From his office in the Miami Beach Urban Studios, urbanist Richard Florida wrote hundreds of drafts of his latest book “The New Urban Crisis.” It’s an idea that was born in a deleted post-script of Florida’s previous book, “Rise of the Creative Class.”
For years, Florida — who spends his time between Miami and Toronto — has been encouraging cities to build their entrepreneurial and creative communities by designing cities that are affordable, navigable, and welcoming to innovation.
But the result of that has been increasing inequality between the tech bros and the service workers, and left behind hollowed out middle class, which he says was the backbone of the American Dream.
Miami’s startup scene is growing, and the prosperity gap is widening alongside that growth. We checked in with Florida to hear some of his suggestions for how Miami might tackle what he’s calling “The New Urban Crisis.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.
What is “The New Urban Crisis,” and how exactly has the rise of the creative class led to income inequality?
The book lays out my thinking on this, but I think what’s happened in the past decade is more accelerated or daunting than anyone or myself could have predicted. In 2002, we were at the beginning of the back-to-the-city movement. This back-to-the-city movement happened between 2002 and 2010 and has accelerated since then.
I talk in the book about the clustering of people in talent and knowledge, and that creates energy and entrepreneurship. But same process creates a competition of limited space and neighborhoods between artists, creatives, tech, and wealthy people. This clustering force which drives our economic machine drives deep divides — that’s the point of this book, thinking about how make this economy successful. If we don’t save it we’re going to throw the baby out with the bath water. We’re going to destroy our ability to innovate while creating good jobs and raising living standards.
How to do we keep innovating without growing the economic divide?
I started writing this part when Barack Obama was president and I thought we’d have Clinton next. So, I called for a council of cities, mayors and urban leaders. But with Trump in office, that won’t happen. So now, I say it’s up to localities, we’ve got to build more, increase density, overcome NIMBY-ism (not in my backyard).
But that doesn’t mean tearing down historic districts. The reason Wynwood prices are being driven up is because we don’t have enough of them. We can build more density but we can’t destroy neighborhoods. We have to build affordable housing. In Miami, we have a surplus of housing for rich people but we have to build more affordable housing and housing for young people.
And we can’t depend on the car anymore, we have to invest in transit to connect declining places to growing places. We’ve got to do that.
But maybe the election of Trump was a wakeup call. I don’t think there’s any more one-size-fits-all federal politics. We need a multiplicity of approaches, because the problems of a Miami, Houston, Dallas, Pittsburgh, or Detroit are so different from each other.
What do you think are the best opportunities for Miami right now?
Miam is a clear illustration of “The New Urban Crisis.” It is becoming more expensive. It’s not as expensive as New York, San Francisco, or London, but it ranks sixth on my “New Urban Crisis” index.
It’s highly unequal. There are a lot of rich people and great [pockets] of poverty and disadvantage clustered around downtown. Then you have the knowledge institutions and the waterfront. There’s no middle left. Middle-class neighborhoods, which is the platform for the American Dream, have been hollowed out.
Miami has become a tale of two cities. Miami needs to strengthen innovation, entrepreneurship, and enterprise but also spread those benefits on. One thing I’m going to work on with the Knight Foundation is the Miami Urban Future Initiative to create a more inclusive prosperity.
You can have low wage jobs and high wage jobs, but you have to make low wage jobs better.
How do we do that for the low wage jobs in Miami?
How do we make hospitality and tourism jobs better? Create stronger internal career ladders, have better salaries, and encourage innovation. Miami has great possibility, but conversation is slow to start and there’s less constituency for that conversation.
This is an anecdote, but I was talking with someone who was hiring a worker for road construction in New Jersey. I asked how much that would cost and he said $80 an hour. In Florida, that same person would be paid $20 an hour. We have to pay the people better who work in restaurants, real estate, and build our homes.
The Miami Urban Future Initiative is going to be about trying to have a robust conversation around that. We’ve never strategized about our future in Miami and we need to bring this conversation to our town.
Last year, when we spoke you said it was possible for Miami to be both a creative and inclusive city. Do you still think that’s possible?
Yes, we have to be creative and inclusive. We have to be more creative, productive, and innovative. The way we do that is by building affordable housing for service workers. We have to upgrade the people at the bottom … if not, we’re going to be a horribly divided and broken society.