I have written elsewhere on my views of Richard Florida’s empirical and theoretical shortcomings. In achieving relevance, I think he compromises too much rigor. But I don’t fault him the effort. And I don’t think the answer is to run away from relevance. Rather, I think it is incumbent on those of us who strive for (or at least sympathize with the pursuit of) relevance to debate where to draw the line dividing acceptable empirical or theoretical compromises from schlock. Most of us who read this page would agree that Richard Florida crosses the line.
Schlock? I read Safford as saying that not only is Florida's research "shoddy" but, more distressingly, dangerous. If Safford is right, then Ontario is in for a world of hurt.
I think Safford is confusing urban policy debate with academic integrity. Florida's stature within the field is one issue. But as a public intellectual, Florida is extremely effective. He's helped to reframe the discussion and put cities back on the political map. Translating even the best research into policy is fraught with peril. Can anyone really claim with any certainty that Florida's ideas will fail?
Initiatives to plug the brain drain do not rise from rigorous research. The best one can hope for are reliable numbers to help government and the polity to make an informed decision. There isn't some tried and true formula for revitalizing Rust Belt cities. We know how to critique the failures, but that's about the extent of efficacy. I doubt the quality of Florida's social science makes any difference in policy circles.