July 6, 2008

My review of Richard Florida's "Who's Your City?"

Here's the opening of my American Conservative book review of the self help book from the popular social scientist:

Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life, Richard Florida, Basic Books, 384 pages]

If you are a nonfiction writer whose name isn't Barack Obama, you probably aren’t going to get rich off serious books. Instead, the two likeliest ways to cash in are by speaking at corporate and government gatherings or by penning a self-help book.

Dr. Richard Florida, a professor of something called "Business and Creativity" at the University of Toronto, has already made a pile on the lecture circuit flogging to death his one big idea—cities and companies must put "creative" people first—as embodied in his books The Rise of the Creative Class, Cities and the Creative Class, and The Flight of the Creative Class. Notice a pattern here?

As a self-promoter, it doesn’t hurt that Florida is a handsome, strapping fellow who looks like Hollywood leading man Aaron Eckhart, the smarmy tobacco lobbyist in "Thank You for Smoking." He is said to command a $35,000 fee per appearance.

He is now leveraging his brand by expanding into the self-help genre with Who's Your City? How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life. If you can't decide whether to move to Portland or Austin, Florida has the book for you. (As you've no doubt noticed by now, it's hard to write lucidly about Florida's theories about location because he shares his last name with an important location, which snarls everything up. I will henceforth call him Dr. Vibrant, in honor of one of his favorite words.)

... Where you live can have a huge influence on your career. You can't, say, write sitcoms unless you live in Los Angeles. They just won't hire you. And while you can write opinion journalism without living in New York or Washington, you'd be ill advised to try.

Instead, Dr. Vibrant emphasizes how a critical mass of creative talents sparks itself to new heights. Although that is sometimes true—it can also just result in groupthink—a more cynical explanation for the economic advantage of living near your customers is that human beings tend to be nicer to people they meet frequently.

Dr Vibrant is less willing to explore the main reason that real estate is so seldom brought up in American public discourse: intellectuals fear that if they mention in public what everybody is concerned about in private when looking for a place to live—the relationship between demographics, crime, and school quality—they'll wind up out of a job, like legendary biologist James Watson. ... As a result, his book is infected with professionally cautious "advice" like this: "The quality and range of schools is certainly critical for parents of school-age children … You'll need to dig this information out yourself."

Well, that was $26.95 well spent.

When he's not intentionally unhelpful, he's obtuse. For example, in Who's Your City, he reprints a popular map of America he put up on his blog in 2007 showing that the largest surpluses of extra single men are in Southwestern cities, near the Mexican border. Having had a year to think it over, Dr Vibrant asserts, "The best ratio for heterosexual women was in greater Los Angeles, where single men outnumber single women by 40,000."

So if a bachelorette doesn't quite have the looks to land a husband in, say, Cincinnati, she should hightail it to L.A., where there's much less competition from attractive women. Yeah, right …

The obvious reason there are so many more single men than single women in the Southwest is that there are so many illegal alien males there. The kind of single women who buy hardcover advice books probably aren't that interested in a Mixtec-speaking drywaller, but Dr. Vibrant ignores such potentially controversial topics.

He has, after all, built his success on telling business and civic leaders that if they want their dreary little burgh to become the next Silicon Valley, they'll need a lot of homosexuals, like in San Francisco. He says, "Gays predict not only the concentration of high-tech industry, but also its growth …"

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

33 comments:

agnostic said...

if they want their dreary little burgh to become the next Silicon Valley, they'll need a lot of homosexuals, like in San Francisco.

Oh I see plenty of them in high-tech computer-nerd jobs.

"Omigod, there's a bug in my prograaaaaam!"

"Omigod, get it OFF, get it OFFFFF!"

testing99 said...

Oh jeez that's funny. Gays just naturally attract all those pocket-protector nerdy guys inventing new technologies. Yeah. Right.

Richard Florida and that "What's the Matter with Kansas" Thomas Frank guy are two of the biggest con men this side of Gladwell and Diamond.

Anonymous said...

