Tag Archives: richard florida

Articles I'm Digesting 1/11/2010

Here’s a few articles I recently digested:

Enabling Access and Reuse of Public Sector Information in Canada: Crown Commons Licenses, Copyright, and Public Sector Information by Elizabeth F. Judge

This piece (which you can download as a PDF) is actually a chapter in a book titled: From “Radical Extremism” to “Balanced Copyright” : Canadian Copyright and the Digital Agenda.

This piece provides a fantastic overview on both the how and why Crown Copyright impedes the remixing and repurposing of government information. The only thing confusing to me about the article is that it focuses a great deal on data which, by the author’s own admission, is not covered by Crown Copyright:

With respect to data, Crown copyright does not protect raw data (unprocessed data, such as numbers entered into a database), but it does protect an original expres- sion of the data (for example, an original map is a copyrightable artistic work based on geospatial data) and compilations (including compilations of data), providing that there is an original selection or arrangement of the data (that is, there has been human intervention where skill and judg- ment has been exercised).

Given I often have to explain to government types that data is not covered by Crown Copyright (this is in part why it often has – more restrictive still – licenses attached to it) my only concern about the paper is that because of its strong focus on data it will inadvertently muddy the waters. However, still a good piece and I suspect many who read it will wander away hoping that some change to Crown Copyright legislation will be forthcoming.

The Global Debt Clock by The Economist Intelligence Unit

Few outside of Canada understand how much Canadian politics was dominated by the issue of “the debt” in the 1990s. When Bill Clinton made his first visit to Canada the headlines were more concerned with Canada’s bond rating being downgraded than the visit of the new US president.

The belief, however, that Canada has tamed its debt may be a myth. The challenge may be that it people are starting to wise up to all that downgrading. That the debt has simple shifted from the national (which people historically looked at) to the provincial level (which is rarely calculated into “national” debt). The Economist chart puts things into sharp (and dim?) perspective:

Canada’s public debt: $1,257,953,424,658 or $37,042.44 per person or 82.3% of GDP

America’s public debt: $9,117,200,547,945 or $29,491.12 per person or 62.0% of GDP

Of course Canada’s debt includes health care expenditures which in the United States are (more) born by private citizens, so the debt burden per individual once you factor in private debt may not be closer. But then household debt in Canada is about to overtake that in America so again…

This all said, pretty much every country in the developed world looks ugly in terms of debt… this may, sadly, be the boomers biggest legacy.

Disconnect: Why our politics is so out of touch and what it means for our future by Richard Florida and Jeremy D. Mayer

Written back in 2007 this article deserves a revisit:

“In our view, American politics today is distinguished by one feature: instability. In place of an enduring political force such as post-1896 Republican dominance or the Democrats after Roosevelt in 1932, American politics in recent years has see-sawed back and forth. Twelve years of Reagan-Bush were followed by 8 of Bill Clinton, and then Bush and Rove, now this. And, only 6 of those years saw one party with simultaneous control of the presidency and Congress.

This instability, in our view, stems from one primary source: Our economic system has undergone a tectonic shift, to which the political system is still trying to adapt. Just as our politics was recast a century ago by the forces of the Industrial Revolution, so to is it being reshaped today by the rise of the technology, innovation and creativity as economic forces. The rise of this innovative, knowledge-based Creative Economy is even more significant and more challenging to politics as the Industrial Economy. Today, this sector accounts roughly a third of the American workforce — or roughly 40 million workers – nearly three times the industrial sector and blue-collar working class. What’s more, these creative occupations account for the lion’s share of all wealth generation, accounting for nearly half of all wages and salaries paid in the United States. That’s nearly $2 trillion, or as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.

