The title of this book (and its subtitle) — Richard Florida’s Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where You Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life
— really grabbed me. While I did not think that where to live would be the MOST important decision of my life, I knew for certain that in was one of the most important decisions one has to make from time to time. First, because being a migrant, I have had the chance to realise what a difference a place can make. Secondly, because I am in a stage of life when I have come to realise that, after several years of living in a quiet and beautiful small-town location, I may be wiser to prepare a move sometime in the next few years, once I enter the ’empty nester’ stage (in Florida’s classification).
Anyhow, I did not buy the book while in the US earlier in the year, as I first saw it at the shop of the Modern Art museum in Chicago where the price for the hardback was simply too high. I thought I would order it from Amazon when I get back home, an so I did. When it arrived, I eagerly jumped on to reading it: I did not want to delay any further the moment when I would get to prepare my next move and I thought the book may help me do this in an informed manner (especially as it promised a type of self-help part at the end, where it were to facilitate making a decision on the matter of who your city might be according to one’s personal circumstances).
I love the place where I currently live, as it perfectly fits my personal situation at the present stage. I ended up here not as a result of planning, but it could not have been a better choice. It is safe, homey, beautiful, has got great schools and I see my son thrive in a way he would not in another location. However, he will soon be eighteen, and even if he is still around after that time comes, I would be free to move myself. And, admittedly, I am somewhat tired to live in a conservation village on the seaside: nice and I would always love to keep this place, but not live here permanently.
Richard Florida’s book, thus, came with a great promise: it was meant to help clarify things and make enlightened decisions. A colleague had recommended it as well, albeit with some reservations. It was probably due to the high expectations I had vested, that a feeling of disappointment came about around midway of my reading, and then progressively took over entirely. Starting with the great promise of addressing matters of great importance and persuasively arguing that the decision where you would live may be a key to other things, the book then abandons its own premise and turns into a discussion of urban areas in the US, offering commentary that I found boring and monotonous for the most part. I should have simply stopped reading after the first part or so.
The biggest disappointment was the slump from the opening global perspective to the exclusive focus on the US. Well, probably most of Florida’s readers would be American, but if this was a book about them and for them, it should have been pitched as such. Not that this is the first book that I see making this slump. However, I am really sick and tired of the logically unsound and deeply problematic epistemological operation of silently equating the world with the US and then substituting the second for the first, which is still being performed by many American authors and scholars.
Indeed, we live in a global world and if Florida really wanted to show us how important the decision where to live is, he should have kept his discussion in the same vein he started off — globally. Yes, the world is not flat as Thomas Friedman has it but is spiky, as Florida is correct to point out. It is a global spikiness, however, and the biggest spikes of creative activity nowadays are scattered around the globe and are not only in North America but also in places like Europe, Asia, or Latin America. The real new creative class is not one that is limited to the US but one that moves between spikes, spending time not only in Silicon Valley and New York but in equally (if not more) important places like Tokyo or Hong Kong, Sydney and Milan, Rio and London.
Instead developing his argument along the lines he himself set out, instead of presenting the global moves of the creative class, what Florida does is to argue, in the theoretical part, with the help of all sorts of world-wide maps showing how not all places are equal, how there are ‘spikes’ where world’s creativity is clustering, and so on. Soon thereafter it is all forgotten and the author’s attention shrinks to the US exclusively (well, Toronto is also included as a place to where he has recently moved, apparently the biggest shift the author himself has undertaken in his search for the perfect location).
Yet the unspoken premise that the US is, by default, a more desirable country to live than other places, is precisely the one that needs to be questioned. Many of the locations that pop up in Florida’s discussion in parts three and four of his book have really got very little to do with the spikes of creative clusters that are discussed in earlier parts. Why did I spend all this time reading so far? To receive recommendations and lists of great places to live, such as East Lancing, MI? Been there, done that. True, in the context of the Wall-Mart/Best Buy/Starbucks/Hard Rock Cafe-dominated city scapes of America these may be acceptable places. Florida’s recommendations, however, have got little to do with the real decisions that members of the creative class are making on the matter where to live. Because nowadays an informed decision on these matters cannot possibly be limited to one country. And because, as it will transpire from the second part of my discussion, the coolest places to live, are actually located elsewhere. See Part II.
© Dina Iordanova
14 January 2009