Hilarious misreading of stats that lead to a tragic conclusion of advising women to move to Los Angeles.
Let me tell you what I know from watching women friends who moved here from the east coast:
If you're amazing looking, between the ages of 18 to 25, LA is the place to be. Otherwise, stay away. You'll end up a spinster, or you'll marry somebody that isn't anywhere near your ideal man.
If you're a male, between the ages of 18 to 70, aren't fat, and make over 500k a year, LA is really the place to be. Otherwise, you'd do better anywhere else.
Again, if you're a female, do NOT move to LA unless you meet the above criteria. You will regret it.
You can't be just "good looking," you must be striking, as in stop-the-party-and-look-at-her striking, or for godssake, stay away. You'll wind up a very bitter old unmarried woman. I promise.

Garland said...

New York and San Francisco/bay area are two of the biggest cultural and technological centers in the country and as we all know they didn't take off until they first became gay meccas.

Some of my favorite Mark Twain pieces are his wicked descriptions of all the shenanigans in the Castro.

And there are some great historical accounts of the parties on Christopher Street the night George Washington was sworn in.

TGGP said...

The site originally hosting Steve's review of Cities and the Rise of the Creative Class no longer has it. So read it here.

steve wood said...

The kind of single women who buy hardcover advice books probably aren't that interested in a Mixtec-speaking drywaller, but Dr. Vibrant ignores such potentially controversial topics.

They're probably not too interested in English-speaking drywallers, either, which shows how obtuse Dr V really is.

While race and, to some extent, ethnicity are taboo topics, social class is not. People talk about it all the time using euphemisms like "professional" or "college-educated." If Florida wanted to provide useful information, or even make a credible point, he could have avoided this ludicrous misstatement by saying something like, "single women looking to meet professional [or "college-educated"] men should move to [someplace, but probably not LA]." The fact that he ignored this option indicates that he doesn't know what he's talking about or else doesn't care.

Anonymous said...

"Gays predict not only the concentration of high-tech industry, but also its growth …"

Consider the extensive and growing high-tech industry in Provincetown, Key West, and pre-Katrina New Orleans.

Michael T said...

Liberals just can't get enough of being told what they want to hear. And to think they laugh at Christians...

Peter said...

As best I can determine, Richard Florida is one of only four well-known people with state names as surnames. The others are John Maine, Joe Montana, and Bob Montana.

I'm not counting anyone named Washington, as that state was of course named after a person.

Steve Sailer said...

Yes, America has some weird state-names. Compare it to English county names: Michael York, John Derbyshire, etc etc ...

Anonymous said...

"if they want their dreary little burgh to become the next Silicon Valley, they'll need a lot of homosexuals, like in San Francisco"

Hey, maybe proximity to the San Andreas fault is a necessary condition for hi-tech industry?

Funny how I often see liberals swearing that correlation (for some unpleasant fact) is not causation but now it turns out it is after all.

Anonymous said...

Lovely little post. There's nobody better at spotting this stuff and explaining its effects (if there are contenders I want to know them folks).

That said, the lovely-littleness of the post makes me regret you don't often tackle the bigger issues.

Golf and Gladwell are intersting, but government and God really matter.

If you'll permit the compliment, it seems to me an analyst so rarely perceptive and brave ought more often to tackle the big taboo questions than the small taboo questions. I know I ask a lot.

H. said...

What most people, even unmarried ones, need to live in is--as Steve has documented--an AFF area, probably a suburb near a major inland city. I have been to many neighborhoods in 17 states, and have been amazed at how similar AFF streets are: quiet, except for children playing, well-maintained and peaceful. It's apparent that gays move in _after_ a place has become stylish, and that they tend to stigmatize and ruin it, too.

William said...

Is Dick Florida, the guy pushing the theory that "gay guys are good for you" really not gay? 'Cause he just sets my gaydar abuzzing.

I did actually manage to finish his first big breakthrough book, "Rise of the Creative Class," and it read like a gay guy having a little spat. I tried to write a review for Amazon to warn potential readers away but it was just so all around full of crap that I didn't know where to start.

