Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Shrink gracefully, rust belt," suggests Florida

Richard Florida, that is. In this month's cover article in the Atlantic Monthly, the professor famous for his "creative class" theory of urban renewal suggests that the recession will result in growth in a few mega-regions across the country and cause other cities (read Midwest, rust-belt cities) to shrink. Florida's suggestion is for policy to allow these cities to shrink gracefully by funding a temporary cushion as they adjust to their new size.

As counter-intuitive as his idea might seem, he does have a track record of influencing urban policy based on his novel research, which means this new theory could gain traction. In addition, there is a fledgling shrinking cities movement (originally blogged about on Milwaukee Talkie in May 2007), that aims to adjust declining cities' geographic and service areas to better match their smaller populations.

But Prof. Florida has his detractors, both inside and outside the rust belt. So expect there to be real debate (also here) in many struggling cities over Florida's ideas, which he describes rather simply, leaving some room for interpetation.

Florida suggests that public policy should favor rental housing over home ownership, as home ownership is not economically healthy for today's post-industrial age, preventing workers from relocating with jobs. He also advocates for investing in the current mega-regions that have succesfully attracted a density of talent and innovation, the Silicon Valleys and Research Triangles of the world, by making them more affordable for more people and more environmentally sustainable. Finally, he posits that improving quality of life for people who remain in shrinking cities can be achieved by cultivating high-growth services and industries in those locations.

And what are the implications for Milwaukee? Florida doesn't specify, but one interpetation is that Milwaukee has a choice of how to fit in this new economic theory: to be a shrinking city or to join the Chicago mega-region.

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