Sunday, June 6, 2010

READER FEEDBACK: Dallas Might Be Gaining People But Losing the Creatives

From long-time loyal reader and regular commenter Himanshu gets bumped from the comments section on Diversity as Livability Indicator to the headline cuz, like woah:
Well, you have an uncanny way or writing down things that I have been thinking. After having worked in downtown Dallas for the better part of the past decade, and having seen the areas of downtown and uptown get better, they still don't seem to catch the essense of what I'm looking for in my neighborhood. So, I'm moving to Center City Philadelphia--Society Hill, specifically. I look forward to ditching my car and walking to work and home, walking to all the bars and pubs and grocery stores, enjoying picnic lunches at Washington Square or Rittenhouse Square or Fitler Square, etc. Shopping on Walnut Street and Market Street and Reading Terminal Market. And doing all this in a place that has a sense of place, has livability, and walkability galore. Your old town, I suppose. But I will continue reading your blog from time to time. Keep it up! And perhaps you'll move (back) to Philly sometime in the future...
Unlike some other regular readers, I have never met Himanshu personally (unless I'm unaware). While this blog doesn't get the kind of traffic that generates the kind of traffic to turn it into a giant money maker itself, it does get a loyal following, and an engaged, intelligent one focused on improving Dallas or general urban issues at that.

Over the last few years however, I have seen scores of talented people move away from Dallas to cities like Portland, Seattle, DC, Boston, and New York being the most common destinations. Given that this particular reader has the means to be able to live in and move from downtown Dallas to center city Philadelphia, these are the kinds of people that we don't want to be losing.

When we look at population figures stating that Dallas is gaining people and that the economy is holding steady or adding jobs, they never tell us what kind of jobs or who these new residents are. These are the definition of dumb statistics. Anecdotally, it feels like we are losing talented people and replacing them with people just looking for a job, any job. The difference between what we're gaining and what we're losing is the difference between a steady current economy and a strong future one.

If we are adding jobs, they are mostly towards the status quo businesses and the "Great Reset" (Richard Florida's term) is a repurposing (evolutionary biologist term) of the economy where the genotype (new generations) shed the phenotype (the past economy) in favor of a new and more serviceable one. Point being that the economy, and our cities in turn, will be very different in 20 or 30 years.

Those we seem to be losing on the negative end of the import/export equation are what Richard Florida might refer to as the Creative Class. While people might interpret Florida here suggesting that the term "creative" implies artisans such as musicians or sculptors or what not, my interpretation is that Florida, the demographer, only uses those as a measuring stick. Professions whereby improving the lives of those who have the means and ability to locate where they choose based on Quality of Life of a particular city meeting their particular needs. The more livable the place, the greater number of these types of people's needs will be met there, the more likely they are to relocate there.

These are the people we MUST be attracting and retaining. While I despise Ayn Rand for missing her own point (or being able to temper it within reality) and dreadfully long soliloquies, these people are the true fountainheads. They are the Structure Builders of the pillars of the future economy by which real, sustainable job growth and long-term prosperity can be founded upon.

They are the measuring stick for where our City will be in 20 years in relation to those where they are choosing to relocate. And we are losing them.

Himanshu mentioned Livability. Washington Post writer Neal Pierce discusses it as well today where he expresses frustration at the vague nature of the umbrella term but the necessity of the concept.

I will help him out. Livability, what people are looking for and where they are moving to are places where choice is in abundance; where people can live the way they want without fear of persecution; where people can find quality housing of the size and type suitable to their needs in neighborhoods of the character matching their desires. Multiple modes of transportation are available allowing for the universal access of all to their destinations. Then there are other kinds of access such as, to education for personal advancement and the CHOICE of careers and to healthcare and justice for well-being of body, mind, and soul.

This is precisely why I am driven crazy by "pro-business" policies. There is nothing about them that is about advancing business or the economy, but rather to protect the status quo. But, the status quo doesn't freeze happiness, comfort, rainbows and unicorns in place. You either progress or get left behind and the status quo ensures falling behind. Sometimes this can mean that a country's industry falls behind another or it can mean the country's people fall behind and are stuck with the bill. See: BP.

To bring this closer to home and back to the focus of this blog, I'm reminded of the new Tarrant County College "campus" in downtown Fort Worth (and one of FortWorthology's personal obsessions) where Kevin was told the anti-urban design was "just being realistic" about Fort Worth's car-orientedness. Status-quo. And here I thought, educational institutions were supposed to be thought leaders, shaping the future and the minds thereof.

This is the race to the bottom and it is time to start investing in people. It is people that create the economy and our cities not the other way around and our future depends upon it.

http://www.bendib.com/newones/2004/february/small/2-2-Race-to-the-Bottom.jpg