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Question: Why might the financial crisis ultimately help New York? 

Richard Florida: Well, you know, we’re in New York, and I think New York’s going to be just fine. I mean, it’s really funny when people talk about New York’s going to go down and Shanghai is going to eclipse it and the banks are going to go down and the economy’s going to collapse. I mean, anyone who’s studied the history of financial centers knows that it takes a lot to push one over. Look at London. The U.K. economy was literally in collapse after the war, and yet London stayed resilient and then made a massive comeback. Even after New York surpassed London years ago, London is still the top two and some people even say still competes very vigorously with New York. Financial centers have a long life, not because they’re financial centers, there’s something else that underscores them. They’re big, vibrant, fast, diverse, speed, velocity, they have a rate of urban metabolism, a high rate of innovativeness. I think the problem New York got into is it became distorted when these incentives for finance and banking just became crazy, and others have written on that. Others have written much more eloquently than I. 

But I think what’s important is that New York is resetting and recalibrating and its getting back to what Jane Jacobs and others always identified that made New York great. This fast metabolism, this kind of New York speedy way of life, this focus on entrepreneurism, picking yourself by your own bootstraps, finding opportunity, and being innovative. And I think, you know, even when I look around New York now I can see it. You can already see the hegemony of the banks is broken. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’re still extracting exorbitant profits, but hopefully that, too, will end, and as the reset goes on, that hopefully will end. But the longer you have that hegemony of banking and finance... and I remember I asked the head of one of the big investment banks during the boom, I said to him, “How do you think these crazy real estate prices in New York are affecting your ability to recruit people? Are you going to have to move to Chicago or Pittsburgh or open a branch somewhere else?” And he laughed at me, he laughed, he chortled, he said, “Oh, come on, Professor, we’re the cause! We’re the causing of housing boom, we’re not a consequence of that, our people are the ones driving up these prices.” 

Jane Jacobs had this great, I actually asked Jane Jacobs this question, about what happens with gentrification and yuppification and a city that becomes tilted out a whack, and she said, “Oh, Richard, when a place gets boring, the rich, even the rich people leave.” And she just was a genius, she was just literally the most amazing common sense. When a place gets flattened out, when a place loses that creative energy, it dies. And I think one of the great things about New York is it has had this ability to constantly, even when it looked like, you know, the whole place was going to turn into a mall, and, you know, Times Square was going to be this boring, old thing, and Soho was this and that, somehow, it’s able to find in itself a new way of reinventing. And I love, I love the analysis that New York Magazine and this young man named Nate Silver did, where he looked at the best neighborhoods in New York. And if you look at that analysis, which is so nicely done, the rise of Brooklyn, the resurgence of Queens, the transformation of different Manhattan neighborhoods, and there’s a lot of old buildings and there’s a lot of neighborhoods and a lot of places for people to go and find affordable space, like the space we’re in right now, doing this interview. There’s a lot of space in New York that can still be rebuilt and rebuilt, so I think it still has a lot of life in it and it’s hard for me. 

Now, I think over the next generation or two, sure, we’re going to see the rise, Hong Kong’s going to do better, and Singapore, of course, and Shanghai. But I think we’re at least a generation or two off until any of those places can really compete against New York or London.

Recorded on April 27, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman

New York Will Be Okay

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