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Why Richard Florida’s honeymoon is over

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A rather catty little piece from the Toronto Star (Florida of course writes for the competition).

Honeymoons, typically, are short. For Florida, who arrived in Toronto just over two years ago to head the Martin Prosperity Institute, a University of Toronto think-tank created just for him, it’s officially over.

Shakir, a community advocate, was speaking at a public forum organized recently by the art magazine Fuse, and the group, Creative Class Struggle. Its website leaves little to the imagination: “We are a Toronto-based collective who are organizing a campaign challenging the presence of Richard Florida and the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, as well as the wider policies and practices they represent.”

Well actually there is a serious debate here between the social justice types and the economic development fans. I was just going to update my report on his visit here – but mindful that not everyone spends much time digging in my back lot, perhaps I should draw attention to the Toronto debate.

I really do hope that it is about issues and not personalities. Though a a quick glance at the comments under the Star piece is a bit depressing.  I also think that we need to be careful about what is descriptive – and much of Florida’s work (or rather that of his students) is in this category – and what is prescriptive. Yes cities that have had the creative class move to them have done well, on the whole, but that was in a different era. It may have even been a sensible strategy to adopt before the world changed. But America’s economy is now very different and some of us think it is not going to go back to what it once was. And we may very well have to get good at making things again – real metal bashing, log sawing kinds of industry – and not just the froth and frills of financial services and public relations.

As I said at the time, I do not think I would have gone to his talk if I had not won a ticket in a draw. And after I bought his book and read it, I wished that I had held on to my credit card a bit tighter. I suppose the market for an autographed copy may well not be now what it once was.

Richard Florida now (August 2017) admits he was wrong – and he is sorry.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 28, 2009 at 7:50 pm

Richard Florida at the Board of Trade

with 4 comments

At the recent Metro Vancouver Sustainability Summit I won a ticket to a Board of Trade breakfast. I am glad I did, because there is no way I would spend $200 of my money on such an event. In fact it was cosponsored by Metro, so not only did their staff get to go but so did 9 other people who attended that summit. (That link still works – they do not have the video they were taking but you can read the speech).

Richard Florida

Richard Florida

Richard Florida, whatever else may be said about him, has charisma. And lots of it. He talks about “star cities” but there is no doubt that he brought star quality with him. Which makes it hard not to get swept up in enthusiasm listening to him. So it is probably just as well that I had a drive home to think about what I heard this morning. Or rather, what I didn’t hear. The BoT types are bound to like him – and not just because he is young, handsome and a very persuasive speaker. Because he is into economic growth – and what will make city regions successful (i.e. better off) in the future. He is on the Board of the Prosperity Institute. He is an economist.

So the question that I would love to have asked him is how does his work relate to what we need to do in Greater Vancouver – through the prism of reducing or greenhouse gas emissions. Not that his prescriptions are contrary to that. Greenness it turns out is very important and so is density. But how would he deal with the argument that in order for humanity to survive at all – let alone flourish – we North Americans must cut back our emissions by 80 to 90% in order to allow the rest of the world to approach our standard of living and at the same time fend off the increasing rate of global warming. I think he might respond that it is another facet of creativity. But I am still worried about how you make everybody better off and at the same time reduce our ecological footprint so that humanity only needs one planet – which, after all is all we have got. Anyway I gave him my card as he signed my copy of his book, so he might even comment on this post.


Richard Florida now admits he was wrong – and he is sorry.

Max Wyman did the introduction. Florida promotes the idea that cities that are tolerant, diverse and open to innovation are more successful than those that aren’t. So how do we stack up?

In his first book “The Rise of the Creative Class” he says that creativity is the fourth pillar of sustainability [so perhaps that answets my question] He also wrote “The Flight of the Creative Class” and “Cities andthe Creative Class. [His new book “Who’s Your City” was on sale in the lobby for $32.95 (hardback) and if it wasn’t for the opportunity to speak to Mr Florida, very briefly, I might well have waited for the Canadian edition which is coming out next year.]

Richard Florida started by saying that Vancouver is at the top of the list of most of the indicators that he has data for. Of course, there will always be change and challenges and he intended to speak about the specific things that should be on Metro’s “to do” list.

While many now think that we are seeing a return of the 1930’s a better reference is to the 1870s. That crash was born out of the transformation of an agricultural society into an industrial society. It was the same kind of transformation we are seeing now in our economy. “This is going to flush out the fake value – the ephemeral.”  The rise of the new economy and our unwillingness to come to grips with it is what has created this crisis.

