Posts Tagged ‘place

26
Apr
09

Book review: Who’s your city?

I just finished reading the Canadian edition of Richard Florida’s latest book, Who’s Your City? and I thought that I’d give my thoughts on it, since a lot of the ground he covers relates to many of the things I discuss in this blog.

Florida, for those who don’t know, has recently risen to prominence as one of today’s best known urban theorists, even drawing comparisons to the late, great Jane Jacobs. His first book, The Rise of the Creative Class, published in 2002, garner widespread attention for his theories surrounding jobs in the “creative economy”, which includes basically any occupation that involves creative thinking, from health-care and law to science and the arts. He also believes that these new economies are the key to regenerating the urban economies of cities in post-industrial North America, which is where the urbanist side of his arguments comes into play.

With Who’s Your City?, Florida sets out to examine a simple question: Does place matter? If you’re a geographer like me, the answer to that question is of course yes; we spend a lot of time examining place and what exactly it means. In spite of that, though, I still found Florida’s book to be an engaging read, as he goes over what he feels makes place relevant in today’s society.

He begins by wondering why it is we spend so much time going over two fundamental questions about our lives (What we want to do as a career?, and Who do we want to spend it with (as in our life-partners or lack thereof)?) but so little about what is just as fundamental a question: Where do we want to live?

Florida then moves into the meat of his book, three sections on what makes place so important, and a final section in which he details the result of his research into the best places to live. In the first section, “Why place matters”, Florida essentially works to refute the claim that the world is flat—not in the Christopher Columbus sense, but in that many people believe that thanks to modern telecommunications, where you live and work no longer matters, and that you can be equally active in the world’s economy in Yellowknife as you can in Toronto or New York City. What Florida shows, however, is that the world is “spikey”, as he calls it, with economy activity, education and research concentrating in various regions of the world, or mega-regions. Florida looks beyond metropolitan areas to show that major cities tend to form connections with their neighbors, forming a regional economy where all cities in the area feed off one another, even trascending international borders. For instance, Florida puts Ottawa in a region he calls “Tor-Buff-Loo-Mon-Tawa”, stretching from Quebec City to as far south as Ithaca and Syracuse in New York and west to London. Florida thinks these mega-regions are the key to economic growth in the future.

In the second section of his book (“The wealth of place”), Florida details the importance of place in economic opportunity for individuals. Interestingly, he discusses how people will often say how they’re willing to move to where jobs are, but often make predetermined judgements about where to try to find jobs—most people would rather struggle to find work for a time in a place they love than settle into a steady job right off the bat in a place they detest. Florida also brings up some interesting research about how certain types of jobs tend to cluster in certain places. Some of these seem obvious: Washington DC is home to 78% of the United States’ political scientists, and Toronto has 38% of Canada’s financial and investment analysts. Others, however, seem less likely but occur nevertheless, such as Winnipeg, which, despite it’s population of just 630,000, is home to a whopping 12% of Canada’s musicians and singers! Florida makes a very strong case for there being a connection between our careers and where we choose to settle.

The third section of Florida’s book deals with a much more local scale than the other two, titled “The geography of happiness”. Here, he goes over his research into the connection between our happiness and where we live, finding, perhaps surprisingly to some, that on average place is more important to an indivdual’s happiness than personal finances. The rest of this section deals with how the places we live can affect our lives, and how our personalities can even match where we live, as Florida finds a fascinating geographic correlation between various personality types and where people live.

The final section of Florida’s book (“Where we live now”) deals with his research into what the best places to live for a variety of different groups of people (such as singles, retirerees, parents, etc.) are, and how said groups can further be sorted into various kinds of neighborhoods within cities. As well, the final chapter is what amounts to a guide to how to choose a place to live, essentially a self-help chapter.

Overall, if you’re interested in urban issues and where people chose to live (or, indeed, are unsure of why you should carefully consider where you live) Who’s Your City is an entertaining read. The book includes easy to understand statistics and data, and numerous maps and tables break up the text somewhat. Pulling from a variety of sources, including Florida’s own work and the research of others, it’s a comprehensive overview of what it is that makes place so important. Additionally, the Canadian edition does include a lot of information on Canadian cities (and Ottawa fares quite well), so if you’re worried about any information being America-centric, don’t, as the book has plenty to offer to Canadians as well as Americans.




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