Friday, July 17, 2009

"The Big Sort" - concepts by Richard Florida

I just finished reading "Who’s Your City" (2008) – by Richard Florida

The important concepts are:
1) The world isn’t flat, it’s spikey
2) "The big sort" is happening now
3) The decision of where to live will increasingly impact your chances to connect to others at the top of these global spikes

This is Richard Florida’s idea, supported by several maps, that there is a scene for nearly every type of economic activity. As creatives increasingly rely on innovation with other like minded or similarly interested people, cities are serving to collect and aggregate specific types of thinkers and do-ers. Some of the more obvious examples are Nashville for Music, New York City for Fashion and Finance, Los Angeles for Entertainment, San Francisco Bay Area for Technology, etc. Interestingly, each of these scenes is becoming increasing concentrated and if you show the concentrations on a map the resulting visualization is spikes of varying intensity dotting the globe. Florida refutes Thomas Friedman’s famous thesis that information and communications technology is allowing us to work from anywhere and that the world has become more egalitarian or “flatter” thus opening up opportunities to people and areas that never had access before. Florida argues that the true professionals work at the top of their spikes and are connected in ways never before imaginable to the other large spikes across the globe. These connections serve to further consolidate spikey places making participation almost impossible for those located in alternative markets.

The Big Sort
This leads to the “big sort”, as peaks and valleys develop in the economic world there will be distinct winners and losers. Those willing and able to relocate are doing so now. People without the means or THE PERSONALITY to relocate are being left behind to increasingly marginal social positions. Florida spends a great deal of time discussing the personality characteristics of various urban areas based on the concentration of specific personality types. The idea that a city has its own personality based on the types of people it draws in is a compelling theory that I think many people will anecdotally agree with. The important point here is that as relocation get’s cheaper and easier, people are clustering in like minded groups. Diversity as we know it is being undone. When people are no longer tied to place, place becomes all the more important. Living in NYC gives me an interesting perspective here. In New York, there’s a neighborhood for virtually anyone. In a way, NYC is a small replica of Richard Florida’s world. Certain neighborhoods experience the extreme clustering he describes and it is easy to see how people have begun to self select neighborhood based on personality.

Where to Live?
The premise of the book is this; Where you decide to live will impact every moment of your life in ways that it never did before. Economic and social opportunities that used to be more diffuse are clustering and altering the geo-political landscape and it will be easy to be left behind if you aren’t paying attention.

My Thoughts
I spend a lot of time thinking about place. A friend of mine is currently working for a real estate development company that intends to begin revitalizing small to medium sized downtowns. Richard Florida’s book underscores my advice to him, which is: Find a scene to locate there and push for its growth. I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to construct a scene, but it may be possible to identify a burgeoning one and help it along. Rather than try to resist “the big sort” I would try to use economic jujitsu to redirect it towards a given place or try to tie nearby places into those pre-existing spikes.