Friday, January 27, 2012

Cool City Cop Out

Is your city in the dumps? Can't figure out how to fix it? Get cool, now:

You think building great managers is tough? It is. So tough that we grew up and looked at that opportunity and needed a nap after pondering the complexity of making it happen. So we write the check and build cool space instead. Ping-pong table anyone?

Sometimes, drawing parallels between regional talent management and corporate talent management is a fool's errand. This is not one of those times. Developing people is hard work and takes a long time. Moving the needle on primary and secondary education is painfully slow. Ask any politician. Better to build a new convention center or give in to the casino idea. That is to say, buy a ping-pong table for your shrinking city.

Portland, Oregon is the cool office space. The metro decided that economic development was too hard. Better to be an emerald city than a backwater with relatively good schools:

Interview partners agreed that even though the region has been practicing what Richard Florida is recommending (i.e. focusing on improving the living conditions), it did not implement these strategies deliberately. The success of the region in translating quality of life into economic competitiveness seems to be an accidental and unintended result of a much longer strategy aimed at environmental goals for their own sake rather than economic objectives.

Unintended consequences acknowledged, Portland now actively markets itself as a cool office space. So much the better to attract talent. That's what you do when you can't develop talent. Instead of innovating, you play ping-pong. When you want to get serious about being an entrepreneur, you move back to Indianapolis.

Cool is not an economic development strategy. For Portland, cool and all that came with it is a byproduct of being a more environmentally sustainable city. For my money, great place-making inspires people to do great things. Some college campuses made me feel like I wanted to be a famous scholar. I was smarter just by sitting in the cathedral-like library. Brilliant landscape design or architecture can help. They aren't necessary.

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