The New York Times has asked a number of observers to weigh in on the declining national mobility rates. Americans have gradually been moving less for the last two decades, and the rate has taken a precipitous decline in the face of our current recession. Formerly attractive states like Florida are actually losing population. It's interesting to speculate over why this is happening, but what's more interesting to me is how this change may play out in the local planning of communities.
It was fitting that Richard Florida had been invited to contribute, because in many ways his trademark prescriptions for regional economic development are founded upon high mobility. The title of his latest book is "Who's your City?" after all.
In the book, Cultural Creatives are presented with the option to choose a city based on an assessment of the amenities available before moving, and then seek a job and relationships in the location. On the other side of the ledger, localities naturally need to respond by enhancing the kinds of amenities the Creative Class wants in order to attract them. What all of this presumes is not only mobility, but the kind of mobility that is not locked into the best paying, available job (or prior relationship commitments). If these underlying conditions seem to be in question now, do we have to rethink this entire regime of metro competition?
Many have criticized the simplistic formula I've described as over-selling the case for adding some nice amenities to attract the right people, and Florida is presented as a one-show huckster dupping cities into these dubious investments. For better or worse, he has been publicly aligned with his trademark idea, which is usually what happens. However, in this case, Florida does seem to get this trend and is adapting his message to it:
"One consequence of this is a new kind of class divide in America between the “mobile” who have the resources and flexibility to pursue economic opportunity and the “stuck” who are tied to places with weaker economies or where their personal economic prospects are more limited."Also:
"There is also a group I term the “rooted” — more advantaged individuals and families who choose to forgo economic mobility and reap the benefits of remaining close to family, friends, and community."One advantage of "rootedness" is that residents who stay in a place longer can build stronger ties with a community. Crime goes down, as neighbors become "eyes on the street" for each other (crime rates have, in fact, been down across the country). And families tend to stay together (national divorce rates are also down). Local government participation goes up.
I don't know if this will change what kind of infrastructure cities choose to invest in, but it could certainly change their reasoning for doing so. Instead of building, say, a bike lane to woo a hypothetical young biotech engineer, they may build the bike lane because a bunch of active residents have asked for a bike lane. Cities may become diverse from each other, not because of marketing strategies to adopt a niche brand of local "authenticity," but because of a genuinely unique culture that swells up from the people who live there.