At one point in his book he actually recommends a particular model of desk - you know like Sauderbrand & Shallerburton #319AA625 - to help introduce the creative vibe into your office. Musta done well. By the time I read his book, 2 years after publication, I couldn't find it listed anywhere online.

His data was entirely self-referential. It established absolutely nothing. If I recall, he used those magazine lists - the kind designed to sell magazines; the kind where the top 10 turn over completely every other year - to determine the most creative cities. To the extent anything in his book was true, it wasn't new. To the extent it was new, it wasn't true.

The idea, for example, that even creative heterosexual workers look to work for companies that give benefits to gays was based on no surveys or factual data, but rather on a handful of friends and students saying they like to work for such places - probably because they think (or know) that Florida is gay trying to ingratiate theirselves with him.

At one point, in "Rise" or somewhere else, he castigates the City of Memphis for not attracting the right type of "creative class" jobs even as its job base grew quickly. I've been to Memphis - I lived there for a few years - and I can tell you that anyone who can attract any jobs to the area is doing a pretty damn good, even if every last one is sweeping floors. The city is rotting at the core - and it has a very large and growing core.

Which brings me to the next topic: race. Florida seemed to be completely flummoxed as to why cities with large numbers of blacks and Hispanics don't do well. Hmmm - that ones got me stumped, too. All he knows is that his theory

And the fact that some gay meccas like Key West don't fit into his gays are good for the creative economy schtick? Hmmm - maybe it's because what gays are attracted to is vibrancy and night life. When you're a single on-the-prowl bachelor (who always will be) you want a town with good night life.

Don't get me wrong: I do think Florida has some points, but most of them have been better made elsewhere, without the sticks and duct tape abode Florida builds around it. "Tolerance" is important for economic strength and that's long been known. But to what extent is tolerance really measured by things like the number of businesses that give health benefits to gay couples? How 'bout instead more simple measures like, oh, crime rates?

And the "creative class" certainly is the most important part of an economy these days, but to him "creative class" is almost virtually synonymous with "educated class," plus a few pot smokers to play the tunes. What's really new about that?

Where he does nothing is describe how a nation or city creates the creatives. He gives zero attention to the role of having a good school system in creating, keeping, and attracting creatives, especially as they enter their childbearing years. He pays no attention to tax rates in their calculations. And while he (sometimes) fairly castigates suburbs for being a little too boring and too concerned with low taxes, he ignores all the problems cities have had and still have, like too high taxes, too much crime, too much regulatory meddling, and too little affordable housing for middle class child rearers.

Florida is popular with leftist bureacrats and pols because he tells them exactly what they want to hear: spend taxpayers money on your prerogatives, all you want, and give yourselves a raise: because low taxes are not what attracts talented people - it's more gay people!

Anonymous said...

Funny how I often see liberals swearing that correlation (for some unpleasant fact) is not causation but now it turns out it is after all.

That's an important point. Of course liberal discourse makes politically correct correlation=causation fine. Poverty causes crime, reading Baby Einstein to your tots leads to Harvard et al.

Non politically correct correlations(that might correlate better than the PC one) are verboten.

The other thing about Florida is that he thinks creative economies are fungible. They're not. Like Steve notes, LA is LA. Trying to replicate it in say, Phoenix, will be a disaster. Critical masses can't be recreated.

guest007 said...

For a high tech industry to develop, a city needs one world class university, and several other good universities. It is easy for Boston, SF, and NYC to do this. It is much harder Las Vegas or Key West to pull it off.

A better question is that any correlation between the presence of large number of college students with having large number of homosexuals around.

c23 said...

Re: gays as tech magnets, here's some insight from Paul Graham:

The Bay Area was a magnet for the young and optimistic for decades before it was associated with technology. It was a place people went in search of something new. And so it became synonymous with California nuttiness. There's still a lot of that there. If you wanted to start a new fad-- a new way to focus one's "energy," for example, or a new category of things not to eat-- the Bay Area would be the place to do it. But a place that tolerates oddness in the search for the new is exactly what you want in a startup hub, because economically that's what startups are. Most good startup ideas seem a little crazy; if they were obviously good ideas, someone would have done them already.

