The Floridas on Miami, Florida

Richard Florida, half of the intellectual power couple behind the Creative Class Group, offers his take on why life in Miami is paradise.

During your Caribbean cruise, you may dream of living in paradise, of packing it all up and escaping to the islands, while that’s a great fantasy, the reality of trying to make a living makes it less attractive. But there’s always Miami, no, really, Miami. It’s a great place to live. Just ask Richard and Rana Florida, the power couple behind the creative class group.

Miami View

His Take
I grew up in working class New Jersey, but because of the accident of my last name, I’ve always felt an affinity to Miami. My brother and I had a rock band in high school and my father used to joke that we should call it Richard Florida and the Sunshines. If he’d had a daughter, he liked to quip, he would have named her Sunny.

After I went to college at Rutgers, I attended graduate school at Columbia in New York City. I lived in a number of US cities while I was starting my academic career, but back then it would have never occurred to me to live in Miami. Florida, I thought, was where you went to retire, to unplug, to disconnect. It was a destination for people who wanted to stop thinking and give their brains a rest.

Boy, was I wrong.

The first hint I had of how wrong I was came when my wife and I were living and working in Washington, DC, and we found that we could almost never make weekend plans with friends because they had all skipped town by Friday afternoon. Just where had these Type A, über-successful friends all gone? To Miami. On the direct flight—DCA to MIA in four hours, door to door.

After we moved to Toronto, we rented a place in Miami to escape the bitter northern winters. Then we bought a condo. By then, the focus of my academic work had shifted from manufacturing technology and economic development to cities and city regions, and in particular, how the quality of life they offer impacts their economies. When I looked at Miami from that perspective, I saw that it ranked right up there on all sorts of critical metrics—arts and culture, climate, transportation access, walkability, and cost of living. Quality of place has always mattered, but in the post-industrial, creative age, it has begun to matter decisively. Miami, I realized, is well-poised for the creative age, and it could even take the lead in showing other cities how they can make the transition—though it will take a bit of doing.

Miami Living

What do I mean by the creative age? The global economy is undergoing a tectonic shift from a manufacturing model to a knowledge-based model. Back in the agricultural and industrial ages, access to natural resources or locations at the crossroads of trade routes drove the rise of cities.

Today, a city or city region’s economic success hinges upon four factors: talent, technology, tolerance, and territorial assets.

One-third of the US workforce belongs to what I’ve dubbed the Creative Class, which includes classic knowledge-based workers in health care, business and finance, law and education, as well as scientists, engineers, techies, researchers, artists, designers, writers, academics, media professionals, and musicians. The higher the share of these kinds of workers a city has, the more it will prosper. To attract them and keep them stimulated and productive, it needs superb quality of place.

The high tech industry—computers and software, biotechnology, robotics, and the like—is a great driver of economic growth, both in its own right and because of the spillovers it creates. One high-tech job can create as many as five service jobs indirectly.

And then there is tolerance, a city’s openness to racial, sexual, and cultural diversity. It has been demonstrated again and again that places that are high in tolerance towards out-of-the-mainstream groups (immigrants, homosexuals, minorities, and so on) experience higher-quality economic growth. In his 2007 book, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies, economist Scott Page shows how new ideas and innovations are generated most efficiently in places that are open to a wide variety of cognitive styles. It should come as no surprise that talented people would want to congregate in places that are more conducive to outside-the-box thinking.

Miami Beach

A place’s territorial assets consist of three things: What’s there (its built and natural environments), who’s there (the varieties of people who live there), and what’s going on (the vibrancy of its cultural life).

All these factors work together. It’s hard to attract talent unless you’re open to all kinds of people, offer the work they seek, and provide them with a good quality of life. By the same token, it’s hard to provide a good quality of life without the talent that can drive an innovative economy and ignite a cultural life. A place that boasts world-class universities and research institutions but is culturally hostile towards foreigners, gays, or other “unconventional” groups will have trouble drawing the talent that will keep those universities and institutions humming, while a place that’s known as an alternative-lifestyle enclave but lacks a prominent university will also fall short of the mark.

So how does Miami stack up? Just 26 percent of its workforce belongs to the creative class. That’s not great, whether compared to a city like Washington, DC, or San Francisco, where the creative-class share is as high as 40 percent, or to the national average, which is in the midthirties. But Miami is well-known as a melting pot of nationalities and religions, with large numbers of gays, artists and entertainers, and, of course, immigrants. It is not just one of America’s great metros; it serves double duty as a Latin American and South American center of finance, business, and media.

