WASHINGTON – The trend of increased urbanization as baby boomers and young people leave the suburbs for metropolitan areas has created economic segregation, but it can be mitigated by ensuring affordable housing, better wages for service jobs and leadership at the local level, according to the author of a new book on urban problems.
Richard Florida, an urban studies theorist and professor at University of Toronto, argues in his new book, “The New Urban Crisis,” that the clustering of technology, talent, knowledge, and industries in one place generates economic prosperity but it also creates social and economic divides.
Speaking at the Brookings Institution on Tuesday, he noted that the old urban crisis saw a rush of movement to the suburbs by businesses and the middle class; the new crisis is their return into the city. As the affluent and rich move to the urban centers, they bring with them rising inequality, economic segregation and unaffordable housing, he said.
While the affluent –businesses, artists, innovators – are jamming themselves into a few concentrated and confined number of space, there are still 860 million people across the world living in slums, he said.
These affluent cities are only growing as a result. Florida breaks down cities within the US that rank high in the New Urban Crisis Index. The top five include: Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Chicago, in that order.
For example, in 1990, San Francisco had 20 percent of the venture capital-backed start-ups in the United States. Now, it has 50 percent.
This kind of movement can cause two types of backlash, Florida said — coalitions of restoration and coalitions of transformation.
The coalition of restoration refers to people being pushed farther and farther away from urban center and feeling isolated. “It’s an economic and cultural backlash where they want to see the restoration of family values and other things that allowed white men to have privilege,” Florida said.
The coalition of transformation is the backlash from the left. People in this coalition believe that in order to fix urban problems, there needs to be a decentralization of technology within the city, he said.
Florida breaks down five dimensions that exist within the urban crisis.
- The ”winner takes all” urbanism, where disproportionate amounts of advanced technology and entertainment and media industries are located within a few “winning” large cities, like New York, Boston and San Francisco
- The crisis of wage inequality and economic segregation existing within these “winning” cities
- The continuing and increasing violence in suburbs
- The poverty caused by globalized urbanization
- The desolation of the middle class
Ironically, the solution is more urbanization, he said.
The current geographical spacing results in urban areas of concentrated advantage and others that remain in suburbs based on specific access points, like access to jobs, transportation, knowledge institutions, and amenities.
“We have to move from an era of ‘winner takes all’ urbanism to ‘urbanism for all,’” Florida says. “That ‘urbanism for all’ has to be around an agenda not for exclusionary prosperity but for inclusive prosperity.”
He recommended building more things in the right places, such as affordable and rental home units outside the urban core, creating comprehensive strategies for poverty mitigation and upgrading minimum wages for service jobs.