By: Gary R. Baker
Department of English
The University of Akron
Longworth, Richard C. Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008.
Florida, Richard. Who’s Your City? How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to
Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
The key to Richard C. Longworth’s new book, Caught in the Middle, is to step back from a map of the United States and to look at the Midwest as the large region that it is –about the size of Germany. Considering the Midwest’s history, geography and economy, Longworth sees the Midwest as Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, far eastern Nebraska, northeastern Kansas, the northern half of Missouri, and three states – Illinois, Indiana and Ohio – without their far southern counties. When he thinks about the effect of globalization on the Midwest, he does not let state boundaries get in the way. In Longworth’s mind, the smart way to figure out how to deal with globalization and how to live in a global economy is to consider the region – not the individual state. He thinks as a resident of the region, not a resident of a state. Then he can ask: What does the region need? What should we do as a region? How can we work together to help our fellow Midwesterners and ourselves in this global economy?
Longworth, an experienced and professional journalist, drove 11,000 miles around the Midwest to talk with people face-to-face and to look at the towns, cities and farms himself. Born in Boone, Iowa, and later a long time resident of Chicago, Longworth is a fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. For many years he was a foreign correspondent and senior writer at the Chicago Tribune. His book is a serious and challenging “… report from the front line of America’s new economy.” He is not easy on the Midwest. He does not make excuses. He does not make a case for propping up failing or failed industries. In the global economy, he knows some Midwestern communities, towns and cities are being left behind.
With Richard Florida’s book, Who’s Your City?, the reader needs to stand back from a satellite map of the world at night and note where the light clusters and over what areas it shines out in “spikes”. It’s easier to see the cities, metro areas and metro corridors which are morphing into mega-regions at particular places on the map. The reader can then see the new global economy in action and discover that the Midwest hosts the third largest mega-region in the world in economic output. It runs from Pittsburgh west to Cleveland through Detroit to Chicago and, finally, to Minneapolis. State and national boundaries are not relevant in this economic picture.
“We owe it to ourselves,” Florida writes, “to think about the relationship between place and our economic future, as well as our personal happiness, in a more systematic – if different – way.” In the global economy – where you live does make a difference - even if you have a laptop, iPod, blackberry and cell phone because opportunity is not spread out equally across the map. Having the technology does not make up for the face-to-face conversations, the personal contact that leads to inspiration, insight and innovation. The technology does not make up for where you are and the people you talk with each day in the hallway outside the office, on campus, at a restaurant, in a local pub, on the street downtown.
Florida, an economist and author of The Rise of the Creative Class, is Professor of Business and Creativity at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He grew up in Newark, New Jersey, graduated from Rutgers and Columbia and taught at Carnegie Mellon University. His wife, Rana, grew up in Troy, Michigan, near Detroit. They have lived together in a number of cities, including Washington, DC.
After many years of social science, statistical and survey research, Florida has decided to organize and lay out his findings so that the individual living in the global economy can make use of the results. Florida makes this argument: Where a person lives is directly connected to the individual’s happiness and creativity. The subtitle of the book is How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.
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In Caught in the Middle, Richard Longworth writes, “A city is an organic thing. It is born usually for economic reasons.” But what if the economic base disappears? “Great cities reinvent themselves, over and over, finding new ways to support themselves and their citizens.” Scanning the Midwest, Longworth observes, “The Midwest has a handful of global cities and creative cities, and it desperately needs more.” He sees Chicago as the Midwest’s brightest example of the reinvented city, the global city and the creative city in the new economy.
In Longworth’s review of the global economy and the Midwest, he is especially worried about education and job training. He wonders: Do Midwesterners understand what education means to the region’s future in the global era? Longworth contends that most Midwestern states are “shortchanging education at the moment in history when it’s most important…More than any other part of America, the Midwest has lost the knack to compete in the new economy, and the schools have lost their ability to teach it.”
He feels that one reason the Midwest is being held back in the global economy is that the colleges and universities are duplicating each other. He praises the example of California’s system of big time research universities, four-year state schools that teach undergraduates, vocational and technical colleges and two-year community colleges that prepare students for the four-year colleges.
In the Midwest Longworth praises the community colleges because they are offering a wonderful flexibility in their programs. “Everywhere I went in the Midwest,” Longworth remembers, “I found community colleges emerging as the engine of local economies.”
Longworth endorses the Midwest Research Universities Network (MRUN), “a potential base of cooperation”, composed of twenty Midwestern universities and medical centers. The mission of MRUN, now based at the University of Wisconsin, is to bring joint proposals to venture capitalists and to leverage the institutions’ brainpower to create start-up companies.
