11/01/2008

Who’s Your City?

Book Review by Laura Neidert

Book Review: Who's Your City? How The Creative Economy Is Making Where To Live The Most Important Decision Of Your Life. By Richard Florida. Basic Books,  2008. (384 pages)

As career counselors, we spend a great deal of time working with clients helping them to create change in their lives. We talk to them about researching the company, writing a good cover letter, and being prepared for tough interview questions. But Richard Florida thinks that we might be missing an important point. Florida argues that "the place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being. It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose, and the options available to our children and families". Who's Your City? How The Creative Economy Is Making Where To Live The Most Important Decision Of Your Life, serves as a useful resource to help understand why geographic choice matters, and how location can impact our clients' lives in surprising ways.

In Who's Your City, Florida contends that globalization hasn't quite made the world flat because talent, innovation, and creativity aren't distributed equally across the global economy. He sees these qualities as today's key economic drivers, and they are present in different regions due to the "clustering force." Florida says, "the real source of economic growth comes from the clustering and concentration of talented and productive people. New ideas are generated and our productivity increases when we locate close to one another in cities and regions".

Florida focuses on mega-regions, or multiple large cities whose growth is largely driven by the creative class. This class of people consists of those who create new ideas, technology, and content through complex problem solving and independent judgment. Mega-regions are led by "spiky" cities, thus named because their productivity drastically outpaces the areas around them. Based on that productivity, these cities "spike" up above others. Many times, members of the creative class are drawn to these cities. Florida believes that each of the 12 mega-regions in the United States is known for something different: technology in Dallas-Austin mega-region, or public policy in the Boston-Washington D.C. mega-region, for example.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Florida's work is his level of detail, but there are two sides to that coin. The book can get a bit dense at times because it deals with economic development, a notoriously dry subject. However, he provides vastly useful information on criteria such as the difference between single male and female populations in a city. I'm glad to finally see an answer to that age old question "where have all the good single people gone?" Men are gravitating to the West Coast, and women are gravitating toward the East Coast, in surprisingly disparate numbers. For example, single women ages 20-64 outnumber single men of the same age group by 210,000 in the New York City-Northern New Jersey area. Conversely, single men of that age group outnumber single women by more than 89,000 in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area.

Florida wraps up the book by offering suggestions for determining your ideal place to life and work. He suggests the following key factors to guide your search:

  • How the location will affect your job and career prospects
  • Have a good sense of how important it is to have close friends and family nearby, or a sense of what you'll give up by moving far away.
  • Be honest with yourself about the kind of place that best suits your lifestyle.
  • Think carefully about how the place you choose to live matches your personality. Cities, according to Florida, also have definable personalities.
  • Make sure your place fits your life stage, i.e your age and your values.

The primary usefulness of this book for career counselors is sparking the discussion with clients about the importance of job offers and their locations. Especially with recent college graduates, they might not be thinking about all the factors listed above, but might simply follow their friends to a large city or take the first job offer that comes along. It's easy to get caught up in the mentality of "because it's a big city, I must be able to have fun there no matter what." However, if it is important to your clients that they are able to meet the person of their dreams, buy a house, or avoid traffic, they might want to look at broadening their horizons.

Additionally, this book has greater relevancy given the current state of the housing market. If you are young and just starting out, it might not matter as much where you live. However, if you are starting a family or thinking about retirement, location may be more important to assess. Are you willing to make the tradeoffs to live in a place where home values are lower in order to be near family? Or is it important that you live in a cutting edge metropolitan?

With the arrival of Generation Y in the workforce, increasing attention has been paid to having a life outside of work. Today's graduates are increasingly looking for a place where they can "have it all", but that "it factor" is different for everyone. By examining Florida's work, people can better understand their geographic needs and values, and be better equipped to make logical and reasoned decisions about moving. My advice is to open your eyes and examine all the impacts that your city, town, or region has on your daily life and career. Hopefully we can help our clients engage in a similar process. We all might just be surprised at what we find.  


Laura Neidert is the Assistant Director of Career Development and Internship Coordinator at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. She handles facilitates internship counseling, outreach events, marketing, and manages an intership stipend fund. Previously, she served as the Graduate Assistant at the Ursuline College Office of Counseling and Career Services in Ohio, handling the virtual internship program as well as assisting with the experiential learning program. She is a graduate of Kent State University's Higher Education Administration master's program and Bowling Green State University. She can be reached at laura.neidert@yahoo.com.


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