Provo is on a roll. There’s lots of new development, projected population growth, and a general air of excitement and possibility.
But Provo has ebbed and flowed in the past; how can the city make sure the good times keep coming, rather than drying up in another boom and bust cycle?
Richard Florida, one of the foremost living thinkers about cities, recently offered an explanation. Responding to critics, he basically says that cities need to be dense incubators of creativity and innovation. He writes,
I don’t mince words when I say that communities that invest large sums of public money in mega-projects like sports arenas, convention centers, and massive new digs for the “SOBs” – the symphony, opera, and ballet – are sorely mistaken if they suppose this will somehow lead to economic growth and development.
The key mechanism at work here is the city itself. Dense and interactive connectors, cities are economic and social organizing machines. They bring people and ideas together, providing the platform for them to combine and recombine in myriad ways, spurring both artistic and cultural creativity and technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic growth.
Superficially, that’s a disappointing assessment for Provo because the city is the new site of a great big convention center. But the real point isn’t that convention centers and other big developments are bad, it’s that they aren’t really going to bring necessary economic vitality and diversity to a city. (In Provo, I’d go one step further, adding that the convention center’s biggest contribution is to the general spirit of the city and its progress. I have no idea what Florida would say about that idea, but I do think the perceived benefits of the convention center and the excitement on the street will have economic benefits.)
In any case, Florida is basically telling cities like Provo how to prosper over the longterm. His conclusion is supported by a mountain of evidence and research — which is cited almost daily on this blog. It just remains to be seen if city leaders and citizens will be able to cut against the inherited wisdom and implement these ideas.