But the creative economy doesn’t just generate phenomenal wealth. It also sorts people across new economic and geographical boundaries and generates inequality between and within states and regions as great as that of the early Industrial Revolution. As a result, we’re living through a period of tumultuous political adjustment.”

and speaking of revisits…

American Backlash by Michael Adams

Offers an alternative explanation regarding the challenges faced by incumbent parties in the US. I remembered this as I was recently reading Wente’s piece about Palin and the Tea Party, where she cites pollster Scott Rasmussen:

“who argues that the major division in the country now is not between the Republicans and Democrats, but between the mainstream public and the political class – the small proportion of the population, perhaps 10 per cent, (including most people who work in mainstream media) that still believes that government tries to serve the public interest, rather than colluding with big business against ordinary people.”

This was, of course, the thesis of Adams book back in 2006. Nice to be ahead of the curve.

Open Data Hackathon page by Volunteers around the world

Hope that there will be a dedicated site for this up this week – have a few people stepping forward on that front. In the interim, please do consider adding you name if you are interested in helping organize one in your city.

An International Baccalaureate Growth Strategy

I recently ran into a teacher from my high school who has been active in the advancement and growth of the International Baccalaureate program (IB). I participated in the IB program – as a certificate, not a diploma candidate – I believe it was a great experience. The program was demanding and interesting.  Equally important, it helped prepare me more effectively for university.

The encounter – and the conversation – got me thinking about how IB should plan its expansion. Clearly one option is that it could expand in a uniform manner – pitching itself to districts in a more or less uniform manner. This is not their approach, and nor should it be. The fact is, some places in North America are going to be more receptive to IB than others. One option would be concentrating resources in places where the ground is most fertile and where success more readily achievable. In its strategic plan however, IB makes it clear that it does not want to only serve an educated elite. Consequentially I would advocate for a two pronged approach. One strategy for places where IB is going to be a relatively easy sell. Another for more hostile environments, where attitudes and resources will be harder to mobilize or change.

The only question remains. How to identify the two regions?

The answer, I believe, could reside in Richard Florida’s creative class maps.

If I were to imagine the type of parent interested in IB, it is likely one that believes in science, wants what is best for their child, has a broad, generally progressive, outlook on the world. They are probably interested in AP, but are even keener on something better. In short, present day IB kids are creative class kids. Their parents recognize the value of a strong education, and can generally afford the extra taxes currently necessary to subsidize such an education. Fortunately, Florida has mapped where the creative class lives in the United States. These maps are essentially demarcate the dividing line between areas that will be receptive and areas that will be more challenging for IB to establish itself. In short, IB should devise a “creative class” strategy and an “elsewhere” strategy. The two areas are likely very different in the questions that will need to be addressed, the allies located and mobilized, and the resources that will need to be marshaled.

(note: apparently IB is big in Texas, something that initially surprised me, but a look at this map suggests that, depending on where the IB schools are located, Texas is indeed fertile ground.)

Internationally, I might use Florida’s spiky world maps such as the one below which denotes patents per 10,000 people by region. The higher the spike, the greater the number of patents and the places where IB can most likely adopt it’s creative class strategy. The valley’s will probably require a different approach.

It would be fascinating to cross reference IB programs against these maps. I suspect there is already a high degree of correlation. Perhaps I’ll ask if they have any maps…

Articles I'm digesting – Feb 13 2009

New Planets & an Unknown Object Discovered Beyond the Solar System

Future telescopes such as NASA’s Kepler, set for launch in 2009, would be able to discover dozens or hundreds of Earth-like worlds. The Space Interferometry Mission (SIM), to be launched early in the next decade, consists of multiple telescopes placed along a 30 foot structure. With an unprecedented resolution approaching the physical limits of optics, the SIM is so sensitive that it almost defies belief: orbiting the earth, it can detect the motion of a lantern being waved by an astronaut on Mars.

The last sentence says it all. My mind = blown.

Fareed Zakaria – Worthwhile Canadian Initiative (via Sameer Vasta)

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse business culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking.

I’ve always thought Zakaria was one of the smartest commentators in the US. I’ve unbelievably excited he has his own show on CNN. Finally a show where real ideas are discussed not by pundits but by actual wonks. His show single-handedly elevates the entire CNN brand. Now he’s saying nice things about us. Hopefully we won’t let it go to our heads.