(How many people are going to want computers in their houses? What, another search engine?)

That's the connection between technology and liberalism. Without exception the high-tech cities in the US are also the most liberal. But it's not because liberals are smarter that this is so. It's because liberal cities tolerate odd ideas, and smart people by definition have odd ideas.


He doesn't directly mention homosexuals, but the implication is obvious.

For the record, Paul Graham is apparently what they call a conservative in SF and Boston, where he operates, though red staters like me would hardly recognize him as such.

albertosaurus said...

To attribute Silicon Valley to gays is a very bizarre notion because the genesis of Silicon Valley is so well documented.

In short, Bardeen and Schockley invented the transitor and formed Fairchild. Their disciples walked across the street and founded Intel, and then AMD, and then National Semiconductor and then about a dozen other companies.

Every time there was an innovation some of the guys started a new company based on it - across the street.

At the time the real estate was cheap and capital was available - creativity flourished. All that was needed was that first spark - a racist genius.

There were virtually no women in the history of Silicon Valley, no blacks or mexicans, and no gays. There were a number of Indians (e.g. Koshla) and East Asians (e.g. Wang).

I once interviewed Schockly. I forgot to ask him if he attributed his creativity to the homosexuals he knew. I can however imagine his answer.

Josh said...

Re homosexuals,Florida(I just picture the overweight black woman from Good Times--I of course mean Dr. Vibrant, a name which conjures up some kind of phoney womens sex therapist...)is probably pretty wrong about gays making a city a prosperous happening place,but...within a large city they are very helpful in reviving moribund neighborhoods. In Chicago--where the gays have not quite succeeded in bringing in loads of hi-tech industry,--gays move into seedy neighborhoods and make them very desirable for party people. Gays,the white ones at least,as well as the Asians,too,I guess,(who I assume are a lot more welcome in the Gay circles than the blacks and Hispanics) have lots of money. They move in,turn the hood into a party zone,the cool young people arrive,and then the young married slowly creep in,with stores selling baby carriages suddenly appearing, frightening the drag queens who are stumbling home at 5:30 in the morning wearing zebra-pattered evening gowns,who tell their partners those famous words we have all heard our parents and sometimes ourselves say:"Its time to move!" BTW,is Florida,uhmm,creative?

steve wood said...

For a high tech industry to develop, a city needs one world class university, and several other good universities. It is easy for Boston, SF, and NYC to do this. It is much harder Las Vegas or Key West to pull it off.

Universities certainly help, but it's not quite that simple. What is Seattle's "world-class" university? UW is a good school, and the medical school is highly ranked in terms of NIH dollars, but it's hardly "world class" in the way Harvard, Stanford(which I assume is what you mean when you include SF on the list), and Columbia are. What about Austin? Once again, this is a high-tech city with a good, but not Ivy-level, school.

Meanwhile, Chicago has the University of Chicago, Philadelphia has Penn, Baltimore has Johns Hopkins, and none of them are particularly noted as high-tech cities.

I agree that a strong base in higher education is important. Maybe it doesn't need to be world-class so much as it needs to BIG - because big schools throw off a lot more money and jobs than small schools* - and respectable. On the other hand, obviously, the education base is not enough. Other factors must come into play.

*And do so disproportionately to the difference in size. A good school with 40,000 students will generate more than 10 times the local energy than a good school with 4,000 students.

A better question is that any correlation between the presence of large number of college students with having large number of homosexuals around.

I'm not sure what you're getting at here, but it wouldn't be surprising if there were such a correlation. College towns are famously tolerant places, and so are big cities. Combine the two, and you have a natural drawing card for anyone whose inclinations, interests and activities fall outside the mainstream.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

"Gays predict not only the concentration of high-tech industry, but also its growth …"

How? Do you have to break 'em open and count the seeds or something?

Anonymous said...

High Tech Comes To Provincetown

From your Bostonherald.com 7 July 2008:

One complaint, issued in 2007, was from a New Jersey family walking in the dunes [st Provincetown National Rec Area] who encountered couples and a large group of men having “sex in the nude, including oral and anal sex right out in the open,” the Cape Cod Times reported last week.

