Richard Florida, professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and senior editor at The Atlantic, traces his passion for urban studies and economics back to Newark.
Born in 1957, his grandparents were Italian immigrants and both of his parents came from large extended families, and his city was lively, diverse, and thriving.
“Looking back on it, I realize now it was the two growing pains of my youth — the wrenching urban conflicts of Newark and the heartbreaking decline of my father’s factory — that must have caused my enduring interest in the intersection of economic transformation and place,” says Florida. “Mirroring the broader transformation of America’s older urban centers and the deindustrialization of the American economy, these events spurred my intellect.”
Florida is the keynote speaker at PlanSmart NJ’s regional planning summit, “Reshaping New Jersey to Unleash Our Creative Potential,” Tuesday, April 10, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the War Memorial in Trenton. Cost: $110. To register, go to plansmartnj.org. For more information call 609-393-9434.
Also speaking is Gregory Olsen, president of GHO Ventures. Olsen is an entrepreneur, engineer, and scientist. In 2005 he became the third private citizen to make a self-funded trip to the International Space Station with the company Space Adventures.
Olsen was the co-founder and chairman of Sensors Unlimited, a company developing optoelectronic devices such as sensitive near-infrared and shortwave-infrared cameras. One of Sensors Unlimited’s major customers is NASA.
At GHO Ventures, he manages his angel investments, South African winery, Montana ranch, and performs numerous speaking engagements to encourage children — especially minorities and girls — to consider careers in science or engineering. He also is a physics professor at Rider University.
The day includes four different panels: “Investing in our People: How the New State Plan Can Foster Investment in New Jersey’s Workforce”; “Investing in our Places: Strategic Investments in NJ’s Physical Infrastructure”; a response to Florida’s ideas; and “Fostering a Regional Sustainable Economy: A South Jersey Case Study.”
The richest source for economic renewal is what Florida has dubbed “the creative class,” which comprises 40 million workers, 30 percent of the workforce in the United States.
It includes two segments of workers: creative professionals, the classic knowledge-based workers involved in healthcare, business and finance, the legal sector, and education; and the super-creative core encompassing scientists, engineers, techies, innovators, and researchers, as well as artists, designers, writers, and, musicians.
As Florida wrote in “The Rise of the Creative Class,” every single human being possesses creativity. Because creativity is the driver of economic growth, to increase it, we must tap into the creativity of everyone.
“This should be the single point of focus for all economic development policies both local and federal moving forward,” says Florida. “As the economy has shifted, we will see organizations, businesses, and communities assigning a greater value to human creativity; therefore, we have to create the support structures and systems to elevate our workforce and skill sets.”
Florida offered three approaches that the state of New Jersey can follow to prepare itself for a more prosperous future. What Florida calls “the three T’s of economic development” is a framework that New Jersey and its communities can use to support the creative class:
Talent: Because talented people are the driving force behind any effective economic, the state needs to pull in the top creative talent in an age where these human resources are more mobile than ever before. “A community’s ability to attract and retain top talent is the defining issue of the creative age,” Florida says.
Technology: To ensure that technology and innovation can successfully drive economic growth, communities and organizations must have the avenues for transferring research, ideas, and innovation into marketable and sustainable products. Critical in performing this role are universities, which, according to Florida, “provide a key hub institution of the creative age.”
Tolerance: Creativity of all kinds — cultural, entrepreneurial, civic, scientific, and artistic — can only thrive if workers with these talents have communities, organizations, and peers that are open to new ideas and different people. “Places receptive to immigration, alternative lifestyles, and new views on social status and power structures will benefit significantly in the creative age,” says Florida.
After growing up in Newark, Florida received a Garden State scholarship in 1975. “[It] enabled me to ‘go away’ to college at Rutgers University, some 30 miles down the Turnpike in New Brunswick, New Jersey,” he says.
At the university he was able to refine his thinking and hone in on the intersection of economic transformation and place that had long interested him — digging into political science, economics, geography, sociology, and ultimately urban affairs and urban planning. He says, “Rutgers was an amazing place, filled with the carried-over energy of the 1960s and boasting incredible professors in the social sciences and especially in urban planning.”
After Rutgers, he studied political science and urban planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later earned a doctorate in urban planning at Columbia University.
“At Columbia, I focused on housing and urban issues and delved ever more deeply into theories of political economy, economic transformation, place, and the city, meanwhile deepening my [knowledge] of urban history,” he says.
Florida’s first academic position was in 1984 in the department of city and regional planning at Ohio State University.
He moved to Carnegie Mellon University’s John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management, starting in 1987 as an assistant professor of management and public policy and leaving in 2004 as professor of regional economic development. At Carnegie he also served as director of the Center for Economic Development from 1993 to 1998 and director of the Software Industry Center from 2001 to 2001.
In 2004 he became a professor of public policy at George Mason University, and in 2007 the director and professor of business and creativity at the Martin Prosperity Institute of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. In 2011 he also became a senior editor at the Atlantic magazine.
Summing up what he sees as the critical economic challenge of our times, Florida says, “For the first time in human history, the basic logic of our economy dictates that further economic development requires the further development and use of human creative capabilities. The great challenge of our time is to find ways to tap into every human’s creativity.”