How the Crash Will Reshape America: The Last Crisis of the Factory Towns by Richard Florida.

When work disappears, city populations don’t always decline as fast as you might expect. Detroit, astonishingly, is still the 11th-largest city in the U.S. “If you no longer can sell your property, how can you move elsewhere?” said Robin Boyle, an urban-planning professor at Wayne State University, in a December Associated Press article. But then he answered his own question: “Some people just switch out the lights and leave—property values have gone so low, walking away is no longer such a difficult option.”

Perhaps Detroit has reached a tipping point, and will become a ghost town. I’d certainly expect it to shrink faster in the next few years than it has in the past few. But more than likely, many people will stay—those with no means and few obvious prospects elsewhere, those with close family ties nearby, some number of young professionals and creative types looking to take advantage of the city’s low housing prices. Still, as its population density dips further, the city’s struggle to provide services and prevent blight across an ever-emptier landscape will only intensify.

Many of the old industrial clusters are dying and we’ll have to manage this decline while helping figure out what the next wave will look like. This is part of the reason why think the federal government’s failure to invest in green technology/innovation will stand as one of the biggest lost opportunities of the century. At the peak of a financial crises and at the moment when our cities – particularly our mid-sized cities – need to think about what their economies will look like for the next 100 years (think renewable energy, green roofs/architecture, mobile computing, next-generation social services) we’ve plowed $30B into 20th century buildings and roads. Hopefully the good news of Zakaria will outweigh the bad news from Florida. I hope so, since it appears this crisis won’t be sufficiently significant to spur us to rethink our future.

The Financial collapse and the unsaid thoughts of public servants

Fascinating week in Ottawa. Been having a great time, enjoying brown bag lunches and meeting with friends old and new.

I’m here to talk about public service sector renewal and as the the issue comes up on many occasions people ask me if I think the financial crises and the poor economy will make the government a more attractive choice for gen Yers.

I think the generation lens is the wrong one, because the public service needs not only good gen yers, but also good gen xers. That said, I think the answer, broadly, is no. The crisis will not have a big impact on applications. Richard Florida hit on the reason why on Monday in his Globe and Mail piece about the asymmetrical distribution of unemployment the recession will visit upon the work force.

Critically, government needs to recognize that, these days, it is hiring creative class workers and that this group, by and large, will be significantly less hurt by the economic collapse than service sector and blue collar workers:

Unemployment rates among the working class have been more than triple the rate of those in the creative class and about double the rate of those in the service class over the past decade. Service-class unemployment has been about double the creative-class rate and has not diverged from it in the past 20 years.

And look at the last recession in Canada. Unemployment rates among the working class rose to nearly 16 per cent in 1991, while the creative class and service class experienced much more modest increases.

So will there be an uptick in people interested in working for government? Mostly likely. But expect it to be modest. But also remember. those who decide to apply may be motivated by safety and security, not a sense of public duty.

Oh, and one other thing. I’ve had several friends tell me that people who’ve applied for jobs that have had to wait 6, 9 or even 14 months before getting an offer. For those who are really made to wait, by the time they find out they have a job, the recession could be over…

The New World Order: Flat, Spiky or Divided?

Just started Who’s Your City by Richard Florida out of personal interest but also to better figure out why it is the Vancouver sometimes works, and sometimes really doesn’t work. Figuring out that puzzle, and doing something is part of the reason I joined Vision (and yes, I’m still recovering from the victory celebrations).

I’m already sensing a convergence between Florida and some of my other favourite authors – namely Friedman (who Florida references) and Thomas Barnett (author of The Pentagon’s New Map among other books).

All three are noticing the same thing, and are even writing along similar veins, but there remain important distinctions, with important policy implications.