To reinvent itself in the global economy, the Midwest must think as a region – not as individual states. The Midwest “must find its voice.” Longworth would like to see a Global Midwest Forum (GMF). The job of the Forum would be “to focus the Midwestern mind, to grab the attention of the people with the power to ignite real action.” In the Forum let Midwesterners talk to other Midwesterners in similar situations. Ignore state boundaries. Discuss mutual problems. Call on thinkers and creative people from all walks of life to participate. But do not let the GMF become a forum of states led by governors.
Longworth argues that the Midwest needs a think tank devoted to Midwestern issues, a think tank to create tools for action. To support such an effort, Longworth suggests turning to foundations based in the Midwest. He would encourage the foundations to think and work together.
In trade offices overseas, the Midwest should sell itself as a single region. Each regional trade office would be backed by the research and resources of the GMF. Back home, the Midwest needs a good newspaper or Web Site to set the agenda for the Midwest, to see the news from a Midwestern angle, to speak to the Midwest and to speak in the voice of the Midwest – “a regional journal, with global coverage and thoughtful analysis…”
For transportation in the new economy, Longworth calls for high-speed rail to bring cities to cities and universities to universities. “It’s not that Amtrak can’t work. It’s just that we have to start taking it seriously.”
Rather than competing among themselves in the global economy, the cities and communities and states of the Midwest must compete as one region.
But how does the region educate and attract talented, innovative, imaginative, creative people? Besides the initiatives mentioned so far, Longworth also calls for in-state tuition rates for any Midwestern student at any Midwestern university. Talent, innovation, imagination and creativity are personal attributes, yes; but they are also economic factors, as Richard Florida will tell you.
Richard Florida has written Who’s Your City? to help people choose the best place to live. “The key,” explains Florida, “is to find a place that fits you – one that makes you happy and enables you to achieve your life goals.” He is more convinced than ever that happiness leads to creativity – not vice versa.
Look around you. Consider the place where you are now. Does it give you energy? Does it inspire you? Can you be yourself there?
In partnership with the Gallup Organization, Florida undertook a major study, the Place and Happiness Survey of 27,000 respondents “… to identify the key factors that underpin our happiness with place.” These are the factors that matter most in order of importance (most important listed first): Aesthetics, Basic Services, Openness, Economic and Physical Security, Leadership. In Chapter 16, “Place Yourself”, Florida guides the reader through consideration of places to live. In Appendix E he lays out the Place Finder, a survey in two pages – a tool to help the reader collect information and ultimately to rank places.
In organizing the data for his book, Florida makes careful note of the “life stage” of the respondents (Singles -20 to 29, Professionals -29 to 44, Families with Children, Empty- Nesters 45 to 64 and Retirees – over 65). “Appendix C: Regional Rankings by Life Stage for All Households” presents extremely valuable information for the individual, the family and cities and regions. Although Florida has written this book for individuals – at any stage of life – who are thinking about moving to another location in our global economy, leaders in our cities and regions would be wise to study the research results, too. In these charts – based on his survey and statistical research – Florida ranks cities and metro areas.
Florida makes it clear in his books and columns that creativity and talent are not restricted to one age group or to a short list of particular groups. Every human being is creative. The potential range of creative talent is wide not narrow. A place can promote and encourage talented and creative people if it is tolerant, open and accepting.
Florida reminds individuals who are thinking of moving as well as political and business leaders in the various cities and regions, “Places really do have different personalities.” Few considerations are more important than this one: Where would I be happiest? Yes, a region has a business climate and economic structure, but it also has a psychological make-up or “psycho-social environment”.
“Regional leaders,” Florida explains, “must become more aware of how their region’s collective personality shapes the kinds of economic activities that it can do and the kinds of people it can attract, satisfy and retain.” For the individual – “the point is to find the place that’s best for you, regardless of what others think.”
For regional leaders, the question in the global economy is not, “How can we get a factory to move here?” – but – “Who are the people we need?” and “How can we get them to stay here or move here?”
The three big questions in a person’s life are these: What will I do for a living? Who will be my life partner? Where will I live? Florida believes that these questions are of equal significance in our lives. It turns out that place is important both in the individual’s own life and in the global economy.
Gary R. Baker
Department of English
The University of Akron
Richard C. Longworth is a Fellow at
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Web Sites about Richard Florida’s Writings and Work: