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October 13, 2007

Richard Florida

So, Mister Mayor...

« Headlines of the Week | Main | Presidential Candidates to Cities: Drop Dead »

So, The Advocate asked five big city mayors, “Why should young gay professionals move to your city?”  (h/t Allison Kemper) 

Of course, even The Advocate ignored the actual implications of the Gay/Lesbian Index and instead went with a "gays are good for economic development" argument.  Which, in turn, allowed the mayors to ignore the importance of tolerance, diversity and inclusiveness.  So for many mayors, the answer seems to be cheap housing.  "Please, come and gentrify my city..."

I actually like Allison's take on it much more:

I wonder what the mayors would say about the underlying legal framework. Inviting gay professionals to Kansas City when they have less than no legal rights once they get there is outrageous.

It's hard for Americans to see the difference between living with legal discrimination and living without it. The mayors point to night life and real estate prices, but people are willing to pay a high premium to have rights under the law. Boston and SF are expensive for a reason.

These guys think that they can capture the market by telling people about art galleries. What they don't get is that the sunk costs, the table stakes are the presence of progressive laws and the promise of future improvements in those laws. For many of the same reasons that companies locate in Delaware, queers locate in Boston.

Once you've paid the ante, the art galleries will follow. But you have to ensure you have a competitive institutional framework. You can't just wave cheap real estate flyers. The Kansas City mayor almost got it when he said you can stay at home more cheaply in Kansas City. He should have known that wouldn't cut it.

Way to go, Allison!

posted by Kevin Stolarick


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Michael Wells


You're right about the "just add water" nature of the Advocates question. "If we only had gays this would be a livable, economically vibrant place" is another attempt at a quick fix to a complex question.

Kansas City has other basic problems, it was one of the cities that gutted it's downtown and built unwalkable superblocks, so there's no there, there. I'm not sure where the hippest part of KC is, but most of what I've seen is a deserted downtown and empty blocks -- although its been four years since I was there.

Part of what got Tom Potter elected mayor in Portland was that he marched in the Pride parade and supported gay rights when he was police chief, which gave him credibility far beyond the gay community. And the gay city commissioner he mentions is Sam Adams, probably our next mayor. Adams was in the Oregonian this morning proposing a city tax to fix the streets, showing that he understands the big picture.


The real truth is that gays in America move to big cities to loose themselves in a large population where people are less likely to know one another and the population tends to be less cohesive socially and more centered on making money. Thus, it is not that people that live in large cities are more tolerant of gays but that they don't care about how other people are living their lives or the society in general. Engineers and scientists move to these big cities to be surrounded by technology and civilization (tall impressive buildings , etc). I don't buy the argument Florida makes that somehow Engineers and scientists move to these well developed cities because of tolerance of gays or general openess to diversity. For Engineers and scientists it is generally an economic/quality of life decision. For example, as soon as many Indian engineers were offered jobs back in their Indian homeland large numbers went back to India and took the projects they were working on back to India with them using Indian engineers to replace American ones. Why do you think IBM has been able to move so much of their development to India so fast? In India homosexuality is illegal and Indian cities are not exactly "diverse" in any sense.

Michael Wells

Boy, people have really different experiences of life. I'd say that many gays move to big cities not to be where people don't know each other, but to be in a community where they are accepted in a cohesive social life. They're not moving away from community but to it. The same reasons I did as a straight young man.

I grew up in small town America and still have relatives there and I wouldn't say they are more cohesive socially or less centered on making money. The engineers I know probably didn't move to Portland because of gays, but as you say quality of life. I have an engineer son in law who grew up in rural Idaho, got a scholarship to Stanford, works for HP, is a Republican. He lives in Portland because it's more open and interesting than Idaho but not as driven as Silicon Valley. He probably doesn't think about gays much, but he does like the restaurants and variety of activities and the diversity of friends he has.

Yes, lots of Indian engineers go back to India, it's their home and they're used to the culture. I doubt many are leaving because of gay rights here. I don't know if you've been to India much, but its diversity makes Americans look monolithic. Three major religions and several minor ones, 26 official languages including English, incredible differences among people in the cities. It's conservative in many ways, much like America in the 1950's. You don't see straight couples showing affection in public, but you see straight men walking down the street hand in hand. Yes homosexuality is officially illegal, as it was in the US and Europe 20-30 years ago. As India develops a first world economy I think it will also become less conservative. (And I don't think a country where the electricity in cities goes out daily is competitive yet.)


In big cities in general a researcher determined that large numbers of people in the society "withdraw" as a result of the lack of social cohesiveness, I think the author was the same guy that wrote "Bowling Alone"? So I reject the notion that big cities have a cohesive social life and that gays are accepted in that social life.

In terms of India there is no significant "racial" diversity which is actually the main diversity that matters. I don't think you see any blonds, or Indians with natural green or blue eyes do you? Furthermore, multinational corporations build isolated campuses and provide their own power so the power is in fact stable for most of the large companies.

Michael Wells

Robert (and apologies to anyone else),

Mostly I talk to people who generally agree with me, so this is fun. A few years ago I got on a national board with some Midwesterners and Southerners. After I got to know and like them I found out several were Republicans. This actually helped overcome some of my assumptions (dare I say prejudices). So here goes.

Robert Putnam's work (Bowling Alone) has its critics, just as Richard's does. Richard has a couple of sections in Rise about Putnam, talking about the different kinds of social networks traditional and creative class communities have. But for gays specifically, compare the isolation of Brokeback Mountain to San Francisco's Castro in terms of cohesive social life. (I had a gay friend from Utah at about the time the movie is about, and it's a pretty good picture of the time and place.)

What I can speak about is that I've lived in big cities most of my life and had a pretty cohesive social life. We know everyone on our block near downtown Portland and many other neighbors, there are block parties and socializing, it doesn't feel very isolated. And gays are pretty much involved in everything in the city -- social life, politics, arts, exercise, schools, etc. I think this is true of most of the creative class cities.

Racial diversity in South Carolina is about blonds and Blacks because that's who's there, but in other areas it's about different divisions. In India the main groups are the Northern, Aryan, Hindi speaking people and the Southern Dravidian speaking people. Not to mention several tribal groups. It's definitely racial diversity to Indians. Multi-theistic Hindus, monotheistic Muslims and non-theistic Buddhists actually are pretty diverse -- somewhat more than Baptists and Methodists (even if you throw in atheists, you're all arguing about the same thing.) India actually seems pretty chaotic to most Westerners (I had thought Boston had crazy drivers).

And yes, the multinationals are having an impact but as you say are isolated. Again, my guess is India will modernize faster than we did, and in the process become less conservative.


To: Mike Wells

My guess is downtown Portland is one of those areas that are upper middle class or perhaps "gentrified" areas that are isolated from the rest of the city or that maybe Portland is not representative of the typical big city. Big cities generally have large non-cohesive populations that may be more business/career oriented and not care about local politics and the local society in general. The prominence of gays in political life and other aspects may not be a sign of tolerance but a sign that most people don't care about the city where they are living. Their relationship with the society may be a business relationship rather than a more "personal" relationship.

India is fundamentally more cohesive than America in term of race, race being defined as fundamental differences that cant be easily altered so that one can pass as a member of a different group. An Indian Muslim can easily change his religion to that of a Hindu and be accepted by Hindus. A Indian that speaks a certain language can learn a new language. My point is that the differences you cite are not fundamental differences and in the major cities that are home to most of the hi-tech jobs, Indians of these "diverse" backgrounds can form a new cohesive work/social environment through adapting and learning. The bottom line is that the Indian societies in these tech centers are fairly cohesive and people don't come there for "diversity" but to get a good job.

Michael Wells


Portland may not be a typical large American city, Putnam found more of his "group belonging" activity here than elsewhere. And I've lived here a long time which probably affects my viewpoint, although I've traveled and spent time in other cities. However, I'd guess it's closer to typical among what Richard identifies as creative class cities -- Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Boston than among older rust belt cities like Detroit, Cleveland, etc.

I guess I'd ask two questions: 1) On what do you base the idea that people in cities don't care about local politics & society? I'd venture that city-dwellers are more involved in politics and society than suburban, although I don't have voting records or whatever at hand. 2) And compared to what? Would you contend that suburbanites or rural people are cohesive groups that care more about local politics and society? From what I know, people in car-oriented suburbs tend to be more isolated than either cities or small towns. My guess is that television and now the Internet have more to do with social isolation than living in a city or suburbs.

Putnam's books are about the breakdown of organized groups like lodges and bowling leagues throughout society, not just cities. I'd tend to agree with Richard's thesis that creative class people form different types of associations than traditional organized groups. And with Jane Jacobs that in cities people have more, looser relationships because they deal with much larger numbers of people. However, I don't think this automatically leads to social isolation, just a different nature of relationship.

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