Using broad brush strokes, urban policy is either people-centric or place-centric. Attracting talent to Hamilton, Ontario:
So what’s it take to attract smart people and small firms? Glaeser says there are two competing visions. There’s the Richard Florida vision of chasing after the creative class by embracing the arts, celebrating alternative lifestyles and investing in a fun, happening downtown. With a fondness for coffeehouses and public sculpture, Glaeser says it’s a vision that seems aimed at a 28-year-old wearing a black turtleneck and reading Proust.The second vision of city building is boring by comparison, with a focus on doing a better job of being brilliant at the basics and delivering core public services like safe streets, fast commutes and good schools. It’s a vision built around meeting the needs of a 42-year-old biotech researcher concerned about whether her family will be as comfortable and their quality of life will be as good in Hamilton as they’d be in Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver.
That second vision needs some work. It reads like an anti-Creative Class manifesto. Richard Florida is touting the more aesthetically pleasing city. Glaeser is trying to get at a city that works better. He's not sure how that might figure into talent migration. On that score, Florida has the better model.
We need to think more about how a city develops talent and makes workers more productive. A place that offers more steps up the ladder will appeal to both bohemian and biotech researcher. People will move there in spite of lousy weather, intolerance, and a dearth of vibrant public spaces. However, that's not to say that placemaking and greater tolerance/diversity wouldn't improve productivity.
Investing in people takes a backseat to investing in places. A great school doesn't require world class architecture. It needn't be a cool place. The same goes for cities. Urban policy is backwards. I would replace "transit oriented development" with "people oriented development". Billions of dollars for FasTracks in the Greater Denver region would be better spent on underfunded public schools.