic value in a willingness and ability to settle down and be grounded in a particular place, and to commit to making that place better.

Maybe we need both "classes" to build an economic future that is both dynamic and stable.

And perhaps we can coin a better dichotomy.

Maybe they are not the "stuck."

Maybe they are the rooted.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Crowdsourcing Your Favorite Public Space

San Francisco's Grand View Park. 
Photo: Shawn Calhoun.
Planetizen is crowdsourcing the top 100 public spaces on Ideascale.

Each user gets 15 chips to spend how you like on voting for your favorite public space. Most spots with the high votes are on the east and west coasts.

I spent mine as follows

1 chip on Campus Martius Park
5 chips on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
1 chip on Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park
1 chip on  Huron Clinton Metroparks

And I submitted a new place, my favorite place of all time, Detroit Eastern Market.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

APA has released the 2011 selections for Great Place, including Public Spaces, Streets, and Neighborhoods.

What makes a "great place"?  Read APA's selection criteria for Neighborhoods, Public Spaces, and Streets.

The common denominators: great places are those  places scaled for and used by people while respecting their context, history and heritage.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Call for Submissions: In Her Place

In what ways does being female affect one’s sense of place, placement, and/or (dis)location?  Submit essays of up to 300 words:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

For the Love of Cities

For the Love of Cities: The love affair between people and their places, a new book by urbanist Peter Kageyama, explores the love affair between people and the places they call home.

Kageyama explores the emotional connection between citizens and their cities, honing in on how the human heart plays a role in economic, social adn community development. Drawing on examples from New Orleans, Detroit, and Cleveland, the book includes stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the wake of the vacuum left behind by dwindling public resources.

Kageyama was interviewed today on the Craig Fahle Show (listen here), on WDET.  According to Kageyama, only 1% of the population are true "place lovers";  those who drive the agenda and invest their energies out of a true love of place.

"True love of place is kind of rare. ...  People who love cities are projecting something of themselves into the city. They want to make meaning in the city, and they are also looking at it as a work of art, they are co-creating the city," he told Fahle.

Kageyama will also be present at the Rust Belt Artists Belt III Conference taking place in Detroit April 6.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Midwestern Gothic

Midwestern Gothic is a new literary magazine out of Ann Arbor is focusing on the Midwest.  The mags goal is to "collect the very best in Midwestern writers and writing in an effort to compile a definitive resource on the region and its influences.

Prose, poetry and photography by those who live or have lived in the Midwest are sought, especially those that that capture the essence of the Midwest.

My favorite Detroit-area writer/blogger Anna Clark will be featured in the first issue.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fringe- Places that Verb Your World

5 Pieces by R. Justin Stewart by R. Justin Stewart  03.07.2011

Fringe Magazine
Fringe Magazine, in honor of the launch  of Issue No. 26:  Maps (Spring '11), is asking readers to contribute to a piece of collaborative artwork, in the form of a Google Map:

For our anniversary Maps issue, Fringe is making an interactive map of Places That Verb Your World and we need help. Send a little something — a photograph, a verse, a few sentences about a geographical location that is meaningful to you - to, or post your submissions on our Facebook page.

Quite a  few entries are up already. Viewed using the Google Maps plug-in, you can fly from place to place and view these places-from-the-heart from the landscape level or street level, accompanied by verse, a short story, or a photo.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rumpus Readers on Neighborhood - The

The Rumpus, a San Fransisco-based online literary and culture magazine co-founded by author Stephen Elliott, recently issued a call for reader submissions on the topic of neighborhood- 500 words or less.

As this post by NRDC's Kaid Bensfield so eloquently points out, neighborhoods, not cities, are the locus for defining our connection to place. They embody the spatial increments which circumscribe our daily existence and create (or preclude) the opportunities we have (or don't) for meeting the people who surround us.

Ray LaHood, Secretary for the US Department of Transportation, defines neighborhood this way.  Richard Florida has another take. According to Wendell Berry, local economies depend on them.

I have an ideal mental image of "neighborhood" and I am not sure that I have ever lived in one.  My first image derives, of course, from Sesame Street's "Who Are The People in Your Neighborhood."  I picture a bustling street with people milling about. I think of corner stores, neighborhood Christmas get-togethers, local eateries, dropping by, informal Friday night dinners at a friend's house, and "regulars".

I had a taste of this kind of neighborhood in college, in the student ghettoes of Ann Arbor, where on front porches festooned with decomposing couches, students congregated in impromptu, informal gatherings. I had another taste while visiting friends in Portland, Oregon, and again in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Before and since those college years,  I have always lived in suburban, single-family residential "neighborhoods."  The one I live in now is nice.  I can walk to a downtown area in about ten minutes in one direction, and to a park with a river in the other. People are out walking dogs and kids  in the evenings when the weather is nice.

Yet I feel something is missing, something that I can't quite put my finger on.  I don't feel connected to the community.  I don't feel part of my neighborhood.

I am intent on finding ways to be more connected.

Here's what I've learned about living in the suburbs: you meet people in your job and through other interests, but because you spend so much time away from home or inside of your home, meeting your neighbors takes effort. And because everyone you know from the other parts of your life  (which take place in other land uses) live so far away, having a social life takes a lot of planning. And, of course, driving.

The Rumpus' readers delve into some of these themes with some delicate, beautiful writing. Here is a sampling:

Aimee Loselle writes on the ideologies we manufacture about our childhood neighborhoods:

I’ve never found the same sense of belonging I had when I was ten, running home on a July evening, tan and tired from playing tag and kill-the-man-with-the-ball, ready to eat meatloaf and read a book in my bedroom or watch “Private Benjamin” or “The Greatest American Hero” on television. My house was mostly silent by then, everyone in retreat. Yet the neighborhood streetlights and kitchen windows were seemingly stable and warm outside my own lit room. I fell for that illusion. I had to believe, even as it shredded around me. Although I don’t believe anymore, I still have the longing. For something unchanging and full of sentiment. For something that doesn’t exist.

Ray Shea contemplates the illusory, arbitrary borders we construct in our neighborhoods:

I’ve never been past the La Chica. It’s not a neighborhood I avoid, it’s just that it’s all houses and apartment buildings and I don’t know anybody who lives there. I only go to the edge, to the taco truck. I wish I spoke Spanish. I wish I could hang around and drink beer, talk to the men, while my children play in the parking lot. It feels nice.
Sam Jasperh satirizes the isolation that suburban neighborhoods can engender:
After two years’ residency, you can try sitting on your porch, which constitutes a breach of neighborhood etiquette, with a sign lettered: “Seeking friendship. Apply within.”
Find the local indie bookstore, drive the fifteen miles to it, park in the very large lot. Walk in and case the place, like you would if you were planning to rob it. Make small talk with the clerk. You’ll most likely be the only person in the place.
Joan Mathieu describes the crime and poverty of a skid row neighborhood, then points out:
But here’s the thing. Bank robbers and car thieves make better neighbors than doctors, lawyers, and TV actresses, the sort of people I once called neighbor before fortune blasted me against the rocks. Those people never came out of their houses, and when they did never spoke to me, and when they spoke to me it was to tell me to keep my fucking dog out of their yard.

Read more at:
Readers Report Back From… Neighborhood - The