Urbanist Richard Florida on the overblown tech exodus and how cities will regroup post pandemic – GeekWire

Urbanist, writer and professor Richard Florida. (Photo: Daria Malysheva)

Reports of the death of coastal cities are greatly overblown.

At least that’s the view of renowned urbanist and author Richard Florida who spoke earlier this week with GeekWire contributing editor Monica Nickelsburg about the future of cities as part of the annual Crosscut Festival.

“I am just amazed at the amount of gloom and doom pessimism,” said Florida, adding that any out-of-city migration appears to be temporary and is really only happening with small subsets of people. “Net-net, it doesn’t look like we’ve had a great urban exodus.”

That’s just one of the fascinating observations from Florida, author of the Rise of the Creative Class and a professor at University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management. In the interview, Florida talks about the impact of falling birth rates on cities; why Miami appears ready to emerge as a significant tech hub; and how central business districts will need to change to embrace a post-pandemic world.

Listen to the full discussion below, subscribe to GeekWire in any podcast app, and continue reading for edited highlights and key quotes. 

Richard Florida (Photo: Lorne Bridgman)

—On the rise of Miami as a tech hub and why “risk oblivious” entrepreneurs love places without rules: “Another part of this story that no one is talking about is that Silicon Valley, when I started to study it 30 or 40 years ago, was like an open frontier where people could do anything they want and there was Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and The Grateful Dead and (Steve) Jobs and (Steve) Wozniak and no one bothered you. New York was always a place like the craziest artists and creatives and innovators went and they could do their own thing. These were places that really risk-taking people would go. I think that Miami offers them that now. It’s a place that risk-oblivious people … and risk-taking people like entrepreneurs and innovators do not like restrictions, so I think the open climate that allows you to manage your life or pursue your life or live your life freely is a big part of what is attracting people to Miami.” (Minute 7:45)

— A new breed of cities attracting entrepreneurs: “It isn’t just low taxes. It isn’t just low governance. …Cities have always been places that risk-oriented people felt comfortable. I think now, though, we are seeing this different sorting.” (10:30)

— Seattle and San Francisco’s future as tech hubs: “Look, Seattle, home to Microsoft, home to Amazon, a leading tech (hub) it will be fine. …The San Francisco Bay Area share of venture capital — and it goes from like 25% to 23% — and the next place is 10%. You know, the San Francisco Bay Area isn’t going anywhere. What you might see at the margin is the rise of a Miami, a little bit. But it is never going to be San Francisco. So I think the incumbent cities will do well.” (12:00)

— Tech workers moving to rural environs: “I think what the pandemic really does for the regular professional tech worker, the GeekWire reader — I think a lot of those folks like rural areas. Some of them like urbanism, especially when they are young and like a city like Seattle or San Francisco or a lot of them love New York, Manhattan and Brooklyn. But as they start to have kids, they don’t like the traditional generic suburbs that was the American dream. But they really like a place like Hudson Valley, N.Y., or they really like a place like Bozeman, Mont. There is something about rural America that speaks to these people, and I am seeing a lot of that group of people once they have a family say: ‘You know, San Francisco is pricey. New York is pricey. I am going to go to this really cool, small part of rural America, but a very hip part of rural America … a kind of creative class rural America and I am going to start my life there.’ I think that is the other big change the pandemic brings.”(15:30)

— Falling birth rates and why cities with kids do better: “I think we have become a society that is kind of biased against kids.” (Full discussion starts at 16:30)

— On the future of urban planning: “We’ve gone overboard with public health. And that’s hard to say now even when the pandemic is so serious. But, look, I think we have put public health in charge of too much.” (24:55)

On how downtown cores are evolving: “I think the big change in cities is going to be the central business district. I think the central business district is kind of the last hangover of the industrial age, where we packed and stacked people in these towers. And I think the central business district is going to change. …The office and central business district have to become a better place. They are pretty horrible. …The office is more like a place to meet and have social contacts, not just plug in your laptop and sit there and work. And I think the whole business district becomes more of a live-work neighborhood, 24-7 and vibrant. And so your day at the office is not a day at the office, it’s like a local business trip.” (Minute 26-28)

—The disparity between knowledge workers and essential workers: “Knowledge workers have done just fine during the pandemic. …It is really the rest of America, so-called essential workers that have gotten decimated.” (33:40)

—On what local public policy leaders need to focus on a post pandemic world: “There has been a lack of awareness of understanding and planning for a post-pandemic reality. Our localities have been very reactive and very restriction-oriented, and all of those things were important, especially in the early days of the pandemic. But since March of last year, I have been arguing that we need plans for re-opening, we need plans for post-pandemic life, we need strategies to get back up and running, we need ways to make sure our airports and universities are safe. And we are getting there, but we are doing it more in this ad-hoc way. So I think the most important thing our cities and metro areas can do is really focus on what this post pandemic reality will be like.”  (37:00)

—On the biggest challenges ahead: “The one that really worries me, and it is really two sides of the same coin. It’s the anxiety of how people go back to normal life. There are a lot of people like me who just lost their footing, and I know I am not the only one. …There are a lot of people who just don’t have their mojo back. It’s like a post-traumatic stress. A psychologist said to me, it is kind of like prisoner release when you release someone from jail. It takes a long time. The other one is just this disorder what I would call that is plaguing our cities. Crime rate, violent crime rate, petty crime — what one downtown expert I know calls the downtown disorder.” (39:15)

—On the amazing achievement of mRNA vaccine development and distribution and why he cried after getting his vaccine shot: “That’s what makes me optimistic. That if we could do this, we could do anything. And that’s not like pollyanna bullshit.”

Podcast edited and produced by Curt Milton. Music by Daniel L.K. Caldwell. Listen to all GeekWire podcasts here