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July 21, 2008

In Flight of the Creative Class, I argued that America was no longer a single country, but  two or more divided along the lines of social and economic class. Now, alongside Bill Bishop's, The Big Sort, comes a new American Human Development Index, modeled on the landmark UN report.  The Independent summarizes some of its key findings.

The United States of America is becoming less united by the day. A 30-year gap now exists in the average life expectancy between Mississippi, in the Deep South, and Connecticut, in prosperous New England. Huge disparities have also opened up in income, health and education depending on where people live in the US, according to a report published yesterday.

The American Human Development Index has applied to the US an aid agency approach to measuring well-being – more familiar to observers of the Third World – with shocking results. The US finds itself ranked 42nd in global life expectancy and 34th in survival of infants to age. Suicide and murder are among the top 15 causes of death and although the US is home to just 5 per cent of the global population it accounts for 24 per cent of the world's prisoners.

Despite an almost cult-like devotion to the belief that unfettered free enterprise is the best way to lift Americans out of poverty, the report points to a rigged system that does little to lessen inequalities.

"The report shows that although America is one of the richest nations in the world, it is woefully behind when it comes to providing opportunity and choices to all Americans to build a better life," the authors said.

Some of its more shocking findings reveal that, in parts of Texas, the percentage of adults who pass through high school has not improved since the 1970s.

Asian-American males have the best quality of life and black Americans the lowest, with a staggering 50-year life expectancy gap between the two groups.

Despite the fact that the US spends roughly $5.2bn (£2.6bn) every day on health care, more per capita than any other nation in the world, Americans live shorter lives than citizens of every western European and Nordic country, bar Denmark..

Using official government statistics, the study points out that because American schools are funded primarily from local property taxes, rich districts get the best state education. The US has no federally mandated sick pay, paternity leave or annual paid vacation.

"Some Americans are living anywhere from 30 to 50 years behind others when it comes to issues we all care about: health, education and standard of living," said Sarah Burd-Sharps co-author of the report.

Although the US is one of the most powerful and rich nations in the world, the study concludes it is "woefully behind when it comes to providing opportunity and choices to all Americans to build a better life".


The report is here, some key factoids, and a series of maps.

July 20, 2008

Richard Florida

Where the "Brains" Are


This image from Ben Fry via Marginal Revolution  shows data from intelligence tests given to all NFL players. Centers and guards beat QBs with tackles close behind. What's going on with wide receivers, cornerbacks and running backs?

Money Quote: ""The closer you are to the ball, the higher your score."

Sort of like cities ala Jacobs and Lucas.

Richard Florida

Doctor Doctor

"When malls become a meeting place, it's a sign that a city is sick."

Enrique Peñalosa, urban theorist and former mayor of Bogotá, via Tyler Brule.

July 19, 2008

Simon Jenkins, writing in the Times of London, absolutely nails it (h/t: Bill Bishop):

Futurology seminars have long been obsessed with one question: what next after the internet? The answer is always the same, a new electronic gizmo. ...

Since the invention of the telegraph and gramophone, innovation is interested only in kit that yields profit. What is becoming plain, even under the strains of recession, is that the futurologist’s answer should lie in the realm not of electronics but of reality. It is in reality television, reality politics, reality entertainment and sport, the immediate, the active, the present, the live. The phenomenon is near-universal. People do not want to spend their spare time in front of the same screens at which they increasingly work. They want to “go out”. ...

What is happening is a reversal of history. Artists can no longer sell the products of their genius because the internet supplies it virtually for free. What can be sold is that genius in the flesh.

The whole story is here.

Experiences matter.  Authentic experiences, especially. Cities can provide them, and those that do so gain an edge. All part and parcel of the shift to the creative economy and society. We're tracking the transformation of the popular music and entertainment industries in one of our big, focal projects at the MPI. More to come.

Richard Florida

Stadium, Schmadium

Year after year, city boosters tell us building new stadiums at a cost of hundreds of millions or even a billion dollars will create jobs, bring back neighborhoods, spur development, build national buzz and image, and stimulate local economies. The evidence show this is mostly hooey. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Mark Yost sheds light on one of the great public policy travesties of our time:

Yes, stadiums do create high-paying construction jobs for a year or two. But the vast majority of long-term employment is low-wage concession jobs. A Congressional Research Service study of the Baltimore Ravens stadium found that each job created cost the state $127,000. By comparison, Maryland's Sunny Day Fund created jobs for about $6,000 each ... A 1998 report by the New York City Independent Budget Office found no "economic rationale for assuming that building any new stadium would itself spur construction of office towers and hotels. Total output resulting from the presence of the teams in the city amounts to less than one tenth of one percent of the economic activity in New York City." ...

