Interview with Richard Florida in Maastricht

During the the Biennale of Redevelopment in Maastricht, Richard Florida was one of the speakers. Friday morning November 4 Richard Florida was interviewed by Ester Agricola. Ester Agricola is the director of the Amsterdam Monument and Archeology Office. I taped the interview and typed out an extract. This is what was said.

During the time that I wrote ‘The Rise of the Creative Class’ and in the years after that I never would have thought that we would get into a crisis like this. I was never into geography and urbanism. I am a student of capitalism, of Marx and Schumpeter. What I started to do was add Jane Jacobs to that.

The crisis that we are now in is also a crisis on our way of life. We can see this creative and knowledge based economy emerging and this old industrial economy receding. That causes big changes in the way we live. That is what ‘The great Reset’ is about.

Yes I agree the crisis is the opportunity. When it started I knew that it would be generational. That it was going to be big. That it is not just going away. And yes, it will be resolved. It will be resolved, like the last big crisis, by many new technological inventions, but also by changing the way we live.

We have to completely break with the old geographic model: the model of suburbanisation. You here in this audience start to understand that. But it will be a big challenge to make presidents, bankers and other politicians understand it as well.

When I look at the world I can see that it is spikey. It’s not flat at all. The mega regions will grow bigger and they are linked by mass transit.

But the present geographic model is promoting sub urbanism; it’s promoting the use of the car. And in the new model we will have to intensify in the core. That’s what we already see happening. The city itself is the main container of the new economy and we will have to densify and intensify there.

Americans during the last century have seen the European spatial structure as anachronistic. For American planners, the European spatial structure was not something to follow. They were completely into sub urbanism, into building another Silicon Valley, into building the nerdistans as I call them. The high tech technological parks that everyone wanted to force through your throat during the last twenty years or so.

But the European spatial structure, with concentrated cores, with better connections, if you can manipulate that in the right way it is much better in tune with what we need today. This fibre is very well capable to build this creative and knowledge based economy on. It is the city itself that will challenge Silicon Valley.

This city has to be a place with real density. And it has to be a place with many big stories: new ideas require old buildings.

As I said the world is not flat it is spikey. We see a massive concentration of assets; we see an increasingly spikey world. One of my students told me he is 27 and can live very rich in Shanghai. He told me that he has a much better way of life there than I have in Toronto.

But what he also told me and what is the other side to that is that the people who live on the outskirts of Shanghai have to live in a world that is pre civilised….

So the question of our age is how to melt down this socio economic and spatial inequality. That inequality is not only reflected in the income levels but also in the cost of housing.

We did build the working class; it was not given to us. Now we have to reform how our cities operate. We have to reform our service jobs. The vacancies in our real estate are the result of the change of the old economic order. It is like what Rudy Stroink said yesterday: stop building at the periphery. Stop giving incentives for new peripheral growth. Just stop it.

And you can say the reuse of old buildings is nice, it’s sustainable, it’s a moral thing, and it’s ethical, it’s green. But I tell you no: this is also an economic necessity, the more you go to the periphery the less connected you are, the less interaction you have, the less productivity you will have. If we want to build more competitive regions and cities, we will have to densify. Density in the urban form is what now grows economies.

You ask me where the weakest link is. The weakest link is: us. We accept this stuff. Political leaders will take a long time to adjust. The mood that they are in is that they say the new order is too scary let’s bring back the old one. Lets bring back the old housing market, the old banks, lets reinvest in the companies that are dead. It’s us:

We will have to wake up and say no, this is a new time, it’s a new era and we need something different.

I do not see a massive political movement ready to fix these problems. We are in the earliest phase of this shift. It may take a lot of pain for many people to learn from this. What makes me optimistic is that it looks as if there is enough international cooperation in the world that we don’t have to suffer through a mayor meltdown.

The question is how fast can we accelerate the shift? For my father the crisis started when he was an eight-year-old boy and it took until he was forty until he could truly participate in the American Dream in the fifties and sixties. So how fast will it go now and what will have to happen first? We can only hope it will go faster.

So, how can we create a new economic demand? We love our historic buildings and at the same moment we are producing a surplus. What kind of program do you see for these buildings?

The key component of the socio economic and spatial structure of the old world is the housing, automobile, and energy complex. For every country in the world the same laws could be used: if you wanted to grow you had to build up an industrial sector and you had to create a demand. Not by militarisation, although it was sometimes an important factor, but by creating a market demand. We stimulated demand for cars, for steel, for metal, for houses, for washing machines. And the flip side was the mass production Fordism structure

Before the industrial age arrived we spent most of our money on food, clothes and shelter. During the transition into the industrial age we had to shrink the amount of money we did spend on food and started to spend it on houses, cars and energy. So the next step will be that we have to shrink the demand for housing, energy and cars and expand spending on new products.

The average American and Canadian household today spends 75% of their income on car, housing and energy. If we want our new economy to grow we have to shrink that back the same way as we did that with agriculture: we have to make it sustainable and efficient, so we can open new demand for new jobs. That’s the shift that we are in.

So your final question is how do we get rid of the crisis. What would I like to see happening the next years? I am hopeful that national leaders and mayors will start to articulate these things that we have learned in all the great cities of the world. These things have to be better heard all over the world. The other thing is that we should invest much more in adaptive reuse. Reusing our heritage in a new way. Not put these historic buildings in amber. But really use them. It’s about the adaptive reuse of technology and modernism and combining this. I would like to see that as a new development model. For me urban planning as we know it is Fordism. It is Henry Ford applied to the use of urban space. We have to rethink all these zoning and building codes. In order to create spaces that are sustainable and human.

And the final but maybe the most important thing is the jobs agenda. We will have to look at the 40 to 45 % of people that are in the service industry and make their jobs better. That is the obligation we have.

2 thoughts on “Interview with Richard Florida in Maastricht

  1. The Great Reset. Geweldig! Maar Florida is in zijn boek wel heel Amerikaans. Daarom erg leuk dat het bovenstaande interview ingaat op de Nederlandse situatie van veel oude gebouwen, historische steden en waarden. Op weg naar een maatschappij van minder consumptie, minder energie, meer kennisdelen, meer virtueel, meer creatief werken en menselijke waarden kunnen we onze oude gebouwen en steden prima inzetten!

  2. When I first heard Richard Florida many years ago, I was impressed … but once I read through his work in more depth, and followed what he was saying, it seemed more and more like “pop psychology,” a lot of cheap words with good sounding solutions, even ones that most of acknowledge, but they don’t seem to do that much. The only way we can truly understand what is going on with the city is to understand the complexity of the processes and actions around us, the people, and how we shape the city. It is no good analysing the results of this, say transport, economics, building/architecture, and propose solutions based on this. I do appreciate that Florida does focus a lot of people, but he forgets true social complexity.

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