Flat: Friedman (whom I’m least familiar with) says the world is flat, that innovation, industry, commerce, etc… can now happen anywhere, so we have to prepare for a flat world. Here, I’d argue the core unit of analysis is the individual. We are all free agents, able to do anything or be anything, so we’re going increasingly going to start doing it anywhere. Yes, Friedman believes that governments and industry have massively important roles, but he ultimately sees a world where any place can become a place where people can prosper. If they agitate for it and build it.

Spiky: Florida’s analysis is that world is quite spiky, dominated by a set of mega-regions and super-cities where the bulk of the economic activity and culture is produced. These hubs are connected to one another and largely uncaring of the enormous economic valleys that separate them. For Florida, the fundamental unit of analysis is the city (or mega-region). These determine where power and influence will flow. Importantly, mega-regions cannot be constructed overnight – indeed there is a powerful self-reinforcing mechanism at work. Mega-regions attract talent from around the world, both further increasing their status and starving smaller cities and regions of the key resource – social capital – they need to grow. Individuals are important – but only in so far as they cluster. Countries are important too – in the Friedman sense that they create a generally favourable atmosphere – but they are not critical to the equation.

Divided: Barnett sees a divided world. One on the one side is the Functioning Core, characterized by economic interdependence and incentives to abide by rules, one the other is the Non-Integrated Gap characterized by unstable leadership and absence of international trade and weaker incentives to abide by international rule sets. Barnett’s primary unit of analysis is the state. He is principally concerned with the impact of globalization (and the rule-sets it creates) on state actors – how it constrains them and incents them to behave certain ways. In this world citizens are influence, but it is connectivity, largely (but hardly completely) determined by the state that matters most. Convince a state to connect with the world, and it’s path towards free market democracy (or some close variant) is predetermined.

I had so much fun mashing up the Firefox download map with Barnett’s map (and had an incredible response) I thought I’d try to do the same again but with these three authors. Below is a Flat World, overlaid with Spiky depiction of where the most innovation (patents) occurs, overlaid with Barnett’s division between the Function Core and the Non-Integrated Gap. Hoping to write more about these three views of the world over the coming weeks.

What’s interesting about the map’s below is that Barnett and Florida correlate quite nicely. And while they are complimentary I think it Florida’s reinforces the best critique of Barnett’s map I’ve read to date:

“Connectedness is a network property and networks are fractal not contiguous. There is no contiguous region that is disconnected. Within each disconnected country there are islands of connection and within each connected country there are islands of disconnection. This is true at all levels, continents, nations, regions, cities, and companies, right down to individuals. There are terrorist cells in US cities fighting to disconnect the world and Journalists with satellite cell phones in remotest Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia working to connect everything.”

I’m willing to bet almost anything that Florida’s maps follow a power law distribution. And the above description – well in Florida’s map there are valleys of non-innovation and non-connectivity within Barnett’s Core. The question is: Can the Mega-Regions assert enough control over these values to ensure their rule-sets are followed?

Innovation (# of patents)

Flat spiky and divided

Connectivity (Light Based Regional Product per Square Kilometer)

Flat spiky and divided (econ)


Understanding Toronto’s Buzz

For a while now I’ve noticed that something exciting is going on in Toronto. There is an energy to the place that is new and different. Social innovators abound, interesting conferences and speeches seem to occur daily, and big ideas are taking shape. Others are noticing it to (via Richard Florida).

csi_logoI know that the story of this transformation is complex, but from someone whose both been a participant and observer of the transition I feel one piece of the puzzle is perhaps easily explained. More interestingly it isn’t making a lot of peoples lists, but the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) strikes me as a central piece of Toronto’s emergence as a place with buzz.

This idea has been solidified by my reading of Steven Johnson’s Emergence (a fantastic book BTW, but then everything he writes is excellent).