But perhaps the best argument against publicly financed stadiums is straight out of Econ 101: Opportunity cost. "What else could the city have invested its money in and what kind of a return would it have produced?" said King Banaian, chairman of the St. Cloud State (Minn.) Economics Dept.

While using public money to subsidize stadiums and sports is economics and bad economic development is most ever city, wealthy cities like NYC, DC, LA or Boston can to some degree afford such extravagances. The real tragedies are in smaller, older, stagnating rustbelt cities - like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, St. Louis and others, where city revenues are terribly strapped and stadium funding takes away from pressing local needs from police and fire to schools and parks.  I am amazed and outraged that such blatant abuse of the public purse is allowed to go on.

July 18, 2008

Richard Florida

I'll Take ... Houston?

Urban economist, Ed Glaeser says NYC has a Houston problem. Houston has more affordable housing, less congestion, and easier commutes -all because of its "deregulated market", lack of rent control, and ease of construction.  Ryan Avent says not only is Glaeser wrong, he's contradicting his own research.

Richard Florida

Young Americans

Mark Thoma points us to new research by Elizabeth Casico and her collaborators on how young Americans stack up in the global competition for skills:

Young Americans entering the labor market today face substantial competition. Employers can look all over the world for workers with the skills to meet their firms' needs. Are young Americans ready for these challenges? ...This Economic Letter summarizes new research by Cascio, Clark, and Gordon (2008) (hereafter CCG) that uses data from the International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS), fielded in the 1990s, to address this issue. The authors estimate the skill levels of 16- and 17-year-olds and 26- to 30-year-olds for the United States and other high-income countries. Consistent with other assessments of the school-age population, the IALS data show that U.S. 16- and 17-year-olds perform poorly relative to their counterparts in other nations. By their late 20s, however, those in the U.S. group in the IALS data compare much more favorably to their counterparts abroad, suggesting that they are able to "catch up" in college or beyond.

I find this research fascinating: It lines up completely with my personal experience. As a working class kid who had to hide the fact that I was "smart," my "skill level" and test scores at 16 or 17 would surely have lagged against many international competitors and middle-class Americans. But a Garden State scholarship and admission to Rutgers fundamentally changed my trajectory.  I made up ground very quickly and then continued along into and through graduate school.  I wish I still had my scores: But if I recall correctly, my GRE's were in the neighborhood of 400 or 500 points higher than my SATs.

I can't wait to see if they have subnational data for the US, and - hey wait a minute - any data at all for Canada. 

Richard Florida

Big Apple Bounce

It's been widely reported that US housing starts "surged" - rising 9.1 percent in June - after many months of decline and turmoil.  The seasonally adjusted rate of more than 1 million homes was seen to be a significant turnaround over a 2.7 percent decline in May.  Behind this shift was one anomaly - an extraordinary run-up in building permits in New York City before July 1st, when the city will enact new building codes as both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal report.  The Journal summarized it this way: "The gain was driven by soaring apartment construction, which was related to the New York building-rules change. Aside from the boost given by the building-regulation change, U.S. housing starts fell 4% in June." More evidence of the very differeent housing markets separating global real estate superstars from rustbelt regions, ex-urbs and overbuilt resort markets.

Richard Florida

Walkability Index

Walkscore.com has rated and ranked the "walkability" of more than 2500 US neighborhoods.  Here's the top 10. The site allows you to click on the city to get list of walkable neighborhoods. Nice maps too.

  • San Francisco
  • New York
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Philadelphia
  • Seattle
  • Washington D.C.
  • Long Beach
  • Los Angeles
  • Portland, OR

Some obvious ones: NYC's Tribeca, Little Italy and Soho; DC's Dupont and Logan Circles; Boston's Back Bay, Beacon Hill and South End.  But it's a terrific to see LA and Long Beach on the top 10 list.

July 17, 2008

Richard Florida

Sorted Nation

Part Three of our "sorted nation" conversation, that is Bill Bishop and me, with Planetizen's Nate Berg is up over at the Planetizen site. Click here.