Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The future of industrial cities

There has been some recent commentary on the alleged antics of Richard Florida and his associated consulting activities.

At the bottom of the National Post piece it states:

His next book, which is titled The Great Reset and is due to be published in April, will reportedly expand on these recent ideas. He can expect to face more accusations that his message is elitist in that it suggests professionals and creative workers can stay put in their urban enclaves while disenfranchised blue-collar workers must gather their belongings and vacate suburbia and exurbia.

As one commentator, Josh Leon, a regular contributor to urban affairs magazine Next American City, wrote, “I doubt sincerely that [Jane] Jacobs would be fine with the mass abandonment of communities whose specialized services don’t satiate global markets, which these days happen to have the attention span of an ADHD toddler. Unstable economies, after all, don’t make for stable communities.”

This is a pretty interesting criticism given that rural workers and rural towns have already been through this process. My comment is what else is new? Decline and growth happens due to a myriad of both macro and micro processes - some can be managed some can't. There is only so much current policy and investment approaches can do to make a city more inviting and livable. It can't for example create a mountain range or an ocean shoreline (speaking as a west coaster). I am not a huge fan of Florida but he obviously has some quite sensible things to say. For me the criticism in this piece rings a bit shallow over what Florida could be criticised for. 

What does all this begin to foreshadow? If cities are the real geography of the world economy of the coming century then city governments need to do some pretty hard thinking. Policy is pretty meaningless without muscle and muscle (programs) only happens with money.

So discussions around cities and money are only going to get more intense. If central governments don't come to agreements of redistribution then we are likely to see the Balkanisation of modern nation states through the collection of city taxes .

The implications of current contradictions of multi-level policy making are not really being analysed by the same tools that we analyse the geo-politics of nation-states. Throw in climate change, petrol prices and life could get interesting but I don't think we heading for total city states systems aka Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.

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