Friday, September 17, 2010 10:18 AM
IML creative blog
I just finished the latest book from Richard Florida author of Rise of the Creative Class (a perspective which I find very interesting). His new book is titled The Great Reset. In it he describes our current situation in the U.S. as less of a great crisis and more of a Great Reset, or opportunity for sweeping changes in the way we work, live, spend, save and the geography of where we do these things.
Florida bases his idea that massive changes in who we are as a Country and how we behave are reasonable to expect based on the study of historical sea changes during, and immediately following depressions in the U.S. in the late 1800s and the 1930s. The idea is that history will repeat itself to adjust to our new economic and social realities.
My interest in the Great Reset as it relates to this blog is the role of technology and a shift to economic opportunities base on an economy of ideas and creative development. Both are aligned with the foundations of Interactive Media Lab. You may be surprised about technology’s role from Florida’s perspective, as well as his ideas about the creative potential in what have traditionally been considered the least creative categories of jobs.
Florida argues that economic crises reset the conditions for technological innovation, consumption and demand. Instead of wasting public investment on bailing out industries of the American past such as the domestic auto industry, we should use these dollars to invest in building the opportunities of the future. He says these bailouts just extend the demise of these old models of business.
In our near future the emphasis on home ownership becomes less important and even counterproductive to our economic recovery. Cities in the US are big drivers of growth, and Florida cites research that actually shows cities accelerate innovation and creativity because of the proximity of creative thinkers to each other. This proximity has a compounding effect.
Renting instead of owning in the future will allow individuals to live in cities more efficiently both environmentally and from a working perspective. It also allows for job mobility so that we can more easily move to opportunities rather than trying to prop up failing models because we are physically tied down to them.
When it comes to technology there is a line of thinking that says that new technologies in transportation and communication will spread us out geographically and will make where we live unimportant. The argument is that the world will get flatter, but Florida sees the role of technology differently. He says there is actually a tendency for things to concentrate to, “take advantage of these forces of agglomeration and human capital.” He reminds us that we are social beings and points to research showing productivity and performance are much higher in urban areas. Not just here, but even in emerging economies.
Moving forward, people will become more concentrated in geographic mega-regions. There will be less home ownership as we move past its mythology and more renting of living space. This will provide increased job mobility.
With the creation of these mega-regions there will be increased traffic which will result in more walking and biking, more telecommuting, and a greater need of fast efficient public transportation. Given these predictions, spending money on the right kinds of public projects is of great importance. These projects include the expansion of broadband internet, improvements of airports, high-speed rail connecting mega-regions, and mixed use zoning changes in cities.
According to Florida, It’s a waste to spend money on more road capacity. This encourages problems of the past including sprawl, environmental degradation, and ill-advised home ownership often ending in foreclosure. But building smarter roads, actually charging for road usage to encourage alternative travel options and changing zoning codes in cities to allow much more mixed use between living and working are worthwhile.
Florida predicts that there will be geographic winners and losers, but argues that propping up inevitable losers makes the transition to economic recovery more difficult, longer and more expensive. Adjusting to these realities will not be comfortable for everyone, and in some cases will not be possible. Change will happen, but it will be important to account for these situations in the mix of opportunity creation.
None of this will happen overnight. If you look at the history of the depressions in the late 1800s and the 1930s recovery from each was over a span of time of about 20 years. However it’s important to note that these times were some of the most innovative of our history and our presernt time can be as well.
150 years ago more than 50 percent of Americans worked in agriculture. They were absorbed into higher incomes and more productive and prosperous lives in cities. Florida uses this example to explain that we can build denser cities and mega-regions while preserving more natural spaces and becoming greener and more sustainable.
Florida states, “We just have to understand that our urban, our geographic pattern is what really sets the conditions for growth. It's not simply about research and development and start-ups and new technologies and stimulus plans. It’s really about the geographic nature of our economic development process, and I think we really need to pay attention to that. If we take as a first principle that we really have to invest in the creativity of each and every individual—and give people the right to express their creative talents in ways that they find interesting and relevant—then I think we will end up with a better future than we otherwise would have had.”