Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Richard Florida's Who's Your City?

Richard Florida has published an interesting book about what makes certain cities more desirable than others, and what factors ought to be taken into consideration when a person decides to move. The main points I got out of his book were these:

1. People don't buy houses or land for the property--they pay high prices in CA and NY to gain access and proximity to certain types of people. In the South and Midwest, people pay to be around more agreeable personalities, while on the East Coast, people are more neurotic and pay to be around people like them. In addition, highly educated people cluster together, creating super-centers of innovation, such as San Jose, CA, or, for offbeat, artistic types, Portland, OR. In short, people pay (in some cases, extraordinary costs) to choose their neighbors. It's an interesting premise, based on the old adage that "people of the same feathers flock together," and destroys the idea that people pay for a house based on square footage rather than neighbors and local amenities. (Potential buyers of a 550 sq foot guest house in Palo Alto, CA for 500,000 dollars, take note!)

2. Cities with high gay/lesbian populations tend to have favorable characteristics such as tolerance and culture, thereby attracting more affluent people who favor such openness. I agree that gay/lesbian populations add to the vibrancy of a city, but not because of any innate predilection towards "culture." The answer is far more simple. Gay people, on average, do not have children or many children; as a result, they tend to have much higher disposable incomes than families, who typically save more due to future expected expenses, such as college educations. Cities with residents who have higher disposable incomes tend to attract interesting outlets for spending money and more small businesses willing to take the risks of setting up shop to cater to affluent residents.

Mr. Florida has some charts in the back of his book that list "best buys" and ranks different locations for potential nomads based on different criteria (families, singles, etc.) I wouldn't call Mr. Florida the second coming of Jane Jacobs just yet. Reading his book is like eating a sweet, light cupcake with sprinkles of statistics--it'll fill you up for a little while, but in about two hours, you'll start getting hungry for more substance.

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