“The majority is gay, but we’ve had issues with hetero sex as well. Families are upset and outraged,” Price said.


Talk about your vibrant! Where do I go to invest my .. er ... seed money.

Steve Sailer said...

For the SF Bay area, the question for Florida is why Silicon Valley grew up around the exurban rich kid's school, Stanford, instead of the famously diverse and tolerant Berkeley.

By the way, the key figures in the history of Silicon Valley are Fred Terman and William Shockley:

From Wikipedia:

Frederick Emmons Terman (born June 7, 1900 in English, Indiana; died December 19, 1982) was an American academic. He is widely credited (together with William Shockley) with being the father of Silicon Valley.

Terman completed his undergraduate degree in chemistry and his master's degree in electrical engineering at Stanford University. His father Lewis Terman, the man who popularized the IQ test in America, was a professor at Stanford. Terman went on to earn an ScD in electrical engineering from MIT in 1924. ...

From 1925 to 1941 Terman designed a course of study and research in electronics at Stanford that focused on work with vacuum tubes, circuits, and instrumentation. ... Terman's students at Stanford included Oswald Garrison Villard, jr., William Hewlett, and David Packard. Just before World War II, Terman decided to dedicate some of the unused land on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto to an industrial park, called Stanford Industrial Park. He encouraged Hewlett and Packard to form a company (Hewlett-Packard) and house it on campus.

Peter said...

In addition to turning around urban neighborhoods, gay men saved the whole city of Asbury Park, New Jersey. Before they began moving in several years ago, the downtown and waterfront area was basically a moonscape. I happened to drive through the city in 1998 or 1999, just before the gay influx began, and was utterly shocked at the desolation. Asbury Park was in such bad shape that it had been unable to hold onto its last remaining industry ... Medicaid-funded boarding houses for deinstitutionalized mental patients. Everyone else had given up on the city, except for the gays.

Anonymous said...

"Gays,the white ones at least,as well as the Asians,too,I guess,(who I assume are a lot more welcome in the Gay circles than the blacks and Hispanics) have lots of money."

There is a demand for ‘safe’ blacks in the gay community. Most of the gays I know are some of the most pro-black people I have ever met. However many of them stay away from black neighbourhoods and can be na├»ve about such places. Most of them could not stand any criticism of black people at all. My Bangladeshi homosexual (they exist!) friend refused to accept the IQ table of ‘IQ and wealth of nations’. The fact that blacks are at the bottom of the pit nearly brought angry tears to his eyes.

Anonymous said...

For the SF Bay area, the question for Florida is why Silicon Valley grew up around the exurban rich kid's school, Stanford, instead of the famously diverse and tolerant Berkeley.

Because we're smarter! Median SAT gap is like 150 points. Duh :)

Also, the East Bay can get a lot chillier than the South Bay.

I'll give Berkeley some credit: BSD and Postgres. Not bad. But we've got Google, Yahoo, Sun, Cisco, VMWare, ...

Mark said...

The fact that blacks are at the bottom of the pit nearly brought angry tears to his eyes.

Oh be careful where you go with that. I made the the casual assumption that everyone on another blog understood the reality of that one and the sky came down. Aside from the bile, people were actually demanding proof that black crime rates were higher.

Some people - very, very, very large numbers of people - have a way of turning a blind eye to the very most obvious. To them a Rube Goldberg contraption (say, one built to explain the black condition) seems positively minimalist.

Anonymous said...

"Aside from the bile, people were actually demanding proof that black crime rates were higher."


Where do these people live? Burlington, Vermont? What blog were you on? Not being aware of a higher (much, much higher) black crime rate in most metropolitan areas, is asking to murdered/raped/robbed, etc. It is not only higher, it is phenomenally higher.

Mark said...

Where do these people live? Burlington, Vermont? What blog were you on?

Oh, wouldn't any liberal blog do?

For the record it was Obsidian Wings, which is (apparently) a reasonably popular left-wing blog I just followed a link there from Jonah on the Jesse Helms story, then wasted way more of my time than I wanted.

