How the Great Reset Has Already Changed America

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In the wake of the recession, cities and suburbs are being knit into giant city-states, with millions of people and billions -- even trillions -- of dollars of business

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A year ago, I published a book that argued that, for all the privations and dislocations of the economic crisis, it also provides us with the opportunity to make fundamental changes in our economy and society. I characterized these changes as a Great Reset, and I found similar moments in American history when new economic orders arose from the ashes of old ones, ushering in new eras of growth and prosperity.

The Ideas ReportSince writing the book, I've been able to see for myself what I've long suspected: that Great Resets unfold not from top-down policies and programs but gradually, as millions upon millions of people respond to challenging economic times by changing the ways that they live. The economic crisis has taught us the hard way that we need to live within our means, to forestall debt; it's made us understand that we don't have to define ourselves in terms of material goods, that we can achieve a more meaningful and sustainable way of life.

Watching the Reset unfold, it's been fascinating to see how quickly the once great divide between our cities and suburbs has been shrinking. The most desirable neighborhoods look increasingly similar, no matter where they are. The best urban neighborhoods are safe and have good schools; they are becoming strollervilles and toddler-towns, filled with families as well as singles. The best suburban neighborhoods have great commercial districts with restaurants, movie theaters, and all manner of amenities.

As many of our cities and older inner-ring suburbs are being renovated and revitalized, the great challenge of our time -- far bigger than urban renewal was in decades past -- is to remake our many shoddily-built, far-off exurbs into denser, more- connected, more livable communities. Some of them -- the ones that were built as much to keep the building boom going as because people needed to live in them -- might be fated to shrink back into small towns or disappear altogether.

In my travels across the country, I've heard from people who are in the process of resetting their lives. Young people just out of college tell me that they don't want their parents' suburban lifestyle; they'd prefer to find an affordable rental apartment in a city they love where economic opportunities are better. They don't want to go into hock buying a big house and a big car, just so they can endure a long commute.

Young parents tell me they've had to defer their dream of buying a bigger house with a backyard, either because they can't afford it or don't qualify for a mortgage. Instead, they've decided to stay put and renovate their city apartment or fix up their small house in an older, closer-in suburb. Empty nesters tell me they've decided to sell the big house, sometimes for a lot less than they could have gotten for it a few years ago, and buy a smaller condo or house closer to their kids in the city.

These shifts, brought on by economic exigencies, are already adding up to a gradual but enduring change in the way we live -- one that will prove every bit as consequential as the move towards suburban living was in the 1950s and 1960s.

Gradually, our great complexes of cities and suburbs are being knit into mega-regions -- giant city-states that are home to millions upon millions of people and generate billions and in some cases trillions of dollars of economic activity. Driving this is not just our individual choices and preferences but the very logic of economic development. Geographic concentration and clustering speeds the transmission of new ideas, increases the underlying productivity of people and firms, and generates powerful economies of scale.

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Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More

Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here
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