The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class-and What We Can Do About It by Richard Florida

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Richard Florida's main point in this book is that the new urban crisis involves the rise of superstar cities where the creative class--which Florida described in previous books (Florida 2002 and Florida 2004)--gains tremendous influence, power, and wealth. The first nine chapters of the book describe and document this crisis. Florida relies heavily on statistical analysis to describe this crisis involving elites, gentrification, inequality, sorting and segregation, and the collapse of the suburban growth model. He analyzes housing costs, wages, venture capital investment, economic segregation, educational segregation, and class segregation.

Ultimately, Florida's last chapter describes his vision for "urbanism for all." He concludes that "...our ability to innovate and grow the economy depends on the clustering of talent, companies, and other economic assets in cities." (pp. 185-186). It is this clustering that he observed in previous books. This time, however, he understands that the wealth it creates is so intense that it leads to the "new urban" crisis he describes in this book.

Florida advises (pp. 191-215) cities to:

  1. Make clustering work for us and not against us. "The clustering force is the key driver of economic growth, and it is absolutely critical that we effectively harness it to create the broadest possible economic and social benefits. ... the crux of the problem here revolves around the urban land nexus: land is scarce precisely where it is needed the most." (p. 191) Florida advises that zoning and building codes can be modernized and the power of NIMBYs and what he calls New Urban Luddites no longer dictates land use.
  2. Invest in the infrastructure for density and growth. Transportation infrastructure should seek to connected growth clusters (p. 195).
  3. Build more affordable rental housing. Urban workforce housing must exist to provide the kind of diversity of people necessary for a healthy city.
  4. Turn low-wage service jobs into middle-class work. Higher pay can spur higher quality work, and the result can be higher productivity.
  5. Tackle poverty by investing in people and places. Persistent, concentrated poverty can be overcome with essential social, educational, health and economic services for people and infrastructure investment in places within neighborhoods (p. 207).
  6. Lead a global effort to build prosperous cities. A worldwide effort and cooperation on prosperous cities can make the USA more secure and prosperous (p. 210).
  7. Empower cities and communities. Give cities better control over their destinies by reversing the tendency for state and national governments to remove their decision-making and taxing ability (p. 214).

While Florida's dizzying presentation of indexes in the first nine chapters is informative, Florida offers up no cogent explanation for the causes of inequality nor what a resolution of these inequalities would look like. Although he doesn't come to this conclusion, the trite old saying "the rich get richer, the poor get poorer" is writ large over recent history.

His last chapter does promise a solution, or at least a set of approaches. What I realized from reading this book is that:

Florida describes how the creative nature of cities leads to high degrees of inequality because of the massive wealth creation of these creative pursuits. If a city only caters the wealthy only, life is terrible for lower-income people. There will always be an income distribution curve in which there are lowest-income earners. Cities need to scale themselves for people of all these income levels, in all aspects, and superstar cities need to do this scaling even more intensely.

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