When I was covering Pittsburgh (and the steel industry) for BusinessWeek in the mid-90s, I dropped by Richard Florida, then an urban studies professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz School. His research, at the time, focused on the future of the Rust Belt.
It was a pressing interest in Pittsburgh. While the city itself managed to transition from industry to health care and tech, the surrounding mill towns, places like Homestead and Wheeling and Youngstown, were in dire straits. Florida at the time, as I recall, was upbeat, and believed the vast region, with its great state universities, strong institutions, and crucial resources, including fresh water, could remake itself.
A few years later, in 2002, I was working in Paris, when Florida published his breakthrough best seller, The Rise of the Creative Class. The book has stayed with me through the years, because it laid out our future with eery precision. His argument was that the knowledge economy would take root in global hubs that would have a few things in common: Leading universities, openness to diversity, including races, ethnicities, and sexual orientation, along with great restaurants and lively art and music scenes. These special places would host a global elite, a borderless bunch that felt nearly as comfortable in Copenhagen or Hong Kong as in Palo Alto, Calif.
Florida called this elite the "High Bohemians." They included the coders and designers, software architects, financiers—in short, most of the people who have been thriving for the past two decades. Most have advanced degrees. They like places with high quality of life, including food and art, and good parks. And these features, increasingly, make each city even stronger, richer. It is this process that has pushed up rents in New York and San Francisco, LA and Austin to levels that drive people, literally, into the streets.
This was the coming divide that Florida pointed to. While the cities thrive, he predicted, the country (and world) faced the risk of leaving vast post-industrial populations far behind, feeling lost and, yes, angry.
Richard Florida saw all of this coming.
So… When it came to hunting for “blurbs” for our upcoming book—Hop Skip Go—How the Mobility Revolution is Transforming our Lives— John Rossant (my coauthor) and I agreed that Richard Florida would be among the very best to get (at least among those not named Ophra).
It’s such a pain to ask for blurbs. People are busy. And you’re saying, in effect, “Hey, could you spend a few hours reading this, and then give me a slice of your valuable brand?”
Nonetheless, we asked Florida, through our agent, Jim Levine. And he promptly said yes. Some blurbers need a little help, “remembering” parts of the book they found especially trenchant, sometimes even coming up with words to describe them.
But Richard Florida raced through the book, wrote that he liked it, and delivered a very nice blurb. I'm grateful.
“The automobile era is giving way to a new form of networked mobility, driven by digital technology but involving everything from new forms of transportation and electric, driverless vehicle to bicycles and our two feet. In this engaging and important book, Rossant and Baker tell the eye-opening story of this mobility revolution and what it means for our society, our planet, and each and everyone one of us.”