There is a big change in the economy, and Vancouver is at the cutting edge. Our economy is no longer about natural resources and factories.  “This shift is like the stuff Marx and Dickens wrote about – major economic dislocations. … We will manage our way out of this. The real source of value is our people. Understand that real capital is stuff in human beings.”

The new economy has been called various things “post industrial”, “service”, “knowledge”. All capture only part of the transition. Technology accounts for about 6% of the economy and information technology is even smaller. While knowledge is more important, many of our most successful entrepreneurs are college drop outs. Creativity is the driving force of our economy. The places that can harness this capital – how regions, nations, places that can harness this creativity – will persevere.

in 1900 Canada 50% of the workforce was in agriculture, and less than 5% in creative fields. By 1950 we were fully industrial, with 50% of employment in industry and less than 10% in creative. It rose to 12% by 1980. But now there are 6m Canadians in the creative sector,   40m in the US 150m in the advanced OECD countries. The creative sector of the US is now 30% of the economy, but more in Canada. In Greater Vancouver 35-37% in creative sector which approaches the industrial population of the Fordist age. The sector comprises jobs in science, technology, arts and culture. This is the growth sector. 50% of wages and salaries are in the creative sector and net new jobs are being created even in a recession.

Critics now use words like “cosmopolitan” as a negative. The creative class is said to be an elite out of tune with the rest of us. Most controversial was his development of a “gay index”.  “A gay agenda is being foisted upon us to undermine Judeo-Christian culture.” [It might not be a bad thing if it was, in my view. JC culture having been so successful at repression.]

Every single human being is creative. We have to extend the creative capacity to everyone. What we see in the US is an economic class war – the successful and those left behind. That is why Toyota succeeds where Ford fails. His father showe dhimn the factory where he worked – all full of impressive machines. But he said, “It’s not the machines that make the place it is the knowledge and the intelligence of the people that makes it great.”

The question for us is how to build a creative society that extends all the way down the chain. The creative elite makes three times what other people make. If we are creative we will develop great competitiveness and extend it to everyone – just as Toyota did with their factory floor. We can create a onsensus society that retains its cohesion. We must tap into the creativity of the janitors. Creativity will not be bounded by our social divisions: creativity doesn’t care about race, age, sex, orientation etc

There are three Ts that determine success  – technology, talent, tolerance. The US figured out first it could be open to all kinds of people. Most start ups founded by people born abroad. There is a powerful relationship between places that are open minded, diverse, and  tolerant. Places that allow of self expression, allow people to be themselves.

A recent factor he has developed is called the “Mosaic factor” which shows that it is not the melting pot that works [but multiculturalism] In a book called “Continental Divide” Seymour Martin Lipset compares Canada and the United States: and this region stacks up remarkably across the board. It is in the top 3 in the bohemian arts & culture factor, the top 3 in the Mosaic and it also has a “set of magnificent universities”.

It is popular now to assume that the world is flat: that where you are on its surface does not matter as we can all connect electronically. But the great contradiction is that the creative economy makes place ever more important. Jane Jacobs identified most fundamental factor of economic growth. Enormous growth is what you get from density. Exponential rate of growth of creativity. New things appear at the edge  – the spin offs – people come together and interact which increases the rate of  the urban metabolism – clustering force. His recent research has produced new statistics of cities and regions. They took pictures of the world at night and used the visible lights as a proximate measure of economic activity. This correlates well with innovation

In 191 countries there are 40 megaregions which account for less than 18% of the population but two thirds of the innovation and Canada has two of them: Toronto/Waterloo/Buffalo/ Montreal and Cascadia. They have established that one of most important economic engines in the world is what they call “Westcoastness” which Cascadia shares with California: it is the ability to attract people through lifestyle.This will be the Pacific century and Vancouver is ideally placed to take advantage of that.

The things that affect human happiness – 5 factors (in reverse order)

  • 5 – economic and physical security
  • 4 economic civic and social opportunity – meet people and make friends – only a quarter of us live in nuclear families
  • 3 leadership – not top down – harnesses bottom up energy – don’t squelch
  • 2 openness to diversity – cannot be taken for granted – mosaic of ethnicities
  • 1 quality of place – aesthetic – green – natural – clean water – access of amenities (see Jane Jacobs – “The Nature of Economies”)

He finished by talking about his first visit to Seattle where he saw a new and puzzling construction. Paul Allen one of the founders of Microsoft (and thus one of the world’s richest people) had hired the strarchitect Frank Gehry. But this was not a science museum or centre for entrepreneurship it is the “Jimmy Hendrix Experience centre” [actually it is called the Experience Music Project] Creativity is more than the SOB (symphony, opera, ballet). Paul Allen was inspired by a black kid with a guitar who wnated to create a new kind of music.


