Who's Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Lifeby Richard Florida
Place is not only important, it's more important than ever. In fact, choosing a place to live is as important to our happiness as choosing a spouse or career. And some regions, recent surveys show, really are happier than others. In Who's Your City?, Creative Class guru Richard Florida reports on this growing body of research that tells us what qualities of cities
Place is not only important, it's more important than ever. In fact, choosing a place to live is as important to our happiness as choosing a spouse or career. And some regions, recent surveys show, really are happier than others. In Who's Your City?, Creative Class guru Richard Florida reports on this growing body of research that tells us what qualities of cities and towns actually make people happy-and he explains how to use these ideas to make our own choices. Where we decide to live is a crucial decision in each of our lives, and Who's Your City? helps us to take full advantage of our range of choices.
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Read an Excerpt
Urban Family Lands
There is one striking difference between U.S. and Canadian cities. In the U.S., many if not most families tend to leave the city when their children reach school age. Many U.S. urban areas suffer from lacklustre – to put it euphemistically – schools and relatively high rates of violent crime. For these reasons, all but the truly wealthy or the most urbanophile of families bite the bullet and move to the suburbs. The demography of urban America resembles a “barbell” with young singles and empty-nesters – relatively devoid of children.
Canada’s cities are different. Public schools are quite good, and there is much less of a differential between urban and suburban schools. Sure, many Canadian parents choose to send their kids to private or parochial schools, and they do so both in the suburbs as well as the city. But many Canadian parents are able to and prefer to stay in urban centres, because the streets are relatively safe and the schools are good. These parents accept having less space and smaller yards for the proximity as well as the diversity and cultural capital these urban centres offer to children and families.
Personally, I am struck on a daily basis by how many kids of all ages live in Toronto. Not just kids of affluent parents living in posh neighbourhoods and going to private schools. Middle-class kids using public schools, ethnic kids, kids of every race, nationality, and family structure.
Our neighbourhood is a mile and a half from the University of Toronto and less than two kilometres from the downtown core. It has great public as well as private schools, and is filled with families with children. The suburbs versus city trade-off does not really exist here. As Martin explains:
In Boston, we lived in the lovely Wellesley Hills. Even though it was an upscale neighbourhood, with large single-family houses, we wouldn’t have considered letting our 7-year-old son or 10-year-old daughter walk six or seven blocks to a friend’s house – or let our 12-year-old son walk four blocks down to the shopping district on Route 16. It would have felt like being a bad parent.
In Toronto, our youngest has been biking to school since he was 13 years old – and school is about a twenty-minute bike ride along one of the main north-south streets of the city – without inducing even a mild concern. We simply do not worry about their personal safety here.
How many American parents can still say that? In our old neighbourhood in DC, every single child was in private school. Not only were the public schools not up to snuff, the surrounding community was extremely dangerous. We got a feeling for this one day when we came across a map of DC-area crime in the Washington Post. Our neighbourhood was a veritable island on this map surrounded by huge swathes of dots showing murders and other violent crimes all around us.
And safe cities are just as important for families with teenagers as they are for families with small children.
Toronto’s family-friendliness was driven home to us on our first Halloween here, so much so that I gave it a name, the “Trick-or-Treater Index,” on my blog. During our time in DC – in a solid neighbourhood in the city’s northwest quadrant – not a single kid came to our door in three years. But on Halloween night in our neighbourhood in Toronto, which is closer to the city core and considerably denser than our DC neighbourhood, our house was mobbed by children of a mosaic of races and ethnicities. A person commented on my blog, pointing out that Catherine Austin Fitts, a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, came up with a similar index – the “Popsicle Index” – which she describes as the percentage of people in a community who feel that a child can leave home safely to buy a popsicle. As if that wasn’t enough, the day after Halloween, the U.S. Census Bureau released a study which found that nearly half of all children in the United States live in places where their parents fear that neighbours may be a bad influence, and more than one in five children are kept indoors because they live in dangerous neighbourhoods – a number that rises to 34 percent for African Americans and 37 percent for Hispanics.
Locating in urban neighbourhoods enables children to benefit from the cultural capital that comes from diversity. Toronto blogger, Metro Mama, sees living in the urban core as a key element of her daughter, Cakes’, development:
It’s important that Cakes lives somewhere where she’ll meet people of varying backgrounds. I want her to have an open mind. I want her to speak more than one language. I love the fact that we sing ‘Twinkle-Twinkle’ in Mandarin at our local drop-in. I want my daughter to be colour blind. There are several children on our street and she is the only white one; where I grew up, I could count on one hand the number of non-white kids I went to school with. Cultural diversity has many other benefits, a huge one being food. We’re so lucky to have so much fabulous and authentic food to enjoy, from dim sum in Chinatown, to curries in Little India. Here in Toronto, she’ll have access to cultural festivals, foreign films at the Toronto Film Fest, and music and dance from around the globe. She’ll have a taste of the world; I hope it will whet her appetite to see it for herself.
