Richard Florida, one of the era's most influential urban thinkers, will be leading a new initiative at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management that will allow him to expand his research on how human creativity drives a city's economic success, a source says.
The author of the 2002 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class has left his post as a public policy professor at George Mason University in Virginia after three years.
"He expressed some interest in the last several years that Toronto would be a wonderful place. ... To get him here, the deal was that there would need to be a fairly important initiative that he would be a part of," an official said yesterday.
U of T spokesman Ken McGuffin confirmed that Prof. Florida will be joining the institution, which academic sources around the country say is a coup for the university. But he declined to divulge details of the position, saying those will be released next month.
Prof. Florida was not available for an interview yesterday.
The guru of urban economic development has previously taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and has also been a visiting professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
He argues that if a city concentrates on embracing its bohemians through a dynamic and tolerant urban life, it will be economically successful. One of his eye-catching measures is the "gay index," where he says the more gay-friendly a city is, the more susceptible it is to economic prosperity because of its open-mindedness.
Colleagues and friends say Canada, especially Toronto, is the right fit for Prof. Florida at this time. He was also courted by a Montreal university, sources say.
Prof. Florida has often cited Toronto as one of the more "creative" cities with the potential to be one of the top 20 research and economic hubs in the world. He has visited the city often, regularly meeting with the late urban activist Jane Jacobs. He also has personal connections here, said Meric Gertler, a geography professor at U of T's Munk Centre for International Studies.
"He's known me for a long time. He's known Roger Martin [dean at Rotman]for a long time ... Those kinds of personal connections and relationships often influence the decisions one makes about where one moves to," Prof. Gertler said.
David Pecaut, chairman of the Toronto City Summit Alliance, a civic group set up several years ago, said Prof. Florida's theories have already played a role in the city. His arrival will not only put Toronto on the map as a leader for this new kind of urban thinking, but allow it to attract international talent.
"Knowing his work as well as I do, I think he's probably been looking for a place where the public policy environment, the actual urban environment he'd be living in, and the university he'd be resident at are kind of coincident," Mr. Pecaut said. "I think all the stars aligned right now in Toronto."
In an interview with The Globe and Mail last year, Prof. Florida said Toronto has positioned itself internationally to attract creative talent. He specifically cited U of T and the Rotman school as being able to compete with other major universities, including Harvard, to lure young people wanting to live in a vibrant city.
Prof. Florida's theories on creativity and economic prosperity have been a source of praise and controversy. His data have been questioned.
Raphael Fischler, a professor at McGill University's school of urban planning, said Montreal could be considered as an example of how Prof. Florida's theories do not always work.
While Montreal is a vibrant, gay-friendly cultural centre with an important bohemian dimension, "it does not perform as well as Toronto or Calgary in creating jobs and attracting immigrants," Prof. Fischler said.
"And that shows that it takes more than some of the things that Mr. Florida talks about to really make it big."
THE BOHEMIAN-GAY INDEX
In the study There Goes the Neighbourhood, Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander examine the effects of bohemians, artists and gays on regional housing values. These excerpts are from the study:
... Artists and bohemians are direct producers of amenities; their location will thus directly reflect higher levels of amenity. Furthermore, their location also reflects them. As selective buyers with an eye for amenity, authenticity and aesthetics, locations where artists, bohemians and gays concentrate are likely to be highly sought after for their cultural amenities, desirable neighbourhood character, and aesthetic quality of the housing stock. ...
Second, we argue that bohemian, artistic and gay populations reflect a second premium - a tolerance or open culture premium. ... [that]acts on the demand side by reducing barriers to entry for human capital; increasing the efficiencies of human capital externalities and knowledge spillovers; promoting self-expression and new idea generation; and facilitating entrepreneurial mobilization of resources, thus acting on regional income and real estate prices.
Our argument can be summarized in a simple equation: Regional Income + Regional Amenity Premium + Regional Openness Premium = Regional Housing Values. We introduce a combined measure of bohemian and gay populations - the Bohemian-Gay Index as a proxy measure for regional amenity and regional openness....
Richard Florida and Charlotta Mellander, March 2007
How do Canadian cities measure up?
Urban-planning experts across the country weighed in on how well Richard Florida's ideas are reflected in the cities in which they work.
The vibrant music scene draws young musicians to Halifax as a place to start their
careers. There are plenty of live venues that support local talent, and the smaller
population provides great networking opportunities.
With its strong ties to the oil-sands economy placing it outside the post-industrial phase, Edmonton does not make attracting the creative class a strategic priority. Still, the city is proud of its theatre scene and was proclaimed the cultural capital of Canada for 2007.
Calgary is aware that beautiful architecture and public spaces are important to the
higher-income workers it wants to recruit, so the city devotes 1 per cent of the budget for every infrastructure project over $1-million to public art.
Despite its vibrant cultural scene and gay-friendly atmosphere, Montreal is behind other cities in job creation and attracting immigrants. Still, the city's important high-tech sector is an example of artists and corporations working together to boost the economy.
Recent interest and investment in cultural institutions, waterfront revitalization and
urban restoration show the key role the creative class plays, but some experts wonder whether the elitist aspect to attracting this class conflicts with Toronto's multiculturalism.
Climate and landscape attract the creative class to this city by the sea, but some worry the lack of affordable housing brings down the quality of life for the young knowledge workers it hopes to attract.