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
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:
- 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.
- Invest in the infrastructure for density and growth. Transportation infrastructure should seek to connected growth clusters (p. 195).
- Build more affordable rental housing. Urban workforce housing must exist to provide the kind of diversity of people necessary for a healthy city.
- Turn low-wage service jobs into middle-class work. Higher pay can spur higher quality work, and the result can be higher productivity.
- 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).
- 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).
- 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:
- First, the skillset of people must undergo a rapid increase so that they can be productive in a new economy that is based increasingly on services and creative class products. The types of economic activity that gain value for work must be identified and then allowed to flourish in a free marketplace. The watchword of Florida's discussion of cities is productivity, and so advancing people's skills is the basis of this increased productivity.
- Second, cities need to be designed to allow for clustering and density--because this is the source of prosperity (it is no mistake that many of the superstar cities are "landlocked" (San Francisco, Manhattan, and others) where the land scarcity itself demands density).
- Third, cities need to be scaled and designed so that people with less income can meet their basic needs--housing, transportation, healthcare, education, etc.--with maximum dignity and minimum costs. This requires the superstar cities to, for example, scale housing so that affordable housing for lower-paid workers exists in sufficient supply. This need, however, may run against the NIMBYism that many economic winners in cities abet and encourage.
- Fourth, it must be acknowledged that never will there be absolute equality in wages, where everyone makes nearly the same amount, but a distribution. This will always be true even if wages are raised for lower-income earners. Certainly, the kurtosis of the distribution curve can be examined for inequities, but what must be addressed is the spending power and opportunities for people at all income levels. Public policy and zoning, land use, housing policy, tax policy must be adjusted so that people of all income levels can meet their needs. This means that NIMBYism and barriers to affordable housing, affordable retail stores, affordable food stores and restaurants, must be removed. Segregation of place by income, class, race, or occupation needs to be mitigated by reform of zoning and land use laws.
- richardflorida.com: author Web site.
- CreativeClass.com: official Web site for Richard Florida's creative class information and books