Sarah Kerr-Hornell adds:
As a child of the Canadian armed forces (army brat) I have lived in many cities and towns across Canada. My parents had lived and travelled internationally, and brought a lively, well-educated point of view to our family discussions. At 18 I moved to Toronto to attend U of T’s downtown campus. That decision changed the direction and nature of my life. I was surrounded by other people who wanted to excel, explore ideas and opportunities, and wanted to know more about what was different, not just cleave to what was similar or familiar. Being Jewish was no longer a weird thing outside of a Jewish community. Discovering Toronto’s vibrant multiculturalism – dance, theatre, music, cultures, food – gave me a stronger sense of myself and clarity about the next decisions for my life. I made my home in one of Toronto’s wonderful village neighbourhoods. Marriage and a child followed, in my 30s. . . . I have had several offers into the U.S. (New York and LA), but I did not wish my son to be raised there, and so happily remained in Canada’s biggest pond.
And she adds her decision has been a good one:
My son represents the best of Toronto: he is bilingual (French and English) both race and colour blind, and is developing a strong sense of himself in this place that we call home. My only complaint (such as it is): how will I ever get him to leave home and enjoy the living-in-residence university experience, when Toronto has so much to offer?
Some even choose their city based on where their kids might live. At a speech in Toronto during winter 2008, I ran into a Canadian fellow – a high-powered consultant – I used to know when I lived in Pittsburgh. When I asked him why he moved back to Toronto, he answered simply that he and his wife started thinking about where their kids would be likely to stay when they grew up. When they ran through the options, Toronto seemed a no-brainer, though a number of Canadian cities would meet the criteria so many parents are looking for. And family-friendliness is not just something parents need to think about for their toddlers or elementary school kids.
Family-friendly cities are particularly good places for teenagers. They provide the freedom for teens to explore, discover, and self-express with tolerable levels of risk. Kwende Kefentse was able to do just that growing up in Mississauga but spending time in Toronto:
I am a first generation Canadian. My parents immigrated to Toronto in the second Caribbean diaspora during the 60s and bought a house in Mississauga when I was 5 or 6. We grew up in and around the GTA with frequent trips back to Barbados, where my parents come from and where most of my family is rooted. I grew up with the sense that Toronto was my city to discover, but that Mississauga was where I lived and that in the end my ‘real home’ was Barbados (roughly the size of a city) – this was, perhaps surprisingly, very unproblematic for me. For example: our cultural festival (and the centre of your young black life coming up in Toronto in the late 80’s and 90’s) Caribana didn’t take place where I lived – it happened downtown. I remember being in grade school and having someone ask me what I was going to do with the summer. When I told them that I was going back to Barbados, but that I’d be back for Caribana of course, and they gave me that blank stare and asked ‘what’s that?,’ I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem possible that someone could not know about something that was so important to everyone in my life outside of school.
As I got older and more into music, all of the record stores and concerts were downtown but moreover the aficionado’s who were into the hiphop music and culture the way that I was were all drawn downtown. I was frequently commuting downtown myself running errands for my mom on weekends or just hanging out and walking around. When we got into high school a friend of mine and I began doing what we called ‘GTA Weeks’ – we’d buy transit passes and spend the week travelling through the city and the surrounding areas encouraging random encounters, going to shows, meeting people and taking in what the city had to offer us, which for me was something vital. I identified with the metro and its culture more than I did my immediate surroundings. I would learn to take the things that I identified with from the metro and bring them to my life in Mississauga.
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Meet the Author
Richard Florida, Author, Who's Your City? and Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
Richard Florida is one of the world's leading public intellectuals. Esquire Magazine recently named him one of the 'Best and Brightest' in America. He is author of the national and international best-selling book, The Rise of the Creative Class, which received the Washington Monthly's Political Book Award and was cited as a major breakthrough idea by the Harvard Business Review. His ideas have been featured in major ad campaigns and such as BMW and are being used globally to change the way regions, nations, and companies compete.
He is founder of the Creative Class Group, an advisory services firm, charting new trends in business and community.
Richard is a regular columnist with the Globe and Mail newspaper and has written articles for the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review, the Boston Globe and the Financial Times. His new book, Who's Your City? has been hailed a National Best-Seller, an International Best-Seller and Amazon Book of the Month.
Richard has also been appointed to the Business Innovation Factory's Research Advisory Council and recently named European Ambassador for Creativity and Innovation.
He is Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and Professor of Business and Creativity at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Previously, Florida held professorships at Carnegie Mellon University, a visiting professor at Harvard and MIT, and a visiting fellow of the Brookings Institution. Florida earned his Bachelor's degree from Rutgers College and his Ph.D. from Columbia University.
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