Mayor Diane Watts of Surrey said that there is a shift within the region. It is impirtant that the growth strategy Metro is now working on recognises that growth will occur in four places above the rest – Abbotsford, Surrey, Coquitlam, and Langley. Those cities have signed a Livability Accord in order to work together to complement each other. Cities competing is not the way. This new working relationship is a  fundamental paradigm shift from where we are today

Gordon Price – The foundation of creativity of the region is the port. The wealth of the country flows through here. (“I voted for the SFPR”) Now the port is necessary but not sufficient: we will take advantage of our location, that’s why we’re here. But we must learh the lesson of the Erie Canal – there’s a warning there. They grew because of the new infrastructure – revolutionary at the beginning of the nineteenth century. But since then they dispersed along the NY Thruway: they created sprawl. The legacy of what they were is still there but they no longer attract immigrants. They don’t have fundamental key: density.  They dispersed. The urban region needs to be compact. We need a specific strategy to offset the dispersal effect of the roads we are going to build. He also noted that this city has a class of people who move through it every day on a regular basis – the Binners. the people who survive by finding bottles and cans others have discarded but for which they can get a few cents each. How do we capture their creativity? We should not overlook them.

Virginia Greene – addressed Richard Florida “You have not done enough about what falling in love is all about”

Vancouver is called ‘A city with no visible means of support’ but obviously we have been looking in the wrong places. Our economy is largely driven by recreation and consumption. Her father called it “the I5 economy”. She had five obeservations

1 Vancouver has a jurisdictional advantage and is growing quite comfortably in your direction without trying. So what would it mean if we sought out that direction?

2 We already have “star city status” but the fragile sectors are struggling to get to critical mass. We need to save them from moving elsewhere. There is a need for diversification into new ventures like biotechnology.

3 You have to be able to get here from there. We must be concerned about  the mobility of these people. It is difficult to get here especially our border to the south which is getting harder to cross: and the airport. [I would observe that getting into Canada is a lot easier than going south – and I have no idea what she thinks is wrong with YVR, which seems to be doing quite well – according to its own accounts]

4 Don’t forget about northern part of province. The  future prosperity of south depends on the north and its natural resources. A very large percentage of BC’s exports, and the income they bring, is due to the north.

5 We need strong mechanisms for marketing the region: we already have that in the tourism, film and hi tech sctors. People must know that we exist and and can choose to come here. We need a “common understanding of this new branding” [a phrase that makes me shudder]


There were a lot of questions (which had to be submitted in writing) which were condensed into a few

Q1 – artists (and a lot of other creative people) can’t afford to live here

GP – Lets see how that works out in six months. There is also the cost of transport – West Enders don’t need a car. It is not as a great an impediment as we think

RF – There will be  an adjustment in price: but remember “When a place gets boring even the rich people leave” (Jane Jacobs)

VG – She also said that “new ideas come from old buildings” and very few of ours are old. We have a large service sector that deflates wages.  How do we bring up the bottom end?

GP  – There are a lot of old buildings, but here that means they are from the 50s and 60s. In Vancouver most buildings are still the same as first built on that site.

Q2 – How do we support our creative youth in an industrial education system?

RF – we have to blow up the education system. Most kids hate schools: they are boring not fun. And these are kids in good schools. The institutional framework is broken aand we must build a new kind of learning experience

DW – I agree with that rote learning is not the way to go. We have to encourage entrepreneurship.

Q3 – Robert Putnams finding’s on civic disengagement

RF – In Putnam’s view social capital seems to be dependent in his work on cohesiveness not diversity. For immigrants the first thing you think of is getting hunkered down. They are more concerned with gettoing a job and a place to live than getting engaged in civics. “We have to be proactively inclusive.”

VG – get people out of their automobiles – cafe society, walking, community centres with markets,

GP – “The sincerest form of engagement is the exchange of DNA.” He noted the decline of the gay bar: the internet is now the main meeting place.

DW – how we build our city – pedestrian – public places – activity – transportation – at grade light rail [my emphasisand at last somethign she said I could agree with.

Once again there was more but a two hour battery stopped me taking notes. The very fancy Sheraton Wall Centre ballroom did not have an outlet I could reach.