On the technology front, Miami is hardly a threat to Silicon Valley, but it boasts high levels of medical and health care prowess and technology, and the Wynwood area has emerged as something of a start-up scene. The Miami metro raked in more than $300 million in venture capital investment in 2013, the sixteenth highest take among the 380-plus US metro regions. The broader South Florida mega-region, which includes Tampa and Orlando, took in a total of nearly $600 million in venture capital, placing it among the top dozen venture capital regions in the United States. Between 2000 and 2011, the region saw greater growth in the numbers of its high-tech immigrant entrepreneurs than either San Jose or San Francisco.

Miami Couple

Rana and Richard Florida in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.
©Image courtesy of Emma McIntyre

People who can choose where they live are increasingly opting for Miami’s diversity and buzz, its spectacular beaches, and its vibrant arts and cultural institutions. For some or all of the year, it is a destination of choice for growing numbers of affluent and creative-class types from the US and around the world. Miami’s world-class airport makes it a global hub, with a substantial circulation of people in as well as out. All of this constitutes a base on which Miami can build its future as a leading city in the creative economy.

Before the 2008 economic crisis, Miami’s economic growth was oriented predominantly toward real estate: large-scale suburban developments, high-rise condos, stadiums, and the like. Post-crash, Miami is turning to the fundamental building blocks of long-term economic growth: human capital and innovation. For all the worries that the city’s newly built condos would stand forever empty, the cranes have come back, and they’re building a downtown where the average resident’s age is thirty-six.

Forty years ago, Miami didn’t have a public research university. Today, the metro ranks seventh in the US for college students per capita. From the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts to the New World Center, from the Pérez Art Museum Miami to The Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science—all of which have sprouted up in just the past eight years—the city’s culture is flowering. It’s happening at the grassroots level as well—in Wynwood and Little Haiti, and even in Opa-Locka and Hialeah.

But all that said, there’s lots more work that needs to be done before Miami can realize its full potential. For one thing, both the city’s long history and its infrastructure define it as a tourist and resort-home destination. For all of the green shoots of tech, Miami’s economy remains largely service-driven. That needs to change.

The percentage of Miami residents over the age of twenty-five who have attained a bachelor’s degree or higher—29 percent—is on par with Houston and Orlando, but it is still significantly below the average for metros with populations above one million. Miami’s research and science capabilities are well below the national average as well. Occupations in life, physical, and social sciences are 50 percent below the national average. The lesson is clear: research and science must be a high-priority investment.

Miami’s bohemian index (its concentration of working artists, musicians, writers, and designers) is middling as well, on par with places like Atlanta and Baltimore.

Miami Art

We often think of diversity as a moral imperative, but it is also a business imperative. Miami ranks very high indeed on tolerance and diversity, just behind San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Added to this key strength is Miami’s expertise in a range of industries—specifically, hospitality, retail, real estate, management, manufacturing, information, and arts and recreation. Miami Beach is best suited for lifestyle entrepreneurship while Miami is better suited for tech and related kinds of entrepreneurship.

The city needs to leverage all of its strengths, and as spectacular as it may already be, keep investing in its quality of place, whether transit, schools, parks, or broadband. But as important as it is to attract creatives, Miami mustn’t neglect its service workers either, who are falling further and further behind economically. Given the world-class service infrastructure Miami has, it is potentially a powerful laboratory for upgrading the productivity and hence the pay of service-class work.

And the level of car dependence in southern Florida is outrageous. My own research suggests that you can get away with it at 2.5 million people, even get away with it at three million people. But once a region passes the 2.5 million mark—and the Miami metro population is at five million—you need to have robust transit infrastructure. That means substantial investments in light rail and bullet trains, but also relatively inexpensive ones such as bike trails and better sidewalks.

If Miami is more than the sum of its beaches and bars, let’s not knock them either. One of the city’s premier strengths—and one of its most formidable building blocks for the creative economy—is that people want to be here. Miami’s incredible climate, oceanfront, and nightlife draw people from all over the world. The result is a city that’s more well-rounded, sophisticated, culturally intriguing, and economically exciting than I ever dreamed when I was growing up in New Jersey. It’s a city that has its finger on the pulse of the future and its eye on the emerging creative economy.

Richard Florida is the author of best-selling The Rise of the Creative Class, cofounder of City Lab, and Editor-at-Large of The Atlantic. He divides his time between Toronto, where he directs the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto; New York, where he is Global Research Professor at NYU; and Miami.

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