Title: The New Urban Crisis
Author: Richard Florida
Publisher: Basic Books
Pub. Date: 11 April 2017
Genre: Nonfiction, Divisive Politics, Urban Issues, Global Commune Planning
First, I am going to say: Hey authors, readers are not stupid.
I am always mad when I think I am going to be reading an information packed treatise on a subject that interests me, and then I find that it is really just another political propaganda piece masquerading as a neutral informed problem solving theoretical premise. While the underlying support for the theory is reasonable and complex, including research (though some of the information is direct from mainstream media rather than science) the conclusion Florida reaches is struck directly from political rhetoric.
While it is certainly heavily progressive, both liberals and conservatives should be offended. Politics is in this book because Richard Florida is into politics.
Publishers should take note of the waning patience in America for this kind of foolishness, as reflected in the low rate of reviewing of this title across so many platforms.
In a nutshell, Florida explains that Trump’s middle America is, in fact, the problem, and we need higher density clustering of talent (cities) and population in order to solve all of the problems we have today. Apparently, the people who have too much square footage in their suburban home, rely on a private car to get around on all those quiet roads in small towns and believe that their tradesman or unskilled lifestyle is just as valid as those who live in cities, work in tech fields, and use mass transit are the reason for the urban collapse. Thus getting rid of them fixes all problems. Not the least benefit of which would be getting rid of those pesky deplorable Republican voters.
What a crock! That is like the argument over which guy has a quarter, the guy with the heads, or the guy with the tails. Guess what…It’s a quarter. This is Richard Florida’s version of truth.
The biggest problem with such a narrow political vision is that reasonable people, while they would rather have their own party win the presidential election, would not rather have only a single party on the ballot like in some other countries that are notoriously NOT free and democratic. The same goes for the broader scope of lifestyle choice that Americans on the whole enjoy. It may not sit well with everyone when Florida writes in Chapter 9, “International development policy must put cities and city building at its core. Cities, not nations, after all, are the basic source of economic and social progress.”
Wrong, Richard. People, however they live, whatever their values, and wherever they are, are the basic source of any and all progress. Urban, suburban, and rural communities have their own sets of values that are equally valid. Different, but that difference is vital to the overall cultural temperature of this nation. It is the narrowest elitism that shuts out anyone’s contribution to the whole, just because they are not the same.
I may appreciate the value of city life for access to cultural pursuits that I find interesting, but another person may not be inclined to find happiness here. I would not find happiness running a gas station in Nebraska or a wedding shop in Idaho, but if they are in business, those people have innovated their industry in some vital way, and they are the people who are happy there, which makes them as important to the nation as me. Forcing people to convert to Progressive values is as bad as being forced to convert to Conservative values. Common sense must prevail.
The final chapter, in which Florida lays out his answer to the problem is called “Urbanism For All.” This is the biggest bone of contention I have with this work. Why would limiting choice, as in the choice of how to live (progressive, in a city), seem reasonable? How would that help? The easy answer: Florida, a man who is an urban planner and theorist, who contributes to democratic policy directly, says that city dwellers or Urbanites are superior. What? That is why politics is misplaced in this subject. A political party or political hack with a personal opinion and a platform to push it is not going to solve the urban crisis. Only a person or set of people focused on the individual parts of the problem (not on gaining political power) working in cooperation with other skilled people is going to be able to work to improve each particular part of this dynamic issue in each local area. It isn’t romantic or dramatic. There is no gleaming utopia on the horizon when the earth is covered by one big city. Haven’t you seen that movie?
Richard Florida needs to put down the textbooks and pick up some good Sci-Fi books! The real questions have already been answered. Where will all that sewage and garbage go? What about groundwater? Where will food grow? What will Florida and his fellow planners have to do with all the people that will not cooperate willingly with the plan? Dang humans!
To wrap it up:
Read this book, because Florida presents an interesting theory and much food for thought. Do not just take it in as truth because it is only one truth. Forget politics. The Urban Crisis is real, but it is different for each individual that it affects. Real people are difficult to quantify, but we can’t ignore that the problem isn’t about policy, it’s about people. So when Florida suggests solutions like a Land Value Tax, where the less land is developed, the higher the tax (His example is a parking lot with an undeveloped surface should be taxed at 100%) I am skeptical.
What if that parking lot is for the use of locals, and has green space and trees that are enjoyed by many in the neighborhood? What if the owner allows local food vendors to park there and sell? Value is so subjective, and I daresay there are plenty of people, even city people, that would not find value in overdevelopment. If the owner of that parking lot is happy with the use, and he is not violating any zoning or codes, why should he be penalized? How policy effects people on different sides of the question should be considered. After all, extremist views of any kind should not guide policy or people. No one has the single right viewpoint, they only have their viewpoint, informed or otherwise.
As for me, I don’t buy the case presented here. Each area is so unique and diverse, including what we could call ‘Disurbia’ (because Richard Florida likes to coin labels and I can do it too!) that removal of a broad swathe of culture living a non-urban existence is a drastic and unreasonable exclusion of real people that move the needle of progress in their own way.
A copy was received from the publisher in exchange for this honest review.