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Pick a Place

Richard Florida's new book, Who's Your City?, might leave you longing for a new home.

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In a world of increasing globalization, some experts have said that the world is "flat." In other words, it doesn't matter where you live because, with improvements in technology, all places are equal.

But in his new book, Who's Your City?, author Richard Florida argues that place doesn't just matter; it's what matters most.

"The place we choose to live affects every aspect of our being," Florida writes. "It can determine the income we earn, the people we meet, the friends we make, the partners we choose, and the options available to our children."

It sounds intuitive: Of course, where you live affects your life. But we might be overlooking just how much.

In his best-seller The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida argued that creative people are the key to a city's success.

In Who's Your City?, he theorizes that the creative economy is making where you live the most important decision of your life. He even goes so far as to say that maybe even the "American dream" is an outdated fantasy. People who own houses are less likely to move, even when doing so would open up more opportunities.

If the world really is flat, he argues, talent, innovation, and creativity should be distributed evenly across the global economy. Instead, they're clustered around urban areas.

Based solely on economic forces, that distribution shouldn't happen. Land and rent are cheaper outside metropolitan areas, yet people continue to pay more to be in places like Manhattan and Silicon Valley. Florida says the value in these places comes from "clustering."

"When people — especially talented and creative ones — come together, ideas flow more freely, and as a result, individual and aggregate talents increase exponentially," he writes.

Industries always have clustered around raw materials or modes of transportation. Now they are developing even more highly specialized clusters: three-fourths of the nation's performers, for example, work in Los Angeles. Almost 80 percent of political scientists work in Washington, D.C.

The end result is that companies benefit from the efficiency and ideas the clusters offer, and the cities gain an advantage.

And, for Florida, that means if you want to succeed in those industries, you have little choice but to live in those cities. If you choose not to — or can't — your career satisfaction and success will suffer.

So, does that mean that many of us who have settled in Memphis — who aren't in logistics or bioscience — have just plain settled?

Maybe, maybe not.

I've long heard about something described as the Memphis vacuum: the city sucks you in. It's easy to live here: the weather is moderate, the city has a good rhythm, and the cost of living is so reasonable that even Memphians who want to move sometimes can't afford to do so.

Florida's research shows that different cities not only have different personalities, but different cities attract people with different personality types.

Memphis, for example, attracts conscientious and agreeable personalities, Florida says. Obviously, regions are not made up of just one personality type — and different places are right for people at different times in their lives — but Florida calls our region "conventional or dutiful."

"In some respects, these regions could be thought of as perfect for model citizens. They are places for people who want to fit in and are more conventional and traditional in their values; those who value the status quo, obey the rules, and typically don't step out of line," Florida writes.

I don't think that necessarily describes Memphis or Memphians — I can certainly think of some notable exceptions — but Florida's description doesn't sound like an area teeming with energy and innovation, either.

What concerns me is the idea that resources, innovation, and wealth are already clustered, and the gap between the cities that have these things and those that don't is getting wider.

"Being stuck or rooted in place bears on one's financial success in life and one's overall happiness," Florida says. "But clearly, for many, being rooted has graver implications. It means being trapped in a place where options are limited and means to get out and move up are ever sparser."

Putting down roots has never sounded so ominous.

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