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Richard Florida is author of the global best-seller "The Rise of the Creative Class." His latest books are the "The Great Reset," and "The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited,"[…]

Why the local programs and approaches developed by Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Cory Booker should be models for the rest of the world.

Question: Where should we be looking for best practices around the world? 

Richard Florida: That’s a great question.  I think there’s one place to look.  And it’s not because I’m interested in them.  I think in this global world, what we’ve minimized in this idea that the world is becoming global, we’re all becoming the same, that the world is flat.  We’ve minimized the role of cities.  And this is why I’ve been spending a lot of my time working on cities.  Not because I love cities, but because I think they are important.  I actually think they are the key institutional actors.  In Rise of the Creative Class, I’ve said a couple of things.  I’ve said, one, that place is coming to replace the company as the key social and organization unit of the creative economy.  It’s place that brings together people, it’s place that collects people, talented people, ambitious people, whatever – entrepreneurial people.  It’s place that attaches us to work in a mobile society.  And I said also that the key struggles of our time would no longer be factory struggles, they would literally be struggles about how our cities are used, who’s moved around, gentrification, all of those things are coming true. 

But what I think is really interesting is that if you look at mayors around the world.  And the question I would always ask is, why would somebody, like in your hometown, somebody like Mike Bloomberg – do you remember the mayors, the people who used to be mayor of New York, right?  For Newark, where I grew up?  Corey Booker is the Mayor of Newark now.  Now, these are completely dysfunctional people who were mayors.  So, you’ve got a whole new group of people who are more business sophisticated and in some ways, let’s not even take the United States.  Who do you think is more powerful, the Prime Minister of England or the Mayor of London?  Now, I’m making a broad statement.  They may be both very powerful people.  In China, who is really powerful?  The guy who runs China, or the Mayor of Shanghai?  So, the Mayors have their hands on this really interesting, very powerful economic unit and I think at the city level, we are beginning to see people ask these kinds of deep questions.  What I worry about is this almost a disconnect. 

And the other thing that’s so fascinating, I can tell you, you could tell me, anyone out there can say the difference between a Democrat and a Republican, a liberal and a conservative in a Congress or a Parliament at the national level, they’re like ideologically distinct people.  I go to visit a city, I meet a Mayor, Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, if I don’t know, I can’t tell.  You know, what is Bloomberg, what is Cory Booker, what is my friend John Hickenlooper in Denver.  I don’t know.  I guess I can go find out, but they all seem very – Adrian Fenney in Washington D.C., they’re all very similar.  And it’s not ideologically driven; it’s about making the city work pragmatically.  So, I think the real place to look for these best practices is at the city level.  And the cities are probably the places doing the most for the environment and we know that they’re environmentally dense.  Cities are better environmentally better anyway because they have to, big advances in education in retooling their school systems.  They’re the right place to do productivity policy, or economic policy, not at the federal level because they’re closer to the action. 

So, I think the place to look is at the city level and I think maybe as much as we need G2, right?  The China and the U.S., and we need a G8, and we need a G20.  Maybe what we really need is to get some of these Mayors involved in the dialogue and begin to learn, not from everything they’ve done, but some of the best examples, and I think the federal governments, the national governments would be well served by saying, look, we’ve got companies out there we can tap.  We’ve got workers and union organizations we can tap for information.  But these mayors and these cities are actually developing in a very small way, in a local way, programs and approaches that we should take a look at. 

Question: Which leaders are displaying best practices right now? 

Richard Florida: Well, my friends in the states, I’d come look at Toronto.  I mean, where we’re hanging.  I’m glad you could come up here.  I mean I think in Toronto, the whole effort – one, to stim entrepreneurship, two, to really invest in the creative economy.  And that is creating a backlash here.  We’re getting artists and musicians saying, hold on, hold on.  I’m not a commodity.  I’m an artist.  I don’t know if I want to – and this dialogue that’s happening in this city where we begin to see real estate price appreciation because we have it here again.  And people saying, no, no, wait, we have to go slow.  Trying to figure out this balance between entrepreneurial action, the nature of the development in the city, the engagement of creative industries and creative people, and find a balance.  We’re really concerned in Toronto about mounting inequality.  Now, we don’t have inequality like we have in the United States.  But my god, we’re beginning to see economic segmentation.  People are very concerned about this. 

