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Geography of a Crisis and Opportunity

UPDATE – February 6, 2009: Richard Florida’s report to the Ontario government is creating fear/anger/hope/buzz across Canada and the U.S. – serious questions are being raised about the future of manufacturing in this country.  Read the report here.

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This morning I listened to American new urbanism guru Richard Florida (author of Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City) talk about what makes a city and region successful.

He was asked to comment on how the large metropolis of Toronto (and it’s surrounding region) can find long-term economic success during this recession.

During his explanation Florida talked about how the future for much of our economy around North America is really about “mega regions” and that we ought to prepare ourselves to compete in this global economy not as lone towns or cities but as these larger geographic sections.  “Mega regions” tap into the man power, resources and ideas of the outlying suburbs and towns that feed many of our most dynamic cities in the U.S. and Canada.  According to Florida, vibrant cities like New York, London, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Montreal will do relatively well in recessions because they have the capacity for re-invention. That capacity rests in each city’s creative roots–roots that can extend throughout the region.

So if a region is, for example, heavily reliant on one of the threatened sectors in this economy, like the auto sector, Florida argues that such regions ought to look to the sectors that are actually growing and to the nature and strengths of the “human capital” in that region.  What are the strengths, interests and priorities for the people that live there?  How can their unique attributes contribute to a local economy that will be sustainable and profitable for that region?

Another good point he highlights is the way in which regions can invest in human capital and that is through training, education and the support of human enterprises/ideas/businesses.  Florida would argue that decisions about where and how to invest resources in any economy have to be based on the reality of growth and decline in our country today.  There is without doubt a decline in manufacturing jobs and there is definitely growth in the creative sectors – those industries that rely on the intellectual and creative input of workers.

Our auto sector has for so many decades defined our culture that it’s difficult (if not painful) to acknowledge its decline.  I’m not really sure I could support a decision not to bail out the auto sector, yet that is the question or position Florida puts on the table.  The bail out of the auto sector will total several billion dollars…what effect would it have on our future to direct those billions to investment in education, retraining and enterprises (small business) engaged in this new creative work?

The Internet, new media, art, literature, science and new technology are just some of the areas enabling thousands of people across the country to make a sustainable and even profitable living for their families while contributing to the overall well-being of their region’s economic health.

Difficult but important ideas and decisions for discussion and ultimate action.

To listen to Florida’s interview on CBC Metro Morning click here.


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