Richard Florida cited by UK Conservatives

The Economist takes a look into the background of urban thinker Richard Florida, who has recently been cited by leading British Conservatives. Here an excerpt about Florida’s background:

Although less well-known in Europe, he is as close to a household name as it is possible for an urban theorist to be in America. In his best-selling books, highly paid speeches and frequent television interviews, Mr Florida has extolled one core idea: that the creative sector is the growth engine for Western economies as menial work migrates to developing countries.

Mr Florida’s definition of creative goes beyond the obvious artists and musicians to include anyone open to new ideas. He says businesses must give space and flexibility to these freethinkers, and that cities must attract lots of them to be successful. This means they must be green, clean, tolerant and cultured, typically with large gay and ethnic-minority populations…

His superstar status, as much as his ideas, have made him enemies. One Canadian newspaper columnist, fed up with his high profile after he became head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at Toronto University three years ago, started handing out badges that read “Please stop talking about Richard Florida”. More seriously, other academics have denounced his “snake oil economics”, his use of statistics and his confusion of causation and coincidence. Joel Kotkin, another writer about cities, points out that over the past 20 years far more jobs in America have been created in boring suburbs than in the multicultural city centres beloved of Mr Florida.

He describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially liberal.

There are some interesting things to think about based on this story:

1. How much evidence is there that Florida’s ideas can bring about a “quick fix” to depressed locations? In England, are they looking to his ideas for a quick turnaround or is this a long-term project?

2. I’ve seen and read some of this criticism of Florida by other academics. Some of it did seem based on envy of his status and money-making abilities – his books have done well, he is an expensive speaker, and he has had the ear of a number of politicians. At the same time, there are legitimate concerns about whether his ideas work in the real world. I’m particularly struck by Kotkin’s criticism as noted in this story – job growth in America has been primarily in the suburbs.

3. In another part of the story, The Economist hints that politicians who court thinkers or adopt ideologies can often be left struggling to convey or act upon these ideas. On one hand, it is remarkable that Florida gets so much attention from politicians – few academics ever draw this kind of attention. On the other hand, when social scientists and urban thinkers do have a chance to influence politics, what are the outcomes?

h/t The Infrastructurist

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