The thing about Toronto that really blows my mind.  We’re to have another mayor’s race.  Our current mayor is a terrific mayor and he’s a spectacular guy and cares about this and understands it.  We have two or three candidates already with their hats in the ring, all of whom would be spectacular mayors.  I mean, it’s like there’s three or four people running for mayor, all who are equally smart and engaged. 

But I think focusing on entrepreneurship is one.  Focusing on, of course, technology, and that’s been a big theme.  Mike Porter and cluster building.  That’s been a big theme for urban development now for a generation.  I think this idea of getting creative people engaged, that we started the kick off, my team and I, getting creative people engaged.  Getting them motivated, getting them involved in the economy, dealing with urban inequality, dealing with the environment, making a city that’s creative, sustainable, inclusive, and just.  I mean, not just a city that is rich.  And one of the things that we’ve been trying to do is figure out other measures of economic activity that are not just material goods.  So, everybody out there has heard about happiness.  We’ve actually been measuring the happiness, not just of nations, but of cities, and states.  Cities and states that have a bigger creative economy, the people are happier. 

The role of diversity.  I think this is a key one.  I’ve talked about this until I’m blue in the face.  You can’t have a great city unless you are open to diversity and everyone can contribute.  We find that.  The other thing that we’ve been looking at, which is just a mind blower, I started to get interested in health.  And I think part of it is, I saw people – my parents were lifelong smokers.  My dad died of lung cancer – I hate those things.  I’m sorry.  But I saw people stop smoking.  I’ve never been a smoker, but – and I saw all these people starting to lose weight.  Right, it became a big thing, they’re going to lose weight and get in shape.  So, I advanced this little hypothesis.  What if the shift to smoking and away from obesity, what if this was something that was being caused by the post industrial economy itself; not just rising incomes.  What if we could try to determine that healthier behavior, whether it’s higher levels of satisfaction in your life and with everything, but no more smoking and no more eating of massive quantities of fast food. 

We’ve just been doing this research and the results are so mind blowing.  In places that have more of this creative economy, that have nurtured it and built it, that it’s more robust, that have higher educated populations, that’s more involved in the creative industries, significantly lower rates of obesity, significantly lower rates of smoking.  Controlling for income and economics.  So, I think something is happening in the places that do this that go quite beyond and the mayors are beginning – we’re beginning to get a handle – you might say no smoking policy or the labeling of food, all of these little things – a good buddy of mine came back from England, he’s a great economic developer.  He actually runs the big economic development organization for North America.  It’s actually the world, but it’s mainly the U.S. and Canada.  And he said, you know, in our field, economic development and city development, it used to have a big fisher, or a big game hunter go out and get that auto plant, or that big convention center, or bring that big ball team to town.  He said, “If you want to do that, go to China.”  It’s the most remarkable thing.  He said, all the big projects, the big plants, the big steel mills, they’re all going to be in China.  If you want to do that, go to China.  He said, what’s so interesting in managing a city now is it’s a bunch of little things that we typically haven’t thought about. Making your creative industries better.  Making sure your artists and musicians have support.  Making sure the place is beautiful and physically interesting in people.  Investing in parks and green space.  Making sure that entrepreneurs, like Bloomberg is doing, have the supports they need and the space – the affordable space.  Jane Jacobs said new ideas require old buildings.  All of these millions and zillions of little things that are very locally rooted, that upgrade the capability of people, and that’s a mind shift that’s beginning to happen in some cities.  

Recorded on December 14, 2009