Richard Florida: Livable Cities and Their Ability to Create Jobs

This is part of a series of interviews with leading practitioners and thought leaders on new approaches and solutions that have been proven to work. Richard Florida is the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto, Global Research Professor at New York University and Co-Founder of Atlantic Cities.
Richard Florida

Richard Florida

If you were talking to a newly elected mayor, what is the one piece of advice you would give?

Without growth and increased revenue, there is little you can do; you have to grow your economy, but you must make sure to do so in an inclusive way. Of course you need to attract knowledge and technology jobs, but knowledge workers make up just a third of the work today. Sixty-six percent of people are being left behind, either unemployed, out of the labor force or trapped in low wage jobs. Today, what’s just as important is to upgrade the low wage service jobs that are the largest and fastest growing job category. Call together your leading service companies to work with you to upgrade and improve these jobs. It can be a triple win – improving the productivity and profit of these companies, rising workers’ pay and improving the efficiency of your city’s service economy.

It’s also important that you improve the quality of place of your city. As our Gallup/Knight Soul of the Community survey shows, a greener, more welcoming, and more livable city is something that all residents, rich and poor alike, strongly desire.  That means ensuring that all have access to green space, historic architecture, great neighborhoods, walkability and transit. These are not value-added extras; they are what create greater emotional attachment on the part of residents to their community

A lot of cities want to focus on data now; what advice would you give to a city starting out in this area?

Remember the old saying: You get what you measure.  If cities want to improve their delivery of services, reduce costs, and become more efficient, they need to use data.  But they have to empower workers and residents to use it. Toyota revolutionized manufacturing when they allowed their workers to design better manufacturing processes by using and tracking their own performance data.

Choose one city that you believe had a true turnaround in the past ten years. What made it possible? 

New York City. The first factor was crime reduction and personal safety, some of it a result of better policing, a large part the product of demographic and cultural shifts that criminologists are still struggling to explain. But it also was due to a number of broader trends that are bringing business, talent and innovation back to urban centers. What can other cities do to emulate New York? They can follow its lead in working to improve schools and quality of place—and leveraging private/public partnerships to do so. But it’s not just one thing; there is no silver bullet.  Great cities and urban revitalization turn on a whole package of things– safe streets, solid infrastructure, economic opportunity, green spaces, accessible waterfronts, and engagement in arts, culture and community. Management theory tells us that great factories and great companies come when a cluster of best practices comes together. The same goes for cities.

When it comes to economic development what do you think are the three things any city must do to improve their local business climate?  

Here’s one big thing: Build a great people climate, so talented, ambitious, creative people from all over the world are dying to live and work in your city. Do that and the business climate will take care of itself.

Do you have good examples you know of where cities are collaborating with and/or learning from each other?

CityLab, the new conference we are doing with the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies, is designed to foster just those kinds of collaborations.

This interview was conducted by Neil Kleiman, National Resource Network Director of Policy, Research and Evaluation.