Florida In Blighty: David Cameron's American urban planner


If my name were Richard Florida, I'd want people to call me Miami Dick.

David Cameron, Prime Minister of that country where everything sucks, is eager to pick up American talent for his brain trust. The Economist reports on Cameron's fondness for New Jersey native Richard Florida, urban studies theorist and author of The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity.

In his best-selling books, highly paid speeches and frequent television interviews, Mr Florida has extolled one core idea: that the creative sector is the growth engine for Western economies as menial work migrates to developing countries.

Mr Florida's definition of creative goes beyond the obvious artists and musicians to include anyone open to new ideas. He says businesses must give space and flexibility to these freethinkers, and that cities must attract lots of them to be successful. This means they must be green, clean, tolerant and cultured, typically with large gay and ethnic-minority populations. This has led to him being attacked from the right for his pro-gay and pro-immigration stance, and criticised from the left as an advocate of elitism and gentrification.

To his credit, Cameron dials down his own enthusiasm for technocratic solutions to debatably social problems and renders Florida's message simply as: "Go with the grain of what is already there. Don't interfere so much that you smother. But do help out wherever you can."

Florida's creative class argument has serious detractors, among them the well-known urban theorist Joel Kotkin. In National Journal, Jesse A. Hamilton and Josh Freedman describe the argument:

Florida believes that cities will grow and meld, mostly along the East and West coasts, as their residents dial back on consumption. Kotkin sees the generations-long ascent of suburbs continuing, with the most-frenzied expansions around smaller cities in the country's midsection.

Kotkin, an urban development scholar at Chapman University in California, says that the old supremacies will wane. "The very high-end urban areas had a real lock on power," said the native New Yorker, who recently authored The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. "That, I think, will come to an end…. For most people's lives, they want to live in a low-density environment. When you ask them whether they want to live in an apartment or a house, they say they want to live in a house. You generally find that most people will end up in the suburbs."

Being a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, I am not sure I have a preference, though Kotkin seems to be closer to my taste — in both urban and rural contexts — for a less structured slobopolis of cars on cinderblocks and chicken coops in yards. It's not clear how much yob appeal remains in the UK—though the Daily Mail is always raising a ruckus about Middle England and its salt of the earth citizens who have been pushed around for the last time by miseducated yuppie scumbags.

Reason TV interviewed Richard Florida way back when: