The world is not flat; place matters.
I couldn’t agree more with the latest work by Richard Florida. This book looks at the importance of place not only in the global economy but in a person’s life. I personally had a good idea that this made a huge difference some time ago, despite living and working in a world where colleagues work for organizations for which home base is irrelevant.
On this, my 300-day DCVersary, I can confirm that my experience bears this out. Moving from one of the smaller “mega-regions” (Cascadia, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, 9 million people, $260 billion light-based regional product) to the second largest one in the world (Bos-Wash, Boston-Washington, DC, 54 million people, $2.2 trillion LRP) has undeniably made a significant difference in everything I do, even in a technology-related occupation. As Florida describes, people cluster:
(There is) the tendency of creative people to seek out and thrive in like-minded groups, and (there is the) self-perpetuating economic edge that comes from doing so.
Florida does a good job of reviewing the evidence that place matters, and the idea that its impact on personal and professional happiness has been underemphasized. He combines original research as well as data currently available to create a compelling picture of both the importance of place and the factors about it that matter. One of the interesting explorations in the book is about the personality of cities – extroverted people and agreeable people tend to be localized east of the Mississippi, where “open to experience” people tend to be localized to the coasts, with dominance in California and Bos-Wash (okay, maybe the extroversion doesn’t stretch as far east as DC, and maybe the “open to experience” doesn’t stretch as far South, but I’m pretending they do – you always see the best in something you like).
Throughout, It’s nice to imagine where you might “fit” but also how your own experience stacks up, because an important criteria of a place its aesthetic.
I have been using a curious measure for the past few years to judge aesthetic, the “touch-down” measure. It is, “In what city do you say to yourself, ‘I’m home,’ when the plane touches down on the runway.” I think you can’t fake that. Alternately, it’s the city that when the plane touches down, you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I don’t live here.”
I give strong kudos to Florida for acknowledging the role of diversity and tolerance in a place, not just for minorities, but for all people. He says:
It’s not about tolerance for tolerance’s sake. As my previous research has shown, places that are intolerant simply do not grow. And, as the Place and Happiness Survey confirms, people in intolerant places are less happy and less fulfilled than those in tolerant an open-minded ones.
This finding is similar to research that shows the same thing about organizations. As a patient said to me a very long time ago, “We don’t tolerate diversity (within the organization I work for). We LIVE diversity.” That describes a place that has a better chance of thriving, and one that most people (including me) want to be involved with.
A book by an author that writes a blog is a better read
It is worth mentioning that as I read the book, the positive impact of Florida having experience writing a blog came across, because (a) he brought his personal experiences and those of his colleagues into the story and (b) he crowd sourced several of his ideas, bringing in commentary from blog entries. This made for a much more engaging read, and I can’t help thinking that without this experience, the work might feel less connected to the experience of real people. I think this is an interesting way that blogging is changing traditional publishing because those who blog are forced to become more personal in their communication to be successful. I like it. A lot.
And the winner is…
I have experience living in three mega-regions described in the book: Bos-Wash, Nor-Cal, Cascadia and it was interesting for me to compare the decisions I’ve made with the characteristics of each. All of them offer so much. My recent experience with Bos-Wash has been, well, fantastic, both in terms of livability, ability to be extroverted, and exposure to diverse populations and cultures. Nor-Cal scores high in my book as well as it shares many of the livability and diversity attributes, as well as strong dominance in technology and innovation. Cascadia was definitely enjoyable for the time I spent there.
Who’s Your City? Feel free to post your experiences…