"The New Urban Crisis" by Richard Florida

Brian Gongol

Review: If one pattern has become clear over the last hundred years or so of American history, it is the unstoppable power of urbanization. When economically and socially empowered to move freely, the preponderance of people willing to move have chosen to gather in cities. While individual cities have risen (Las Vegas) and fallen (Detroit), net migration has been into metropolitan areas, both within states and within the country as a whole.

The movement hasn't been without problems, and those problems are the subject of most of Richard Florida's book. He observes a wide range of problems and proposes at least as many possible solutions -- questioning low population densities in suburban areas, high rates of entrenched multi-generational poverty in major cities, and policy choices that have affected everything from architectural standards to mass transit.

But one conclusion is unavoidable, and it is not subject to local ordinances or Federal regulations: Cities are not just places where people live, they are living tools that serve to catalyze economic activity at rates that can't be matched by the countryside alone. Whatever serves to enhance the growth created by cities themselves seems worthwhile to promote, whether one agrees with Florida's specific policy proposals or not.

Late in the book, Florida makes the case for some public policy choices that clearly align with the left -- including, for instance, a much higher minimum wage than currently in effect. But more interestingly, many of his big-picture prescriptions share quite a lot in common with a libertarian-leaning, right-of-center vision of diffused government -- one that begs the Federal government to stay out of the way and emphasizes local control and local innovation. When people start from very different prior assumptions and reach similar conclusions, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're right -- but it certainly does that their conclusions are valid subjects of further consideration.

Verdict: Not the final word on the future of cities, but definitely a contribution that shouldn't be left out of the conversation