Thanks to Metro Vancouver for making this post possible

Written by Stephen Rees

October 9, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Metro Vancouver Sustainability Summit

with 2 comments

Metro Vancouver at the Pan Pacific Hotel Tuesday 7 October 2008

I had hoped to live blog this event, but the extortionate rate charged by the  hotel for wifi connection deterred me (it would have cost even more than I paid for parking!). The whole thing was recorded and there will be more on the Metro web page in due course. These are simply my notes made at the time, with a bit of polishing afterwards. I was also lucky enough to win one of ten tickets to a Board of Trade breakfast on Thursday with Richard Florida which, of course I will also blog. At the same time I got Johnny Carline to give the blog a plug, since he was announcing everyone else’s affiliation. I was pleased to meet some more readers, and I am really glad to know you are out there, since the ones who write to me are not always as complimentary.

Max Wyman Heather Shoemaker Milton Wong

Max Wyman Heather Shoemaker Milton Wong

Milton Wong (SFU formerly of HSBC)

He now champions the cause of sustainability. He says that he is “a poster boy for opened mindedness and positive change”. He was formerly champion of growth but he realised that you cannot have infinite growth without burning through all our resources. “We all have the same DNA. We are all in this together – we have a responsibilty to all living things. There is no such thing as growth – any increase here is a depletion there.

We have yet to achieve a common view of sustainable living. Kofi Anan established a corporate compact on common values – 10 values . Positive change can result from agreement on common values.

He focussed on the Downtown east side and asked how sustainable is that? “There are 2,500 homeless people and not even one public water tap. Another 5,000 people are one cheque away from homelessness. It is Canada’s poorest postal code. And all of this is due to misguided government policy. It started with the internment of Japanese residents, which devasted one of Vancouver’s most vibrant communities. After the war the City declared it a slum which prevented residents from doing renovations. The province shut down interurban rail, which had its terminal there. The DTES was a hub but became an empty shell. The with the closure of 5,500 hundred beds in the Riverside Hospital,  thousands of patients relocated to the streets, where they had no beds and no meds. Most were still mentally ill, but now had no access to treatment or care. In 1993 came the end of provision of public housing. With hindsight it is possible to see how this worked: there is an unwritten policy to drive prostitution from West End into the DTES.

What the area needs is not more government policy but the work such as what is done at the Aga Kahn Foundation. it is based on dialogue: we learn from the community more than they learn from us: it is a mutual exchange of information and is designed to help the people help themselves. The Carnegie Community Centre holds a  “heart of the city” festival amd a one act opera on drug addiction. The DTES faces the most challenging social issues and needs to right a series of wrongs. The tent city which suddenly appeared in Oppenheimer Park when Gordon Campbell was in Beijing was dismantled but all its residents got housed overnight. We need a permanent solution.

Chris Kelly (Vancouver School Board)

The DTES poses an immense challenge but an also act as a reference point for sustainable communications. How do we create sustainable communications? Rex Murphy at AGM of the Vancouver Board of Trade [sadly their web site does not have a copy of his speech] spoke of sheer beauty of landscape, and said that we [Canadians] are privileged to enjoy a freedom from the wants that haunt rest of the world. But our wealth is intellectual as well as physical and includes our social habits. It is a construction: it is how we interact every day. Intentional human relationships are our human inheritance.

There should be elements in our designs

  • the engine of human capacity

  • the fuel of enthusiasm

  • and the spark of optimism

We have a sense of belonging:  an entitlement and the opportunity of a sense of human competence. This gives is the power of self determination and the capacity put it to the test

Max Wyman (Mayor of Lion’s Bay) said that Metro needs a list of actions which will guide it for the nest three years. each group was asked to validate the “picture of success” which had been given to each participant and also identify three key actions. We were also asked to consider how to put actions in motion.

For Transportation and Growth there picture of success looks like this

  • compact and complete communities
  • affordable, accessible, safe and convenient transportation
  • reduced environmental impact
  • interconnected, multi modal transportation choices for people and goods that directs and responds to growth

You will obviously note the strong influence of the current LRSP, and I have also taken the liberty of correcting the grammar of what were said to be “key phrases”. To no-one’s surprise, despite reservations (for instance “reduced environmental impact” means very little without quantifiable targets) it was generally supported.

The process was that we were in discussion in small groups at the most ten to a table, but we voted in secret using an electronic choice pad

I apologise for the quality of those two images – but sometimes any picture is better than no picture.

We similarly endorsed the key phrases on the economy but before we discussed Finance we had a presentation by Gaëtan Royer of Port Moody.

He called for a redistribution of resources between levels of goverment. The total tax burden on Canadians has grown, but that imposed by the municipalities has stayed static. Taxes are not always going up in fact the burden of  property taxes has gone down [mostly because of the switch to user fees for many municipal services such as garbage collection and other utilities]

Relative to GDP, the municipal take has been static while that of federal and provincial government has doubled. Municipalities get clobbered by the province mucking about with property tax rates (these words are mine paraphrasing his more careful construction). This does not allow municipalities to pursue economic development. For example, a failing paper mill still has to pay property taxes at the same rate but a successful port operation gets a tax break.

