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October 31, 2007

Richard Florida


Interesting back and forth over at Tory Gattis's blog on Hou-Orleans, the mega-region running fro Houston to New Orleans and megas in general.

Caught this Richard Florida blog post on the rise of global mega-regions ... Unfortunately, something in their methodology led them to split Texas into two mega-regions, the Dallas-San Antonio corridor, and the Houston-New Orleans corridor, extending all the way the Florida panhandle (see map on p.27). Of course, anybody familiar with Houston's economy knows it has far more connections to the rest of the Texas Triangle cities than it does to NOLA and points east, and I let him know in the comments.  The true mega-region is the Texas Triangle Megalopolis, as identified by the Federal Reserve Bank.

But some disagree:

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the Houston-New Orleans corridor. That's the petrochemical belt, and though Houston is admittedly the dominant pole in that belt, we do have a very strong connection to the points in between, such as Beaumont and Lake Charles and Lafayette and the famed cancer alley between Baton Rouge and NOLA. There are a lot of strong connections tieing Houston in that direction.  I don't see a similar connection between Houston and San Antonio, nor the points in between.

Another points out:

Probably a much better and more thorough examination of this phenomenon in the US is happening at america2050.org ... It's very interesting stuff, and really just getting started, having had an official organization for just three years. But it's got some top demographers and planners working on it.

Hmmmmm ... These are empirical issues. We use a comprehensive methodology to identify mega-regions, using light-emissions to pinpoint contiguous geographic areas.  It's Hou-Orleans that's a distinct mega that way: There are significant light gaps in the Texas Triangle.  I'm a big fan of what America 2050 is doing, but our method for identifying megas is different and we believe to be a significant advance in two respects. One, it takes guess work out of the process, allowing mega boundaries to be determined purely on observed light data.  Two, it enables us for the first time to systematically identity and compare megas not just in the US but worldwide.

Richard Florida


The Economist.com (Free Exchange) chimes in:

As Felix Salmon notes, Richard Florida's debut column in the Globe and Mail reads like a response to Ed Glaeser's rather pessimistic assessment of Buffalo's economic prospects. In fact, Mr Florida specifically addresses Mr Glaeser in a blog post ... The city of Buffalo is only 60 miles, along a straight line, from Toronto (although an overland route extends the distance to just under 100 miles). Along the east coast, cities like New York and Washington enjoy economic spheres extending outward that far or farther, so it's quite reasonable to expect that Buffalo might, with sufficient infrastructure investment, share in the economic energy surrounding Toronto.  ... A more crucial point relating to Toronto-Buffalo symbiosis, however, is one that Mr Florida acknowledges--the role of the international border.

Continue reading "Buff-Tor-Chester?" »

Lots of interest in mega-regions generally and Tor-Buf-Chester around the blog-sphere.

Financial Times columnist, blogger, and "undercover economist" Tim Hartford, writes:

Richard Florida is now writing in the Globe and Mail. I enjoy his blog very much but confess to never having read his very successful books [RF: Ouch]. ... Florida and I, along with others such as John Kay, Martin Wolf and Robert Lucas, are huge fans of the late Jane Jacobs, who pointed all this out long ago. Anyone who has not read Jacobs is missing a treat. Start with "Cities and the Wealth of Nations".

I am a huge Tim Hartford fan and cite his stuff up and down in Who's Your City?

Over at Portfolio.com's Finance Blog, Felix Salmon adds:

Richard Florida doesn't explicitly mention Ed Glaeser in his column today in the Toronto Globe & Mail, but it can easily be read as a direct response to Glaeser's pessimistic view of Buffalo in City Journal. Glaeser says that any attempt to  revitalize Buffalo is doomed; Florida, by ontrast, places Buffalo in the context of a larger "mega-region" including Rochester, Toronto, and maybe even Montreal, Ottawa, and Syracuse. Looked at that way, he says, it's huge and vibrant, "a trans-border economic powerhouse that stretches from Buffalo to Quebec City."... To listen to Glaeser, then, infrastructure investment in Buffalo is doomed;  According to Florida, by contrast, it's desperately needed, especially when it comes to rail links across the Canada-US border, and much more efficient border crossings in both directions.

The folks at Strategy, Innovation and Change ask "Is Richard Florida the new Michael Porter?" -  which I take as high praise indeed, since he singlehandedly made strategy a field and is widely considered the number 1 business intellectual of his time, though I'm not sure this was exactly what they intended.

(posted by David) Steve Lohr's piece, Hello India? I Need Help With My Math, in the NY Times (sub rq'd) uncovers the evolution of outsourcing as consumer services (often considered non-exportable) such as tutoring, tax and legal services, and personal valets are now available at much lower costs than local providers.

From the article,

The second wave, according to some entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and offshoring veterans, will be the globalization of consumer services. People like Ms. Yamaki and Mr. Tham, they predict, are the early customers in a market that will one day include millions of households in the United States and other nations.

They foresee an array of potential services beyond tutoring and personal assistance like health and nutrition coaching, personal tax and legal advice, help with hobbies and cooking, learning new languages and skills and more. Such services, they say, will be offered for affordable monthly fees or piecework rates.

October 30, 2007

The first round of comments on my Saturday column came mainly from Toronto but Buffalonians also have something to say.

