Mega-regions expect to bounce back faster

Well, gang, as each and every one of us clearly realizes, the U.S. economy, and the world’s financial system in general, has gone to hell in a pushcart. Our president has launched a stimulus package designed to get America running again and hopefully kick-start the economy of other nations as well.

  • Tuesday, June 9, 2009 3:38am
  • Opinion

Wally’s World

Well, gang, as each and every one of us clearly realizes, the U.S. economy, and the world’s financial system in general, has gone to hell in a pushcart. Our president has launched a stimulus package designed to get America running again and hopefully kick-start the economy of other nations as well.

But now, disagreeing with this project, we have author and social prophet Richard Florida. In his new book, “Who’s Your City,” he submits that national programs operated by national governments are no longer the final solution to our money woes because nations can no longer control the world economy.

Instead, he argues that the world’s wealth and innovation is concentrated and controlled by a “super-class” of creative professionals, like designers, architects, software engineers, mathematicians and financiers, and these types gather, and are drawn to, a few very large metropolitan areas. He calls such places “superstar mega-regions”.

The average age of the population in mega-regions is around 25, definitely not part of the retirement or country-club set. They gather where the traditional gay/bohemian culture has always lived. These people are often alienated and marginalized in smaller cities and towns and they’re attracted to the open-mindedness, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of mega-regions. Curiously, rather than congregate on the cold, impersonal ether of the Internet, they prefer to exchange ideas face-to-face, across martinis. (Apparently, that’s even true of Bill Gates, who claims he has always preferred to nurture his creative spark through close, personal interaction.) According to Florida, this new global elite “super-class” is much better suited to influence and control the world’s wealth than the vast majority of national politicians.

Among American mega-region powerhouses are places like the Boston/New York complex, the Los Angeles area, and San Francisco and its surrounding satellites. Of course, on a global scale, there are many more mega-regions, especially in Europe and Asia. Worldwide, the top 40 such metropolitan centers only have 20 percent of the earth’s population, but account for 83 percent of the scientists and control 70 percent of the world’s economic activity.

Florida maintains that mega-regions are the “new economic units of our time.” He claims this is already recognized by large, international corporations, but it’s not yet understood by the U.S. government and ordinary American citizens. National politicians frequently mention the global competition between American and China or America and Europe but, according to Florida, this concept is woefully misleading, misguided and dated. It’s much more accurate to address the competition between Seattle and Singapore.

While the economy in mega-regions will surely recover from the current economic slump, that isn’t true of many smaller American cities. Places like Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City and others will retain a high unemployment rate, people will move away and the towns will simply dry up and disintegrate. Meanwhile, during the next 15 or 20 years, mega-regions will become extremely powerful, usurping much of the political, economic and cultural clout from the federal government and the rest of America, existing unto themselves, like city/states.

I don’t know if this idea is so much nonsense – it might simply be another fly-by-night fad in Ivy-League circles – or if it has some merit. But if there’s a grain of truth, I’m happy to report you’re living in the right area. Florida has quite a warm regard for the Seattle/Vancouver region and predicts a bright future here. In particular, he raves about Seattle’s excellent universities and the concentration of hi-tech industries.

So, make of this what you will.

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