Friday, September 17, 2010

The Great Reset

I just finished reading Richard Florida's latest book "The Great Reset." This book lays out his vision for how the US and global economies are going through a process called the great reset as it shifts from one economic paradigm to another. This kind of reset has happened twice before in the late 1800s, as the economy shifted first from agriculture to one based on steel and railroads, and again during the great depression, shifting to an economy based on mass production and automation.

Today Florida sees the economy shifting to a creative ideas-based economy and thinks this shift underlays many of the great trends we see happening around us including everything from the current recession, to the rise of the great coastal cities, to the hollowing out of the rust belt. In the future Florida envisions a handful of teeming cities anchoring a couple of megaregions as the primary form of development. These cities will be filled with young information workers living in rented housing, not owning a car, and investing in experiences rather than material goods.

It's an exciting vision without a doubt. My guess is that he is missing a few things along the way, because these kinds of resets as Florida makes clear take decades to unfold. All the same he gives some very compelling evidence supporting his position and I expect his vision will turn out more right than wrong.

So what does this mean for Seattle? Fortunately, Florida sees a lot of good things for Seattle. We have a strong economy braced on the back of innovative companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, and Boeing. We are the hub of the growing Cascadia region, are home to some extremely well educated people, and boast a beautiful natural environment that is the envy of cities everywhere.

However if Seattle wants to remain competitive it will really need to step up its game. Seattle is a small city in a small region. It has an aging automotive infrastructure and almost no mass transit to speak of. The city has to do a better job of attracting and retaining key businesses. Recent announcements that Facebook and Hulu are opening offices locally are great news, but Seattle should be seeking more. I cannot recall the last time a major corporation moved its headquarters to Seattle. We should change this. Education also needs to remain a priority. Seattle boasts a fantastic library system and a top-tier university, we must continue to invest into these assets as well as build up new ones.

Finally and most importantly, Seattle must fully embrace growth. If Seattle wishes to compete nationally, if not globally, it must become a magnet for talent, drawing ambitious and creative people from all over and this means that Seattle must allow for denser growth with taller high rises and more infill into neighborhoods dominated by single family homes.

I think that generally Seattle does a lot right, but there are clearly opportunities for improvement. The local populace could do well to embrace local businesses as allies and seek opportunities to work together to build up the region.

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