Dissents Of The Day

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

It's fairly clear from the tone of the Richard Florida piece you posted that he continues to believe quite strongly in his back-to-the-cities theory, regardless of the continued economic decline of many major urban centers. Florida no doubt hopes that a generation of young people will follow his advice and head off to places like LA, NYC and San Francisco to make their mark on the world. In his mind they will then be thoroughly indoctrinated into the cult of urban renewal and can take that message elsewhere with their annual job hunts.

As the antidote to anyone who continues to believe in this approach, I urge them to read Joel Kotkin's essay, "Urban Legends".

While the idea of a trendy loft apartment in SoHo and a 80 hour work week sounds great to some in their mid-to-late 20's, once they hit 30 they are starting to think about a comfortable 3 bedroom with a yard big enough for a Labrador Retriever and enough vacation time accrued to take the family on a couple nice trips per year. They are thinking about a 40 hour work week that gives them time to hit the gym after work, play in the co-ed softball league and sleep in on Saturdays.   Richard Florida's vision hinges on an age group of roughly 5 years. The reality is that the next 20 years after that are much more predictive of what our national living trends will be.

Florida has responded to Kotkin here, here, here, and here (and that's only a smattering of the back and forth between the two, but it should give you the flavor of the debate). Another reader takes issue with the same post:

The linked survey listing "the best place for college grads to start their careers" actually lists the top ten cities graduates desire to start their careers.  This is not the same thing. I graduated 2 years ago this May. A majority of my classmates would have identified places like NYC, Chicago, DC, or San Francisco as their ideal place to start their career, but a vast majority of them did not actually end up in these places.  They chose a $65000 (with no city or state tax) per year job in Houston, a city with a stable real estate and job market (even still) and a low cost of living, over their NYC offers (which tended to be in the $40000s) almost every time. 

The best places to start a career (or continue one) are likely not those that are the most popular, especially in the current economic state.  Collapsing real estate prices in places like California have devastated the net worth of years worth of college graduates that chose to settle in that popular area, while those in unpopular places like Houston have not experienced this.  Chicago has been having trouble sustaining strong and diverse growth for years and cost of living in NYC has been an impractical location for graduates (outside of finance) with student loans and high value skills for a great while (the reason why it experiences one of the lowest net in-migration rates for young, educated people).