You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Richard Florida Rides Again!

Posted in Economics, Snark, Urban Planning by Stacy McMahon on March 8, 2007

I rarely read, that fount of pedantic, navel-gazing journalism that never forgets its mission to make the Star City relevant to something, anything, outside its surrounding mountain ranges. But this article has several phrases that jump out at me (emphasis added):

Roanoke, if it wants to attract young adults, could benefit from a more “urban feel” enhanced by downtown bars with live music that would appeal to members of a creative work force.


The metro area has some strengths, including quality of education, outdoor recreation opportunities and a clean environment.

But just having streams and trails for recreation isn’t enough; they need to be accessible from neighborhoods, the study said.

The study focuses on five elements of urban living and zeroes in on one need in particular: Roanoke’s social and cultural amenities.


“For the young business people we’re talking about attracting, for making Roanoke a ‘cool city,’ they’re going out on Friday and Saturday nights but I don’t see their activities including live music performances,” Locke said.

Creative, young poeple, live music and outdoor recreation … these are the things picked out by Richard Florida, co-author of The Creative Class, an influential book that suggests older cities need to revitalize their downtowns in order to attract young, affluent people whose entire lives revolve around going out at night. Some cities like Pittsburgh have tried to implement Florida’s ideas, with varying results. The article quoted above doesn’t mention Florida or The Creative Class, just Virginia Tech farm team Roanoke College as the source of the study that reached the shocking and thoroughly non-obvious conclusion that vibrant cities are fun because there are things to do there. I wondered enough to go over to Google though, and sure enough:

It is no secret that many medium size cities like Roanoke,VA are bleeding young adults to more urban areas, especially during the 1990s. Roanoke’s city manager had a vision to be proactive in addressing this important, but not urgent issue, by creating a staff person to implement many of Mr. Florida’s ideas.

I always thought Florida’s approach was somewhat backwards–he basically advocates attracting young adults by somehow creating the cultural institutions that you can only have if the young adults are already there. A retirement community can’t make a techno club, and like many writers on planning, Florida completely ignores the economic fundamentals. Buffalo is already a happening town, but not many people want to move there because the job market sucks. The article does partly get at those things in its focus-free way.

Other cities have advantages that Roanoke lacks, he said. Charlottesville has 20,000 college students who are heavily into liberal arts studies; Richmond is a large city and it has Shockoe Bottom, where bars with live music have been on the scene for many years.

Bars with live music struggle even in Blacksburg, where students outnumber those in Charlottesville but are focused on engineering and technical studies, Locke said.


“It would be a mistake to think creating more music venues and bars would do the trick,” O’Hara said. Those kinds of establishments need to be within the “urban feel” category of being walkable and diverse.

Said Locke: “You have to build the scene, not the venue. We have great venues that are not being supported” by attendance.


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