Indeed, Johnson’s opening parable about the story of slime mold provides a perfect metaphor for what has happened:

“Slime mold spends much of its life as thousands of distinct single-celled units, each moving separately from the its other comrades. Under the right conditions, those myriad cells will coalesce again into a single, larger organism…”


As Stevens explains, for a long time it was not understood what caused the slime mold to shift from single-celled into a larger organism. For a long time it was presumed that certain “leader” or “pacemaker” cells caused other cells to react. Finally, two scientists, Keller and Segel asked “What if the community of slime mold cells were organizing themselves? What if there were no pacemakers?… If the slime cells pumped out enough cyclic AMP (a signaling chemical), clusters of cells would start to form. Cells would begin following trails created by other cells, creating a positive feedback loop that encouraged more cells to join the cluster.” Critically, no single overarching cell was telling everyone else what to do. Instead each cell was evaluating the nutrients available in its immediate environment and adjusting its AMP output accordingly. The result is a bottoms-up system.

Now, while some may relish in referring to Torontonians as slime mold, they should instead wish for a similar fate. I think Toronto has experienced a phase transition like that of slime mold. Like the individual cells of slime mold, a critical mass of social innovators are finally connecting. And rather than secrete a chemical, they are sharing ideas, challenges, and opportunities. These conversations have created a positive feedback loop, attracting still more social innovators, along with philanthropists, venture capitalists and consultants, helping further foster the community that has started to thrive in Toronto. A decentralized, emergent community of social innovation is growing.

CSI has played a critical role in all this by serving as a critical aggregator, by simply providing a place and some basic support, it fostered an environment in which emergent behaviour became possible. Before SCI social innovators probably abounded across Toronto, but were isolated and alone. Today they are busy created webs of complex communities and sub-communities. Toronto has had this aggregation in the finance indsutry for some time, but for social innovators and other creative class entrepreneurs, this community of support is new. As one observer who worked on Canada25 noted to me, even 5 years ago the peer support and interest was not even a fraction of what it is today.

There are lessons here. For Toronto, but also for other cities across Canada. Obviously other factors matter. This isn’t an attempt to be completely reductionist. Toronto’s decent subway system, which allows people (cell!) to easily come together from across a large geography, makes it easier to achieve critical mass. This means similar success in cities like Calgary may be more challenging. For my home town of Vancouver, the jury is still out – transit is getting better, but what about critical mass?. But I continue to have high hopes. Perhaps the Tides Renewal Centre will come to serve a similar function as SCI in Toronto.

Regardless of where you live, Canadians everywhere should take notice. There is a buzz in Toronto, the question is, can we bottle the lightening and reproduce it elsewhere? I’d love to hear of similar projects if anyone knows of any.

Fatness Index – Canada vs. United States

Yesterday I noticed that Richard Florida and Andrew Sullivan re-posted a map (created by calorielab) that color coded US states by the percentage of the population that was obese. I wondered if a similar map existed for Canada. Although there are several that highlight obesity – such as this one and this one – none are quite like this one. More importantly, none allowed for an easy and direct comparison between the two countries.

So I’ve taken the calorielab map, remade it, and extend it to all of North America by applying its criteria to Canadian provinces (and by using some Statistics Canada figures found here). The result is a “green armband” (of relative health) stretching across the continent.

Obese Map of NA 2

If Canadian provinces were ranked along side US States, they would rank 1st (BC), 2nd (QC), 3rd (ON), 4th (AB) and tied for 5th (MB) (YK) as the least obese provinces/states. Colorado would be the first American state placing 7th, with the provinces of NS in 8th and SK in 9th. PEI and NB would appear 15th and 16th and NFLD would appear 19th. NWT and NU would close out in 30th and 31st position. You can see the original chart at the bottom of this page.

Actually even some of the grimmer looking patches of Canada’s map have a silver lining. The Arctic Territories, specifically Nunavut (NU) and the North-West Territories (NWT), appear obese and thus unhealthy. However, Statistics Canada notes that obesity criterion for Inuit populations should be more relaxed since a high BMI does not appear to have the same health risk for Inuit as for non-Inuit. Interesting, eh?

And here is the original map I’m riffing off of…