Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hangover Cure

Here's a round-up of recent chatter about one of my favorite subjects, the life and death of cities. First, there's Richard Florida's piece from The Atlantic and his discussion of that piece on On Point (listen for the Providence shout-out around the 39 minute mark). Finally, some dueling viewpoints grabbed from the NYT Op-Ed page.

I think Florida could clear up a lot of confusion about his ideas if he stopped using the words 'city' and 'suburb', because those terms are so loaded that it's easy to stop listening to him once he says something that conflicts with your interpretation of those words. Florida is often criticized by people who think he's saying that everyone needs to trade in their 4 bedroom suburban home on a 2 acre lot for a 500 sq ft apartment in a high-rise. I don't think that's what he believes and I think he finally articulates his vision at the end of the On Point interview when he says Americans need more efficient ways of living and moving around. Efficient in terms of energy, but also in terms of time and effort. Innovation requires a critical mass of human capital that can interact in seamless and chaotic ways. If everyone is stuck in traffic for an hour and a half on their way to an office park in the middle of nowhere, time is being wasted and opportunities for innovation and collaboration are being squandered (not to mention the big decrease in quality of life).

Obviously there are a lot of people who are happy with the status quo and will continue to abide by it even in the face of multi-hour car commutes and $4+ gas. That's fine, but I think what Florida is saying is that there are a lot of people who would like some saner options for balancing life and work and areas that can provide these options will likely fare better than those that don't.


Michael David Smith said...

I think a lot of people who think they're happy with the status quo aren't really happy with it, they just think they're supposed to be. People will get angry in the traffic to their jobs every day but won't even think to move to the city because they think they're supposed to content themselves with the house in suburbia with the white picket fence. I read a study one time of people who had moved, and whether their overall happiness increased or decreased after their move, and the strongest correlation the researchers found was that people who moved to a home closer to their office and made their daily commutes shorter became happier. But interestingly, very few people identified the shorter commute as the reason they were happier.

dhodge said...

Richard Florida made an off-hand comment in the interview that I linked to about how city dwellers tend to rate their quality of life higher than their suburban counterparts. He seemed to indicate that the survey was by no means conclusive, but it could be more evidence of the shorter commute = better life hypothesis.

Of course, I work with someone who drives an hour each way to work but doesn't mind because his previous commute was 45 minutes each way by foot, so in his mind, it's only an extra 15 minutes instead of an extra 50 miles. I don't understand his logic, but it seems to work for him.