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April 04, 2008

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WaPo columnist Marc Fisher-who I know and have spoken to on many occasions and whose views and writing I very much admire - questions my own priorities for choosing where my family and I live.

In the end, however, it seems Richard Florida chooses where to live more the way many of us do rather than the way he advises in his books: He doesn't necessarily go where the most creative and exciting people are; rather, he goes where he gets the best job. There's not the least bit of shame in that, but Florida's answer to "Who's Your City?" may well be "whoever's making it worth my while."

He's right. I've said on many occasions our decision to leave Washington DC was bittersweet. We loved our house, our neighborhood, our friends and the community. On many levels DC was great "fit" for us.  The main reason I moved to Toronto, as I've said many times, is a once in a lifetime opportunity to build a major think tank around place, creativity and prosperity issues.  I had to struggle to raise research fund in the states, so the prospect of heading a well-funded research institute at a major university was, for me or just about any body a non-brainer.

In fact, Fisher identifies the very reason I wrote Who's Your City? Finding a community that fits you best involves a series of trade-offs among job and career; relationships and family; community, climate and lifestyle; amenities and interests; life-stage and personality.  Yes, I moved for career. But who argue that Toronto is not a great city. In many ways -though not in all ways, and certainly not as a getting-flabby cyclist enduring a cold and snowy winter - it fits us as well or better than DC. It's not a far-off remote out-of-the-way destination.

When Rana and I looked at all the dimensions of the move, and weighed the trade-offs against one another, Toronto won out. But we have nothing but fond memories of DC and I find it one of the greatest places in the world. I am constantly recommending it to our family and friends as a great place for them to live.

In fact, when I decided to move from Pittsburgh several years ago I made a rudimentary spreadsheet (sort of an early template for some of the ideas in Who's Your City?) and guess which two cities came out on  top - DC and Toronto, virtually tied. I almost moved to Toronto, actually, at the time.

Fisher also chastises me for our choice of a particular neighborhood.

For reasons that always baffled me, this great bard of urban vibrancy, a latter-day Jane Jacobs (the spiritual grandmother of the smart-growth movement), chose to live in about as anti-urban a city setting as could be had: far from a Metro station, way up on a hill, in a beautiful spot right near Rock Creek Park, well away from any of the amenities he preaches about in his books.to

He and I actually talked about this a great deal. My book says a person's choice of neighborhood is critical and ... well ... very personal.  It has to fit your life-stage, life-style, family and personality. It's not a one-size-fits-all thing. Actually our neighborhood is Toronto - Rosedale - is very similar to the one we lived in in DC. It's an older, green neighborhood, a bit closer to the city center, on the ravine - Toronto's answer to Rock Creek Park.   Rana and I got married when we lived in DC. I'm 50. We want to have a family.  So we wanted to live in a house in a community that's not too congested but near urban amenities, that is near parks and open space where our (future) kids and (current and future) nieces and nephews can play, and where we can walk and cycle.  That's our choice and the kind of neighborhood that best fits us. Others like things funkier and more urban. Others prefer more suburban and even more rural.

And that's the real point of Who's Your City? - that each of us has to make that choice, weighing all the possible criteria and considerations, in a way that fits us and our families best. We could not be happier in our new neighborhood, just like we loved our old one as well.

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Comments

Michael R. Bernstein

Hmph. I think the point is that although you've certainly identified and championed the Creative Class and related groups as being the key to urban prosperity, I don't think you've ever made any claim to being representative, or even a member, of all those groups.

You were born right at the peak of the Baby Boom. It's a huge generational cohort, but not one that is strongly associated with most of the economic indicators you're talking about. Perhaps your next book should be about Boomer Creatives, or more generally about attracting creatives from each generational cohort (generational diversity is a key for innovation as well).

Michael Wells

There are values and amenities. I'd have been surprised after reading the books if you moved to Mesa or Birmingham or someplace without the tolerance and diversity you describe in the books. The Institute itself almost guarantees creative class surroundings. But having met those basic values qualifiers, urban or suburban is an amenity choice. And that brings lots of factors into play -- schools, greenspace, convenience, yard, etc.

How you choose to live there is another question. If you bike to the Metro up and down that hill, I don't see where Fisher can criticize your location. If you drive your SUV to work during rush hour, then he might have a point. Even then, it's his value judgement.

Interesting point though, that place is more than region, it's neighborhood. At least some of the decision exercises in Who's Your City could apply at the micro-level too. My wife loves to garden and have pets, which helped choose where we live, fairly close to downtown but in a single family neighborhood. Left to myself, I might have a downtown condo. Left to herself, she might be in the country.

And amen to Bernstein's talk about creative generational cohorts. I've always thought that the singular focus on 20-30's was a weakness of the books, although I understand why they are key to economic growth. I'd love to see a discussion of the creative class and how the generations interact. teacher/mentor/employer and innovator/student/explorer. A Gail Sheehy meets Richard Florida book.

Campus Entrepreneurship

Well said Richard. I had read his piece and found some of his remarks a bit too personal. Your book lays out many of the things you reiterated above. And thanks for the shout out to DC. As you know we are making the 'neighborhood' move from ultra urban, walkable (Capitol Hill/East Market) to close in and walkable (.7 miles from downtown bethesda).... lifestages, as you state over and over.

Wil

It is really surprising how where a person is in his/her lifecycle alters what is needed in a residence. After getting married and having my first child, suddenly my huge, super cheap, North Mission (San Francisco) flat within walking distance to the South of Market clubs (in a building that I owned even!) no longer fit. Suddenly my new interest was schools, parks, low crime, and a big yard. What really got me was that I didn't even miss my old lifestyle. The takeaway point is that the creative class exists along the age/life-stage/location continuum, one size does not fit all. ...In Victoria B.C., which is the retirement capital of Canada, it's cool to be old!?? There you will find art magazines that feature artists and lifestylers most of whom are over 50 and live in low density environments..

Wil

It is really surprising how where a person is in his/her lifecycle alters what is needed in a residence. After getting married and having my first child, suddenly my huge, super cheap, North Mission (San Francisco) flat within walking distance to the South of Market clubs (in a building that I owned even!) no longer fit. Suddenly my new interest was schools, parks, low crime, and a big yard. What really got me was that I didn't even miss my old lifestyle. The takeaway point is that the creative class exists along the age/life-stage/location continuum, one size does not fit all. ...In Victoria B.C., which is the retirement capital of Canada, it's cool to be old!?? There you will find art magazines that feature artists and lifestylers most of whom are over 50 and live in low density environments..

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