Interview with Richard Florida on Columbus

Columbus Underground, April 18, 2017
By Brent Warren

Richard Florida, the well-known researcher, professor and author of the book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” has been chronicling the return-to-the-city movement since its beginnings in the 1980s. He’s been an advocate for a new type of economic development focused on creativity and innovation, and has spoken approvingly of the impact of the knowledge economy on cities.

But now the self-described “urban optimist” is taking a hard look at the dark side of the creative economy – the widening inequality in our cities and the fact that, while some urban neighborhoods are dealing with the problems of gentrification and new wealthy residents moving in, many more neighborhoods are struggling with persistent poverty, and remain isolated from any type of economic investment or opportunity......

CU: I just wrote about a program here called Move to Prosper, which will take poor families and provide support for them to move to what they call high opportunity neighborhoods. What are your thoughts on these types of programs?

RF: This really comes off the work of brilliant economist Raj Chetty, who argues, very convincingly, that economic mobility has slowed down, and that it is worse in sprawling areas and in highly segregated areas. His work suggests that if you take a poor kid out of a high-poverty neighborhood, the younger you do it, the better off that kid is.

We break these types of approaches to poverty into two types; people-oriented and place-oriented. Most of the urban optimists like me have always been for people-based policy; to, say, move people out of low opportunity neighborhoods to better neighborhoods. But if you take the smartest kids with the best familes out of these low opportunity neighborhoods, the neighborhood will ultimately get worse and worse, because the people who will get left behind are the people with the least opportunity and ability to move.

So I think that we should do people-based policies, I agree with them, but we also need to do place-based policies to bolster those neighborhoods, because if not, we’re just going to perpetuate this cycle, and those neighborhoods are going to get worse and worse.

CU: What are some examples of place-based strategies, for helping these very poor neighborhoods that have been that way for a long time?

RF: I’m a social scientist, so I’m a diagnostician, not a therapist so much, but in my book I talk about the incredible work of a couple of urban sociologists – Robert Sampson at Harvard and Patrick Sharkey at New York University – and I really defer to their work. I had been studying concentrated advantage, whereas they were studying concentrated disadvantage, and what we could see is that we were looking at flip sides of the same coin.

They both said that it can’t just be one thing, it has to be a full-tilt effort – you have to invest in schools, you have to invest in crime reduction, economic opportunity, job creation, neighborhood stabilization, work programs, creating on-ramps for people to get into the labor market, daycare, etc. So it has to be the full package, you’re not going to rescue these neighborhoods with bandaids. And we really haven’t had this kind of effort, because we really haven’t had a federal government policy.

I end up being kind of pessimistic about this with Trump in office…what’s going to happen is the city and states are going to have to solve their own problems. I actually re-wrote the book in the week after the election to emphasize that not only will places will have to do this on their own, but that we need very different approaches to the new urban crisis in different parts of our country.

In many ways, the problems of New York, San Francisco and LA are different than the problems of Columbus or Austin, which are very different than the problems of Detroit or Baltimore. So is it a one-size-fits-all urban policy any more? We’re going to have to have very local approaches to the new urban crisis.

Here is the link to see the complete story as it appeared in Columbus Underground on April 18, 2017: Columbus Underground: Richard Florida

Amy Klaben