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A Failed Urbanism

by John Daniel Davidson

The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do about It, by Richard Florida (Basic, 336 pp., $28)

Richard Florida would like to clarify something. The creative class, it turns out, is not going to save your city — or any city. Florida, the stylish urban-studies professor who launched a lucrative career as a jet-setting urban theorist with his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class, thinks cities have become a big problem. In fact, the most problematic cities are the ones that seem most fully to embody his optimistic ideas about the creative class. Whether Florida is willing to admit it or not, his new book is more or less a sustained rebuttal of his famous theory, which in hindsight turns out to be a recipe not for urban renewal but for rampant income inequality and other evils, including “economic segregation.”

Florida’s conflicting theses would be laughable if they hadn’t proven so influential over the past 15 years. He popularized the idea that highly mobile young workers in growth industries — “creatives” — want above all to live someplace cool and tolerant. If cities wanted to attract those industries, they had to appeal to their tech-savvy workers, which meant they had better get with the progressive program.

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