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February 28, 2007

Richard Florida

The 3rd T

« Where the Coffee Shop Meets the Cubicle | Main | Paris School of Economics »

There's been an ongoing debate over openness and tolerance in Baton Rouge led by local business leader and former Chamber of Commerce Chair Joe Traigle.  This story provides a candid report on a community struggling with a critical issue (hat tip: Rod Frantz). I know  Joe and other concerned folks in Louisiana are searching for levers and solutions.  Care to join in the dialog and suggest some ways Baton Rogue and other communities can begin to make headway here.

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Sandy

These types of sclerotic community dynamics are facing many of us. Through the course of my personal search for answers to this dilemma (forget answers, I wanted some direction!, I've discovered some interesting directives.

I strongly recommend "The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter" by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs. The premise of this book is that "conversation is the core process by which we humans think and coordinate our actions together. The living process of conversation lies at the heart of collective learning and co-evolution in human affairs. Conversation is our human way of creating and sustaining-or transforming- the realities in which we live."

This is based on the work of evolutionary biologist, Humberto Maturana and cognitive scientist, Francisco Varela:

"We live in language-and in the sophisticated coordination of actions that language makes possible-we bring forth a world through the networks of conversation in which we participate. We embody and share our knowledge through conversation. From this perspective, conversations are action-the very lifeblood and heartbeat of social systems like organizations, communities and societies. As new meanings and the coordinated actions based on them begin to spread through wider networks, the future comes into being. However, these futures can take many alternative paths...We can open spaces or restrict them in conversations."

This book provided me with one of the most compelling, generative and hopeful avenues of action for community transformation.

Appreciative inquiry guides the process.
The dialogue process employs the "Cafe" as an archetype for context. The congruency between tROCC information and this book were remarkable.

My heart goes out to both Traigle and Warren. I know how painful it is to expend so much creative and emotional capital because you have recognized the potential of a place. Alas, one's relationship to a place is often subject to the law of diminishing marginal routines. It can be a valiant fight, but there are often too few foot soldiers.


Richard

Sandy - So very nicely put. Like you, I've not only studied this, I've lived it. I always try to remember Jane Jacobs words, when all is said and done: "Shine the light on the squelchers, expose them."

MPS

That's really unfortunate for Baton Rouge. Where is the influence of LSU in this picture? It does not appear to significantly generate enough of any of the 3 T's to matter (and most people almost exclusively associate LSU with their football team, even compared to other Southern schools like Georgia or Texas). On the one hand, the state capital + flagship state university town seems to have been a compelling model for providing the raw material to nourish a metropolitan-wide creative class economy, hence the rise of Austin and Raleigh, most particularly. There are other promising areas as well, such as Madison, WI.

However, it seems the broader socio-economic and cultural underpinnings of the particular metro and state also influence these state capital-university town combos, and Baton Rouge unfortunately may be limited by Lousiana's broader problems. The state is hemorraging young talent, whether they're 20-something singles or 30-something couples or even 40-something families. What technology does the city have to speak of, other then the petroleum industry (and even then, the best and brightest professionals in that industry will flee to Houston)?

And I must say that the French colonial legacy runs deep in the state, to its detriment. If the state wasn't integrated into the US, one wonders whether it would have been more like Haiti than Texas (which for all its perceived relative lack of tolerance still produces Austin and strong progressive areas in Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas). "Feudal" indeed. Louisiana doesn't appear to have anything close to the strong, diverse entrepreneuial vibes you find in Houston, Dallas, or Atlanta, let alone American entrepreneurialism in its Yankee flavors in Boston, New York, or Seattle.

If you look at Austin, I see two influences, one historic and one modern, in its rise. The historic one is the influence of progressive Germans, who were among the first settlers (mid-19th century) to the area, and their descendants. They came from a Prussia/Germany which was coming together with ideas on social democracy (similar to the German settlers of Wisconsin and greater Upper Midwest). LBJ's progressivism was in part due to his upbringing in this central Texas environment. The modern influence is the rise of Houston and Dallas in the 20th century as large, diverse metropolises, with large populations of the educated, the entrepreneurial, and the professional (I would argue that Houston is better on this score than Dallas, as it has a more open, meritocratic vibe than more old-money Dallas). They both attracted large numbers of out-of-state transplants. These two cities, particularly since WWII, has supplied large populations of ambitious young students to the University of Texas and contributed to Austin's rise. This is how you get a Michael Dell (born and raised in Houston by a family orginially from New York).

I see a similar modern phenomenon happening in Georgia and North Carolina, where all those kids in the transplant suburbs like Atlanta's Alpharetta and Raleigh's Cary are streaming into Georgia Tech and UNC and contributing to their rise as elite state universities. UVa and Virginia Tech (and of course George Mason!) heavily benefit from the avalanche of students from Northern Virgina's DC suburbs. LSU can't count on such a stream of students. There aren't enough kids in Metairie to make that difference.

Then of course you have the more direct influence of out-of-state talent on Austin and Raleigh. IBM and other technology companies invested heavily in both towns a few decades ago, and they are now reaping the benefits. It is extremely easy to find someone who used to work in Boston's Route 128 corridor, Poughkeepsie, NY, or Schaumburg, IL in these cities.

Some colleges/towns fall in the middle - here in Columbia, SC, the University of South Carolina is slowly benefitting from kids coming in from relatively wealthy and transplant-heavy Myrtle Beach and the prosperous suburbs around Charleston, Greenville, Columbia, Charlotte's SC suburban side, etc., and enough out-of-staters due to schools like UNC becoming too competitive for even good students in NC.

I wonder what portends for other state capital-college town combos, and what their socioeconomic and cultural base can or can't do for them. I'm thinking about the future of Columbia, SC, Lincoln, NE, Columbia/Jefferson City, MO, Oklahoma City/Norman, OK, Columbus, OH, etc.

Sandy

Thanks, Rich. BTW, I meant to say "returns" instead of routines- freudian slip.

Jane does provide a great deal of wisdom. I've often thought her "outliving her detractors" to be wise. Unfortunately, the detractors breed.

Another great Jane directive: "How can we get the right answers if we aren't asking the right questions?"

Richard

MPS - I hope Joe and other Baton Rougers are listening in. Great points. I agree the university is key. But most economic development types see only the tech-engine. So LSU is a football team and a bio-medical innovation machine to them. When in reality it is their best talent magnet and the key lever for tolerance. Universities are always an island of open-minedness, diversity and meritocracy. Local business and civic types need to see every one of those students as a recruitment opportunity. And they need to leverage the norms and values, not just the technology, of the university. The solution isn't to import something from outside. It's already there. Just like Jane said.

MPS

I agree that a strong home-grown and home-retained creative class is important in developing a robust economic base. While there is a place for importing high-tech talent (such as the early years of RTP, and what the University of South Carolina is now doing with hydrogen and fuel cell technology in its emerging Innovista research district), in the long run it is important the local economy bring up folks into the middle/creative class. And BOTH importing and home-growing these folks require attention from the local civic leaders. And both are tied to the 3rd T in the broadest sense possible, not just on race/orientation, but on all levels of culture and perspective.

Sure, LSU can lure that chemical engineering PhD from India or China or Boston, but can it keep his kids now living in the Baton Rouge suburbs, who at this point may well flee to not only New York or California, but to Houston or Atlanta? Even a relatively conservative city like Charlotte does a much, much better job of attracting, growing, and retaining creative talent (you will a healthy balance of transplants and NC natives there). Louisiana needs to find some way of hitting that balance between in-staters and out-of-staters (between it's 80-something percent native-born and the other extreme of Florida or Nevada of 20-something percent native-born).

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