10.12.2005

Soul of the city

Richard Florida is often referred to as the rock star economist, and while the bar isn't set very high when it comes to earning such designations, there is some truth to it. Hearing him address an auditorium full of business and community leaders, students and the simply curious last night, I'd say he comes off as a mix of motivational speaker, collegiate lecturer and evangelist. The first stems from necessity, the second from his calling and the third, if I had to guess, from a belief that what he says, if applied, can actually make a difference.

Will anyone listen? It's hard to know. His talk capped a long, somewhat disjointed evening full of ideas and promise, and in the very least, it sparked discussion in the lobby immediately after; that's a good sign.

His talk was discussion worthy. Having heard it twice yesterday -- once at an economic development group meeting and then again, in longer form, at the evening lecture -- I was taken with the simplicity of it all. People want to live in places where they are comfortable, and will then seek out the work they desire. Makes sense. But until talking with Florida last week for a newspaper interview and hearing him yesterday, the one question I had was, has anybody thought to ask people if this is actually true?

Florida shared some results gleaned from a new Gallup Poll called "The Soul of the City," which found that the things people value most in their city are aesthetics and diversity. There is little out publicly about the poll yet, but once it hits, I think it will be big, for it offers another way into Florida's theories and provides some hard data to back up his hypothesis. Before, he was essentially drawing conclusions from data: Certain cities were deemed to be creative, tolerant and diverse, and those same cities seemed to thrive economically. This new poll, however, shows that these are the things that actually draw people to and keep them in a particular city. That data can then be crossed with more specific information about the economies and industries in those cities to draw what I would assume will be fascinating conclusions.

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