Thursday, June 13, 2013

Madison’s Portland Problem

Stirring things up in Madison and Portland at Pacific Standard magazine.

Theme: The folly of taking a Creative Class approach to economic development.

Subject Article: "Madison lagging behind peer cities in economic vitality."

Other Links: 1. "Madison360: A decade later, Madison still makes the 'creative class' grade."
2. "The Fall of the Cre­ative Class."
3. "Slack to the Future: Austin gets older; 'Slacker' stays forever young."
4. "Field Of Dreams Portland."

Postscript: The functioning economic geography of the United States concerns places that produce talent and places that refine talent. The Richard Florida playbook is about attracting talent by turning your city into a Creative Class playground. Madison, a center of redoubtable talent production, should be the best of both worlds. It isn't and the city appears to be seriously struggling. I am shocked by the almost doubling of the household poverty rate for primary and secondary students over the last decade. What's wrong?

For his excellent look at the problems with Creative Class theory, Frank Bures spoke with Penelope Trunk, "a branding expert, a Gen Y prognosticator, and a ruthless, relentless self-promoter":
Four years later, Trunk left town, which seemed odd, given her much-ballyhooed arrival. By then, we had fallen out of touch, and I was never quite clear on her rea­son for leav­ing. So I called her to find out what had gone wrong. Trunk now lives on a farm in south­west Wis­con­sin, (she divorced her hus­band and mar­ried a farmer). On the phone, she was still brash and bom­bas­tic and as she told it, her hon­ey­moon with the city started to end almost as soon as she got there. One day her ex-husband was googling, “sex offend­ers,” and he dis­cov­ered there were four reg­is­tered on their block. Next, she dis­cov­ered that the pub­lic schools were ter­ri­ble. “I started talk­ing to every­one,” Trunk said. “And I said, ‘Hey, aren’t you upset the schools suck? How is every­one send­ing their kid here?’ And peo­ple said, ‘Oh, no, I really love my school. I make sure for my kid it’s all about val­ues.’ I mean the bull­shit that peo­ple were telling me was utterly incred­i­ble. Then it just became like an onslaught. Tons of lies. Madi­son is a city full of peo­ple in denial. Peo­ple don’t leave Madi­son, so they don’t real­ize what’s good and not good.” I asked her if she had any regrets, or if the move was a wrong one, or if she had any advice for other peo­ple look­ing to relo­cate. Or maybe, I sug­gested, life was just messier than research?

“No,” she said. “Life is totally clear cut. It’s exactly what the research is. All the research says go live with your friends and fam­ily. Oth­er­wise, you have to look at why you’re not doing that. If you want to look at a city that’s best for your career, it’s New York, San Fran­cisco or Lon­don. If you’re not look­ing for your career, it doesn’t really mat­ter. There’s no dif­fer­ence. It’s split­ting hairs. The whole con­ver­sa­tion about where to live is bullshit.”

Emphasis added. Trunk is describing what I term "talent refineries". Being a site of talent production is not enough. Madison needs more refined talent from Chicago or, better yet, New York. Retaining college graduates is a bad idea. Attracting recent college graduates isn't much better unless your town can refine that talent. Good luck trying to out-New York NYC. The prize demographic are the real estate refugees from Big City. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.

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