Senior governments are addicted to grants: this means municipalities are subject to the “beauty contest of grant applications”. And many municipalities fail: we cannot afford to continue this way. We must boycott grants and cut opportunities for publicity to senior government politicians. [As one who has written a number of these applications – all successful I might add – I wholeheartedly support this approach, and that is not just because my experience suggests that for federal government applications a different standard applies to Quebec.]

We then we returned to plenary session to discuss Governance

Jim Craven

Jim Craven

Jim Craven

(formerly with the Municipal Finance Authority) We are doing well compared to other provinces, especially with out regional districts. We look after 3 to 4 times more reserve funds than other provinces municipalities. We have forestalled needless amalgamation and provide regional services at low cost.Villages can be individuals, but the confederation [Metro] needs tweaking. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We can create any of the dreams that are set out in the synopsis but need more tolerance for diversity. We need more attention to the individual’s need e.g. for a tree house.

Michael Goldberg


Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg

We have a wonderful diversity of various governments with a rich variety of successes we can drawn on.I do not have any prescritions. There is an enormous role for the region. Municipal actions are not likely to be successful, we need regional solutions. How we govern the region is now paramount.

There is no urban crisis here compared to US, but times have changed in the last 40 years. It is difficult for the existing politicains and staff of Metro to propose changes for conflict of interest reasons.

The is a trade off between rights if individual and rights of government. The US is unique in placing individual rights at the head of the queue. Most other models have a lack of role for the individual, and stress the rights of the collective. We have a messy, grey, in between model in Canada. In the 1960s we [BC] were very centralised, and we have seen that change: the GVRD was created on American residual model. Is that still the model we still need today? We need a dialogue: is the decentralised, bottom up approach still relevant? Should we give the region supreme authority? Is the past cooperative spirit enough to achieve these actions?

I did not record the questions but the following are summaries of the answers they gave: the sense of the question can be inferred from them

  • mg – direct election of regional authority makes more sense than indirect
  • jc – forced amalgamation does not produce lower costs or aid feeling of being represented. We did not see much of an upside in any of Winnipeg, Halifax or Toronto. Their costs higher and they are less effective

  • mg – The balance (between regional and municipal) depends on function – urban finance is not a one size fits all solution – some activities have economies of scale e.g. water and sewage

  • One commenter observed that the tension of regional government means we have to consult public

  • DTES – it is a regional issue (mg) Surrey realises it is their problem too (jc)

Max Wyman amazing range of expertise here:the results of three streams will be on metro web site

This summit will convene every three years – it is an experiment that worked

Intervention – do we really understand community or city? need to tackle the communications gap – eg tv channel for the voice of the people?

At this point I had to stop taking notes as my battery was running low. Max found that he had more time for more questions but I do not now recall them.

Metro’s hospitality include lunch before the meeting started, refreshments throughout the break out sessions and wine and cheese afterwards. This was obviously necessary as the drop out rate through the day was noticeable – there were a lot more there for lunch than for wine and cheese. On the other hand the general response seemed to be that the afternoon was well worthwhile and that a significant amount of progress had been made.

On my table there was a widespread desire to edit the discussion points, and indeed Metro through collection of discussion notes and a scribble wall collected a lot of very specific comments. But Metro can only proceed by consensus- which means the text is deliberately crafted to be as inclusive as possible. So it does not say “Stop gateway” but it does say “Improve integration of inter/intra government planning and funding for land use and transportation that includes climate change considerations” which has almost the same effect, but without the “red flag to a bull” implications.

I did talk afterwards to Heather Shoemaker and offered this observation on governance. London used to have the equivalent of Metro. The directly elected Greater London Council was abolished by Margaret Thatcher in part because it was so effective at demonstrating that there were alternatives to her policies. Without regional government London struggled (as did the other metropolitan regions who had also lost their authorities at the same time). When Labour returned to power they restored these bodies with more powers and a directly elected executive Mayor – something very novel in English local government. This model, it seems to me, has lessons for Metro. A powerful, directly elected regional government is essential. That is not to say it will always be popular – and will be ground between the national and municipal governments. Indeed the fact that neither like the regional government shows that it is being effective.

Greater Vancouver needs to grow up. Metropolitan government that is representative and responsible is essential for a modern city region. The services of transportation, waste disposal, strategic planning and environmental protection are too important to be left to voluntary unenforceable agreements between a variety of municipalities.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 7, 2008 at 9:50 pm