Yesterday, while at lunch, the topic of conversation was that of Richard Florida (theory of the creative class) and his recent move to Toronto. The conversation led to a Globe and Mail article that ...formulates, as many of us have been doing for quite some time now, that the key to growth and prosperity it to capitalize on the fact that we're already a major force if you look at our region as a network. We all know that Buffalo must do a better job in marketing what we have, and what we are getting. One of those assets is our relationship to Toronto. When someone comes in to Buffalo for the first time Toronto is always on the laundry list when I talk of the great assets of our city. I tell them that they can leave Buffalo at 9am and still be in Toronto for breakfast. Then they can spend the day there and be back in their favorite city in time for dinner. That's the same length commute that many of my friends who live outside NY take to get into the city. It always amazes people that Toronto is so close. It also reinforces the idea that Buffalo should aim for becoming a strong mid-size city... with a mega cosmopolitan city within a short drive. Listen to what Florida writes as part of the lead-in for his article: "And yet everywhere we go we are met by Torontonians who either seem mystified that we would move to what they imply is a second-rate city, or seem to be seeking some kind of validation in our answer." Sounds a bit familiar doesn't it?

And vice-versa: One of "our" assets is proximity to Buffalo. I'm a huge Buffalo fan. I lived near Elmwood and taught at UB. The city has tremendous assets. Some of them, like great universities and great art museums are self-evident. Others a bit more mundane. As an American, I'm tickled pink we get watch our favorite US shows, as well as the Bills, on Buffalo TV.  Plus, I can pick up my favorite American micro-brews there.

Richard Florida

Gay Shift?

The New York Times asks can gay neighborhoods maintain their relevance in the face of gentrification or are they becoming "passe'." The story draws heavily from the research of my long-time collaborator, UCLA demographer, Gary Gates.

There has been a notable shift of gravity from the Castro, with young gay men and lesbians fanning out into less-expensive neighborhoods like Mission Dolores and the Outer Sunset, and farther away to Marin and Alameda Counties, “mirroring national trends where you are seeing same-sex couples becoming less urban, even as the population become slightly more urban,” said Gary J. Gates, a demographer and senior research fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles. At the same time, cities not widely considered gay meccas have seen a sharp increase in same-sex couples. Among them: Fort Worth; El Paso; Albuquerque; Louisville, Ky.; and Virginia Beach, according to census figures and extrapolations by Dr. Gates for The New York Times. “Twenty years ago, if you were gay and lived in rural Kansas, you went to San Francisco or New York,” he said. “Now you can just go to Kansas City.”

Richard Florida

Education 'Fix'

Stanford's Jeff Pfeffer is the world's preeminent expert on talent.  He has some important things to say about education as a magic bullet for economic woes.

The argument that "more education" (where more sometimes also means "better") will fix problems of competitiveness, income inequality, un- or underemployment, etc., essentially proceeds from a completely free- or competitive-market premise ...  Just upgrade skills and provide more/better education and everything (well, almost everything) will be fine.  But in domains other than science and engineering (as well as in science and engineering, as the current discussion and data suggest) this argument fails and has failed for a long, long time.  Almost 30 years ago (1979 to be exact), Randall Collins wrote a book entitled The Credential Society (Academic Press).  His argument ... was that a) there was little evidence that, on the educational requirements (as assessed by skill levels as derived from detailed studies of jobs and occupations) were increasing overall;  and b) what education and the credentials thereby attained did was move people relative to one another on the hiring list.

Interesting stuff.  Our research at the Martin Prosperity Institute points to a growing disconnect between education or "human capital" levels and regional outcomes.  Educated people frequently leave the places they were educated. That was India or Ireland for a while. When I lived in Pittsburgh I used to say, "our greatest export isn't steel, but our highly educated people." For a time, and maybe still today, lots of them ended up in California and especially Northern California, even though the state had slashed taxes and was not investing a huge amount in primary and secondary education.  And we're also finding that while education levels match somewhat to regional income, they have only limited effect on regional productivity.  Silicon Valley is different that Naples Florida, the former generates wealth and productivity, the latter lives off what was generated elsewhere.

The connection between local education and local development is broken. Something else is going on. It's important to focus the conversation on what exactly that might be.  Your thoughts?

Richard Florida

Class Politics


I've long said political polarization in the United States reflects a fundamental class divide. Andrew Gelman of Columbia University provides an intriguing analysis complete with more maps.

Richard Florida

Couch Potato Index

Forbes magazine released its list of America's most sedentary cities earlier this week (h/t: Dean Alexander).  The ranking is based on:

data on body mass index (BMI), physical inactivity and TV watching habits for the country's 50 largest metropolitan statistical areas. For information on BMI and physical inactivity, we turned to 2006 data from the Centers for Disease Control and its comprehensive Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which surveys metropolitan areas annually on a range of health issues. For BMI, we added the percentage of obese or overweight people and ranked cities based on the combined number. When measuring frequency of exercise we looked at the survey's sole indicator: the percentage of people who had not engaged in any physical activity in the past 30 days. To determine TV watching habits, we used Nielsen data on the average number of hours of TV watched per week by metropolitan area.  After establishing where cities ranked in each category -- 1 for the heaviest city and 43 for the lightest, for example -- we then added the three for a final score. Memphis earned the lowest score with 10, and San Francisco claimed last place with 123. Some metropolitan areas, like Sacramento, Calif., or Columbus, Ohio, could not be included due to insufficient data from either the CDC or Nielsen. In total, we ranked 43 cities out of the original 50.

Not sure I completely buy it, but the story is here. Still, I'd be curious to see what other regional factors correlate with this couch potato index.

Over at its blog, CEOs for Cities - an organization of the leading mayors, university presidents and CEOs from America`s largest cites - pummels Joel Kotkin.

In his opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, The Rise of Family-Friendly Cities, Joel Kotkin sets up an either/or set of economic development and lifestyle choices that simply doesn't exist ...  Family-friendly cities are not terribly different from other cities. Ask business and civic leaders around the nation what‚s driving their concern about whether their city appeals to young people, and they will first tell you they are needed for the labor force. But what really worries many of them hits much closer to home. They worry their own kids won't return after college. Being family-friendly has a lot of surprising dimensions.