I'll repeat the final argument I made here:

How, pray tell do you explain "white racism" and its mythical effect on the black condition? What is its mechanism of existence? How does it get passed from one group of whites, in the South, to those in LA, Detroit, New York, Paris, London, wherever? How is it that it effects blacks and, to a lesser degree, Hispanics, but is curiously inoperative on Jews and Asians? Is it passed on through the DNA? Is it passed on through secret societies with secret handshakes? What is its method of transmission and survival?

You posit an explanation with no explanatory power, via a method that somehow seems to leap across mountain ranges, deserts, and oceans; that seems to have its effect on its target (blacks) even in places where its carrier (whites) do not appear. Seems like an absolutely amazing gene. Or is it a virus?

The world may never know...

But one thing is for sure: you are perfectly willing to blame the black condition entirely on people of another race - which is in itself racism; yet give them no credit for their own condition.

Anonymous said...

Ive just been wasting my time on Obsidian Wings too. Still it stirs them up a bit.

What an unpleasant elitist group they are to be sure.

Mark said...

Ive just been wasting my time on Obsidian Wings too. Still it stirs them up a bit. What an unpleasant elitist group they are to be sure.

Loved your comments on OW, BTW, but careful, Cronulla: Russell's tired of dealing with the "real world" folks.

I wouldn't even consider them elitist. They're just the typical obnoxious holier-than-thou leftists who consider every left winger a saint and every right winger to be the spawn of Satan. I've visited probably well over a 100 blogs over the last few years and the commenters on the right wing sites are always more charitable and decent than those at the left wing sites.

These guys literally accuse every conservative to be the equivalent of Jesse Helms. Yet the real reason they love the "Jesse Helms is dead story" (besides the fact that Jesse Helms is dead) is that it gives them an opportunity to put Helms's racist statements back on the front page.

Because let's face it: of the literally thousands of conservative and quasi-conservative Republicans elected high and low, nationwide, who do they really have to point to? Not anyone. The most likely guy they would compare him to would be former Immigration Caucus chair Tom Tancredo, on whom they have precisely nothing.

When one Utah state legislator referred to a bill saying "This baby is black; it's a dark, ugly thing," it became the NAACP fundraising event of the decade.

I guess what the debate really shows is how political & ideological differences can't really be described well by the traditional left/right spectrum, as though on a number line. "Liberals" and "conservatives" truly live in different worlds, with what are often entirely different assumptions about the way the world works. This is one reason why on major US Supreme Court decisions the divide is so often predictable, no matter what the issue.

Assuming that black poverty and misery is caused by racism leads to an entirely different set of solutions than when you assume that the differences are innate. In fact the latter leads to no solution to any "problem" that can be "solved" (currently) at all; it leads only to a condition which can only be endured and, in some blessed cases, ameliorated.

To get slightly back on topic, I can't point to any solution to the black poverty problem provided by "Dr. Vibrant," which makes it interesting that so many mayors pay so much attention to his pronouncements. In Rise of the Creative Class, left-wing saint Dick Vibrant all but wrote them off.

Black Sea said...

mark asked:

"How, pray tell do you explain "white racism" and its mythical effect on the black condition? . . . Seems like an absolutely amazing gene. Or is it a virus?"

To which Susan Sontag, were she still with us, would no doubt reply with this ready diagnosis:

"The white race is the cancer of human history; it is the white race and it alone --- its ideologies and inventions --- which eradicates autonomous civilizations wherever it spreads, which has upset the ecological balance of the planet, which now threatens the very existence of life itself."


So apparently it (racism) is more a matter of metastisis than viral contagion. It's good to have that riddle solved.

By the way, Steven Malanga wrote a long and effective rebuttal of Florida's "Creative Class" thesis in City Journal:

http://www.city-journal.org/html/14_1_the_curse.html

David Davenport said...

Question: are East Asian centers of techno excellence adjacent to homosexual neighborhoods? Do Sony, Hitachi, Toyota and so on have lots of homosexuals on staff?