At a very basic level, this is a self-help book. Richard Florida’s primary objective in this book is to help the reader pick the place that’s right for him or her. To accomplish this fundamental objective, the author organizes his “advice” about picking a place around three key ideas. First, taking a swipe at Thomas Friedman’s recent tome The World is Flat, Florida claims that despite all the hype about globalization, “place is actually more important to the global economy than ever before” (p. 12). Second, he points out that places are increasingly getting more diverse and specialized. Finally, he claims that we now live in societies that are highly mobile and that this mobility gives us greater say over where we live.
The first of four parts in this book explains why place matters. Florida begins his analysis by arguing that, by almost any measure, “the international economic landscape is not at all flat” (p.18). However (and somewhat quixotically), just a little later he concedes that the world is flat but adds that it is really “flat and spiky at the same time” (p. 20). He then goes on to plausibly point out that what he calls “mega-regions” are “becoming the economic powerhouses behind national economies” (p. 24). His identification of some of these mega-regions is erroneous. For instance, he refers to “India’s Dehli-Lahore” as a mega-region. In this regard, two points are worth noting. First, the correct spelling is not “Dehli” but “Delhi.” Second, Delhi is in India and Lahore is in Pakistan. So, even if this region is a “mega-region,” this bi-national region is certainly not entirely Indian.
Issues relating to mobility, job shifting, and what Florida calls “superstar cities” comprise the subject matter of the second part of this book. The author makes two reasonable points. First, he contends that what matters most in today’s world “isn’t where most people settle, but where the greatest number of the most skilled people locate” (p. 98, emphasis in original). He also points out that the productivity gains brought on by the clustering of work are “creating a new and more specialized geography of work in the United States and around the world, as jobs and employment opportunities sort into a regional hierarchy by city and location” (p. 120). So far so good, but Florida lets his zeal get the better of him when he claims, with little credible evidence, that “regions in which artists and gays have migrated and settled are more likely than others to place high premiums on innovation, entrepreneurship, and new firm formation” (p. 139).
The third part of this book concerns what Florida calls the “geography of happiness.” After arguing that the place we live in is more salient to our happiness than either our education or our income, the author unpersuasively claims that we need “aesthetics and openness” (p. 183) in our communities. Do we all really need these attributes, or do we want these attributes? Florida’s discussion does not settle this question one way or the other.
Self-help books are often long on elaborate charts, diagrams, and tables, and short on thoughtful prose. The same is true of parts of this book. For instance, Florida clearly loves figures and maps and in a chapter on the “personalities of cities,” he provides several so called “personality maps” in which he depicts the locations of extroverted, neurotic, conscientious, and other types of people. On the basis of a “personality survey,” he says that he was able to “link a personality to a location” (p. 195). However, this linkage is one of correlation and not one of causation, hence its relevance to the formulation of public policy is unclear.
The last part of this book concerns the three big moves in our lives. Here, Florida makes some sensible points including the observation that where we live influences how we grow up, “how we spend our free time, the educational opportunities available to us, and the people we meet” (p. 249).
Still, there is no getting away from the self-help nature of this book. Florida provides us with an elaborate “ten-step plan” that will supposedly help us locate the place that best fits us. The ninth step asks us to “tally our scores” for the various places we are potentially interested in. The tenth step asks us to visit these places under consideration. Florida then says that “if a place doesn’t feel right for any reason while you’re actually there, don’t hesitate to reject it based on your gut feeling, regardless of how it ranks on your list” (p. 304, emphasis added). If this is the case then why bother with all the elaborate previous steps? Why not simply visit the various places and eliminate those that don’t feel right on the basis of one’s gut feeling? Unfortunately, Florida provides no answer to this query. The author’s final suggestion is that after following his ten-step plan, we have to “choose” a place. Do we really need a self-help book to tell us the obvious?
Who's Your City? contains some interesting ideas and some of the maps it provides are thought-provoking. However, despite all the charts, maps, and tables, it is doubtful whether too many readers will be persuaded by the book’s titular claim that where to live is “the most important decision of your life.”