By Richard Florida
Reviewed by Ken Carter
Writing Workshop Participant ’08
HarperCollins, 225 pp., $26.95
Richard Florida argues that we are in the midst of a “great reset,” a “broad and fundamental transformation of the economic and social order that involves much more than strictly economic or financial events.” Our way of life is shifting, and with it our dependence on “cars, houses and suburbs.” Florida envisions a generation that will spend much less of its disposable income on the ownership of houses or vehicles. The people of this generation will congregate in large mega-regions, with open spaces and parks, social networks, and a high level of diversity. These mega-regions will connect the large cities within them (Washington, D.C.-New York City-Boston, or Atlanta-Charlotte-Raleigh) through high-speed rail, and cluster together many of the creative vocations. Such a model is economically and environmentally sustainable and fits lifestyles that are mobile and flexible.
A part of the appeal of Florida’s vision lies in its diagnosis of our current economic illness, which presents itself in a variety of forms: the exhaustion of commuting; the waste of overbuilt commercial structures; the declining value of homes; the cost of fuel; and the effect of fossil fuels on a warming planet. Paul Romer’s maxim “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste” is indeed appropriate for our present reality. I am drawn to Florida’s reflection on the necessary reset of values embedded in our economy. He is an advocate for simpler lifestyles, investment in human capital, and innovation within service sectors.
Florida concludes The Great Reset with four basic guiding principles: every single human being is creative; there is an urgent need to create new jobs; education is best integrated with practice (knowing with doing); and we need a new social compact where each individual has the right to develop his or her creative talents fully. These principles, he hopes, will shape our investments in education and infrastructure.
A provocative assumption about human nature and community guides Florida’s thinking. “The places that ultimately emerge from the crisis the strongest and most resilient will be those that recognize the need to—and are able to—build economic systems that can harness the full creative capacities of a much broader workforce and stoke the creative furnace that lies within everyone,” he insists. Within each person lies the capacity for creativity.
Christians identify this as the imago dei. When this divine image is neglected, workplaces, communities and nations inevitably collapse; when the capacity for creativity is valued and strengthened, our common life flourishes. There are a set of contexts and practices at the heart of such flourishing: livable cities, access to education, humane working conditions, and connectivity through meaningful relationships. These are our fundamental aspirations, Florida writes. When they are not present, we most often substitute an addiction to acquisition.
The Great Reset did leave me with a few questions: What about geographical areas that are not accessible to the mega-regions, even by high-speed rail? Does all work have the potential for meaning? Do not the majority of us find meaning, at least much of the time, in friendships, families, congregations, or neighborhoods? And where is the enlightened leadership that will make the necessary investment in new forms of energy, transportation, and housing?
At the same time, I am grateful for Florida’s willingness to see our culture in a new and creative way. We will, of necessity, find our way into new forms of living and working together. His analysis—and the values embedded within that analysis—is essential in helping us sort out the implications of the present economic crisis. He is a voice crying out in the wilderness.
Ken Carter is senior pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He attended the Collegeville Institute’s writing workshop Writing and the Pastoral Life in 2008.