Urban Planning for Mega-Regions

Just as people have particular personalities, so do cities. Richard Florida's book, "Who's Your City?" explores the implications for urban development.

Regional planners have recognized for some time that cities and regions are the primary engines of economic growth, not national economies as was once thought. Richard Florida’s contribution to urban planning for the new century is the idea that workers in the creative economy are driving this growth in a select number of regions globally.

The benefits accruing from their labour are not evenly distributed as illustrated in his book, Who's Your City?.

Using sophisticated mapping techniques and collaborating with other workers in the creative class, Florida’s team has identified critical variables that mark some regions out for more growth than others. The world is not flat as many theorists have speculated in the light of widespread digital technology. Rather, it is spiky, and the greatest peaks are where the creative class has gathered.

It turns out that place matters a great deal in this new economy. Urban planners and policy-makers should be planning for increasing concentrations of people in cities and regions where the creative class is most in demand: as scientists, innovators, venture capitalists, filmmakers, creative thinkers and entrepreneurs.

Changing Global Economy and Implications for Urban Growth

With the growth of the creative class, population patterns are shifting in North America. More people live in cities than ever before, and some cities are seeing growth at the expense of older industrial regions. Florida’s research validates findings from other geographers and urban theorists about the tendency to clustering of specific industries.

This clustering of core industries in mega-regions, or groups of cities physically close to each other and allied economically, is evident in high tech industries like software and biotechnology. It plays out in venture capitalism and the film, music, design and fashion industries as well.

Furthermore, like attracts like: those who work in the creative economy prefer to work with other people like themselves. They are mobile and willing to relocate to centres that offer the right mix of amenities, aesthetic surroundings and job opportunities.

One conclusion to be drawn from Florida’s research is that efforts to revive older manufacturing centres like Detroit and Oshawa may ultimately fail. Neither city offers the kind of employment and opportunities for networking preferred by members of the creative class. Detroit might rank high as a conscientious city, but it has the wrong personality for those who seek openness and innovation in a city.

Place and Happiness Survey

Another key finding from Who’s Your City? is the importance of aesthetics in urban design. Florida’s team conducted a Place and Happiness Survey using data from a large sample to determine what really matters to people in their place of residence. Physical beauty of surroundings, cultural offerings and amenities topped most people’s list. The lesson for urban planners: it pays to invest in bowered streetscapes, parks and other open spaces, in addition to planning for cultural spaces.

Connectivity is important to many residents. Florida reviews studies indicating that increasing numbers of people feel isolated and crave a sense of connection to others in their communities. Urban design that encourages connectivity can address this fundamental human need and increase the attractiveness of an urban area to prospective new residents.

Who’s Your City? may have been written as a self-help guide for house hunters, but it holds valuable lessons for urban planners and designers. Place and personal identity are intricately linked. Florida’s research helps explain the connection between the two and why choosing where to live is one of the most important decisions of a person’s life.