Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Richard Florida's Pittsburgh

Reading Ryan Avent's reaction, I was expecting another one of the usual public floggings of the Richard Florida Creative Class brand. The article was hiding behind subscription, but I didn't have the sense I was missing anything all that important. One of my readers (the few, the proud, the hopelessly wonkish) sent to me the link for the story. Behold, it's now available for the world to read:

In Syracuse, New York, economic-development officials are declaring victory, saying the $250,000 study that consulting firm Catalytix co-authored in 2003 laid the groundwork for the arrival of an electric-car manufacturer. Wilmington, North Carolina, recently received some of the first recommendations from its $250,000 Catalytix investment, including such tips as "Consider hiring a blogger to create, stimulate and participate in virtual conservations [sic] about the Cape Fear Region." Providence ordered up a Catalytix report in 2003 that told it to "identify and amplify organically evolving nodes of creative energy"; seven years later, city officials are still holding events with college students to ask them what it would take to get them to stick around after graduation. Iowa, which hired Florida in 2005, is charging ahead with its "Great Places," 25 communities -- among them Coon Rapids, Council Bluffs, and Appanoose County -- that are getting several million in state dollars to attempt to become creative magnets. Phoenix is looking to revitalize its downtown with the help of a $100,000 report by Catalytix that declares: "Downtown Phoenix is the right place. Now, is the right time!" Tampa's "director of creative industries" was one of the first city jobs cut in the recession, but Creative Tampa Bay, a group of Richard Florida enthusiasts, is carrying on. In Naples, Florida, 400 people each paid $150 to hear Florida speak at a golf club in May. They learned to their dismay that Naples has few creative workers, says Beth Sterchi-Skotzke, an organizer of the event. "Obviously, with a lower amount of the creative class, we're not as tolerant as we believe we are."

I could make a blog post around each and every paragraph of the article, but I chose that one. Why? Because of the bottom line wasted on useless brain drain initiatives that didn't work. Not any of them.

I've struggled to pin down the Richard Florida enterprise as among the many brain drain boondoggles such as those served up by the likes of Collegia and Next Generation Consulting. Maybe Catalytix should be the target of my invective. But between all the harping on talent attraction (something I support), is a program claiming to retain:

The region needs to build on its wonderful natural assets and use them to attract and retain talent. I am a cyclist and our natural topography makes for a wonderful cycling center -- if you dodge the cars. Our rivers are a spectacular place for canoeing and kayaking, but there is virtually no place to put a boat in the water. There are few places to play ultimate frisbee in the city. In the words of one area high-tech executive: "My people want a rock climbing wall on Mount Washington." We have a built environment that is ready made for all sorts of climbing walls -- along the sides of old buildings or on bridges and railroad trestles. The region may not have the sun and warmth of the Bay Area and Austin, but, contrary to urban myth, it has no more rain than Seattle and is warmer than Boston. ...

... But Oakland is a tired neighborhood that has been neglected for years. In the words of a young University of Pittsburgh student who was my waitress recently: "I love the university, but Oakland is a hole." After spending four years in Oakland, it is little wonder that students want to leave when they graduate.

The focus groups surveyed weren't those who might move to Pittsburgh. The ideas solicited come from people who might stay in Pittsburgh. This would be replicated in Tampa, Providence, and Wilmington. (To list some of the cities who paid through the nose to learn the wisdom) Just to tip my hat to my previous post, notice some of the cities seeking advice are located in Sun Belt states.

Richard Florida himself has noted how Pittsburgh has turned it around. All the reasons for the about face were in place before he told the city how to perform the resurrection. The concern about brain drain was based upon erroneous assumptions. Florida was trying to solve a problem that no longer existed. The riddle Pittsburgh should solve is how to attract more to the region, not keep them from leaving a la Border Guard Bob.

Truth be told, the migration story today doesn't look that much better than it did in 2000 when Florida told Pittsburgh to "wake up and play". Pittsburgh was as uncool then as it is now. But the economic outlook is a whole lot different. That's not a result of the region minding its 3 Ts.

1 comment:

Mark Arsenal said...

All I can say is, I wish I had Florida's talent for raking in the public cash. And lack of morals for doing so, for that matter :P