By Mark Toro
Partner, North American Properties
Richard Florida, the prolific author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City, has long been considered a visionary and free thinker. His focus on macrodemographic shifts and their impact on the world economy has led him to be a sought after expert and advisor.
In December of 2007, Florida came to Atlanta to share his perspective at The Midtown Alliance Annual Meeting. At that point, none of us had an inkling of the economic abyss that was about to open all over the U.S., yet we were introduced to the sea change that was underway in American cities.
Florida suggested that “The Creative Class”, a new and distinctly different breed of American, was busy carving out a niche for themselves in places like Old Fourth Ward, Reynoldstown, East Atlanta and West Midtown, leading the force of urban regeneration in a city that had become the poster child for suburbanization.
For those of us who had spent most of our adult lives in the bucolic settings of East Cobb, Dunwoody, Duluth and McDonough, raising our kids in a homogenous suburban bubble, it was anathema to us that people “like us” would live cheek-by-jowl in an urban environment with people who did not look like us, but the facts speak for themselves. After losing population for 4 decades, the City of Atlanta has gained population each of the last 10 years.
And it will continue to grow. Estimates by the Atlanta Regional Commission have our region growing by nearly three million people over the next 30 years.
That means having a solid infrastructure, and meaningful solutions to our traffic problems. That also makes the passage of the Regional Transportation Referendum, or TSPLOST, even more important.
In Who’s Your City, Florida describes how cities and regions take on the predominant personality of those who choose to live there, suggesting that the only direct positive correlation to GDP is to the personality type he calls “Open to New Experiences”. He cites cities like Boston, Austin, Denver, San Francisco and Seattle, indicating that they are likely to continue to grow and, predicting that this population will deliver the mental horsepower to innovate and advance, providing the infrastructure to support their lifestyle.
His latest book, The Great Reset, supports the premise that from every great economic cataclysm comes a paradigm shift in the thinking of the majority. He indicates that The Great Recession has brought about another sea change in our living habits, borne of scars to our psyche, which has resulted in record low homeownership numbers and a flight to urban settings.
Florida projects that this shift is permanent and pervasive, led by the largest generation in US history. Some 77 million echo boomers have spoken: “we want authentic, walkable, fully amenitized communities that afford mobility without reliance on our cars”. And they are not alone. Many of their parents, empty-nesters seeking diversity and vitality, are leaving the suburbs in droves to live a high-energy lifestyle.
If the Atlanta region is to succeed in attracting this new breed of highly mobile American, it is imperative that we provide the environment and the infrastructure that they seek, because they are likely to “vote with their feet”, choosing to reside in a community that responds to their needs.
Every great city comes to a crossroads and we have now come to ours. We can continue to pave ourselves into oblivion, hoping that our suburban lifestyle can continue to support the metro economy, or we can heed the warning of the next generation: “grow up and be a real city or we’re going elsewhere”. Atlanta citizens have a chance to heed this warning by voting in support of the TSPLOST on July 31. This landmark referendum is an $8.5 billion investment into 157 projects for a 10-county region – a plan that can forever change our infrastructure, our ability to grow in the right ways, and our future.
Our economic life depends on it.