Originally posted in Saporta Report April 4, 2017
by Sarah Kirsch, Executive Director, ULI Atlanta
“Can you name a true thought leader?” Someone asked me recently, contending it is an overused term with few clear examples. My immediate answer: “Richard Florida.” In the world of urban development and city building, his name came to mind first for his track record of shining a light on, if not identifying, trends and major shifts in urban development.
I was introduced to Richard Florida’s work at the beginning of my career. I had the privilege of working on the very early stages of a few projects that transformed their communities. My involvement was limited and I can’t take credit for their success of the transformative projects, but I did learn the value of imagining a very different future than current conditions or recent history would dictate.
In gazing into my crystal ball, I read publications such as American Demographics and ULI’s Emerging Trends in Real Estate. I listened to presentations from self-proclaimed futurists with memorable names such as Faith Popcorn and I read books that offered a viewpoint on cities, shifting values, shifting economic drivers, and where and how we are growing. The goal was to better understand how the future may turn out differently than our rearview mirror (historic trendlines) would indicate.
One of the more memorable books I read was Richard Florida’s The Rise of the Creative Class. I was working on a project in downtown Columbus, Georgia, assessing opportunities for adaptive reuse of beautiful, historic, abandoned mill buildings that sit on the Chattahoochee River. There was a big, bold idea to remove the dams from the river and restore whitewater rapids through downtown Columbus thereby completely changing the downtown and the city overall. [NOTE: If you are not familiar, this did happen and it is worth a visit. The leadership lessons of making this happen are also discussed in a great case study in The CEO as Urban Statesman by Sam Williams.]
Florida’s body of work on the creative class completely turned economic development theory on its head. Florida suggested that economic development strategy should no longer focus on competing for the large companies to locate in your community. It was about competing for the talent. The goal was to create places where talented, innovative, motivated people – the creative class – would want to live and the companies would not only follow but would be incubated and launched. Read more.