Like a preacher in an urban-revival tent, Richard Florida roused the gathering at last week’s 20th Congress for the New Urbanism in West Palm Beach, Florida. The event took place on the 10th anniversary of publication of The Rise of the Creative Class, the book that made him a star among city admirers.
“Isn’t it interesting that the world has come to us?” he asked the gathering of 1,100 urbanists. “Something has changed to make this part of the great challenges of our time. … I thought I was out in the wilderness, but it’s happening everywhere.”
What’s bringing a focus on urbanism back, he said, is that “our economy has gone through one of the greatest transformations in human history.” Land, labor, and capital are no longer the primary factors in growth. Peter Drucker, the management guru, in the late 1960s described “the knowledge economy,” he said. Then Jane Jacobs explained that wealth does not come from corporations — it comes from cities. (Edward Glaeser expanded on that theme in his 2011 book, Triumph of the City.)
Florida believes that creativity is the real source of growth. He has been stung by charges of elitism — that he’s a mouthpiece for latté-sipping, gentrifying yuppies. That’s not what he is saying at all, he explained. His father worked in a Newark factory for five decades, sacrificing to support his family and putting his son through school. The creativity of workers — as opposed to machines and capital — made the factory work, Florida argued. “Every single human being is creative,” he said. “Stoking the creativity within every person is [the task of cities].”