Review of Richard Florida’s The Great Reset

Richard Florida was well-known (and somewhat notorious) when he taught at Carnegie-Mellon University here in Pittsburgh back at the end of the Nineties.  Our politicians were pushing the building of two new stadiums and Florida noted that it wasn’t going to improve Pittsburgh’s economy.
Well, here we are in 2010 with two shiny new stadiums and the city has been through bankruptcy, our Port Authority that runs the buses has had to cut routes and raise fares…I’d say Florida probably pretty much won that argument.
In his newest book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, Florida uses the cycles of the last two depressions to try to get an idea of where the economy is headed after the Great Recession that began in 2008.  Those other two were the Panic of 1873 and of course, The Great Depression.  In each case, full recovery took ten or more years, and led to new living arrangements (what Florida calls “Spatial Fix”) and new ways of living, working and consuming.
Florida notes, for example, that after 1873 the country saw increased urbanization, and after the Great Depression it saw the growth of the suburbs.  In each case, these changes coincided with industrial changes – from agriculture to factories, from factories to knowledge work, and so on.
Today’s world is resulting in numerous changes thanks to the growth of creative work – a theme that has run through many of Florida’s books.  These changes are leading to thr growth of megaregions, a subject covered in Florida’s book, Who’s Your City: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life.  For example, Pittsburgh is part of Chi-Pitts, a region with $1.6 trillion in economic output and 46 million people.  At 100,000 square miles it’s the second largest region in North America when rated by these numbers.  Despite the much heralded (and overused) phrase “The World is Flat,” Florida notes that the world is actually “spiky” and that creatives move to these regions to be near other creatives, which causes ideas to compound on each other and boosts innovation.
Florida makes recommendations on how to encourage this.  For example, he notes that light rail will allow smaller cities to be connected to the hubs of megaregions, and that these lines will encourage infill along the routes.  He says that retraining people who are downsized and providing a social net is key to encouraging prosperity.
One of his more controversial recommendations is to note that home ownership as a piece of the American dream is a thing of the past.  Wealth was tied up in houses in the recent bubble, he argues, instead of being put to use funding businesses and basic research.  Also, as job security becomes a thing of the past and people move constantly on to new opportunities, the more mobile workforce will find that a home can tie them down and keep them from going to where the jobs are.  Florida makes several recommendations about how to provide rental options for these workers.
Two areas I was glad to see him cover were service jobs, which are low paying drudgery for many – Florida notes that innovation by these people should be encouraged along with higher wages, and also the infilling of suburbs, which aren’t going away despite the move of people back into the cities.  He notes initiatives to try to turn these areas into so-called walkable communities.  That’s a subject I’d like to touch on in a later post, along with a number of other themes above.
This really only scratches the surface of the content of the book.  It’s a quick read – twenty-three short chapters, and whether you agree with Florida or not, it will give you much to think about…

Coming attractions

Been working much overtime at the moment, but here’s what I’ll be posting on as the year goes by…

I’ve always had an eclectic range of interests. I’m trained and have worked as a mechanical engineer, but also have an MBA and read widely in many fields. Lately, I’ve been consulting with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies on tracking nuclear weapons smuggling.

So, some things I’ve been into in the past year:

1.) Mathematics. I’ve gone deeper into algebra, geometry and calculus. I’ve touched on abstract algebra and topology. I’ve even done some reading in chaos theory.

2.) Complexity theory – this applies across a wide range of disciplines such as social networks and physics. It may be applicable to terrorist networks.

3.) The future of work – outsourcing, of course, but also globalization, economics, and telecommuting.

4.) the future, period. Bob Kaplan’s gated communities, Richard Florida’s creative class and Great Reset.

5.) Economics and the stock market – are we really in a recovery or just still sliding into Great Depression 2?

6.) Terrorists and nuclear smuggling – as part of my gig at Pitt.

7.) How do many of the above subjects tie into the future of Pittsburgh (which is where I live)? How does the concept of city states apply, and is it a viable model for the future for the region?

These are all subjects I hope to keep exploring, and I hope to write more about them here on my blog.

Neighborhood Walk: Monroeville

My apologies for the lack of photos – I work in O’Hara Township and it’s been dark when I left and when I came home today, but I’ve included a few web photos and lots of links to give you an idea of the place…

\Monroeville, Pennsylvania.  To most people this evokes an image of a giant strip mall.


Okay, pretty much, there IS a giant strip mall down the center.  But Monroeville just might surprise you anyway.  Let’s start with a little history.  It’s named after Joel Monroe, who was the first postmaster.  Judge Thomas Mellon, founder of the bank with that name, actually went to school here, at the Tranquil Retreat Academy


Monroeville is also the location of the Old Stone Church, one of the early homes of Crossroads Presbyterian Church and dedicated in 1834.  Mellon’s father was one of the founders.  The Crossroads congregation has since moved to another building in Monroeville, but weddings are still held here and people are still being buried in the cemetery.


Over the next hundred years, Monroeville slowly took shape, and in 1954, Miracle Mile Shopping Center, one of the first strip malls in the country, opened, followed in 1969 by Monroeville Mall, yes, that one, the site of Dawn of the Dead and now the location of an annual Zombie Walk.  Westinghouse opened it’s Nuclear Research center there in 1971.  East Suburban Hospital (now Forbes) opened in 1978, and in 1995 – yes, it was that recent! — the last dairy farm closed.  Finally, in 2006, Monroeville opened a big new Municipal park.

Boyce Park is technically here, but it’s not actually a Monroeville Park – it is Allegheny County property.  Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce Campus IS in Monroeville, and it’s a fantastic educational facility.

Okay, so what about MY Monroeville?  Here’s some stops that I regularly make in Monroeville…


Stonecliffe Apartments, built on the former Johnston’s Dairy Farm is soon to be no longer my home as I’m moving into a house.  The apartments have a pool and tennis courts, and a healthy population of Asians and Indians and Muslims, providing wonderful international exposure for my son.



Speaking of which, did you know that Monroeville is home to three different Indian temples?  There is a Sikh temple and two Hindu temples, including the Sri Venkateswara Temple, one of the first Hindu temples in the United States and site of pilgrimages by Hindus all over the USA!


Across busy Monroeville Boulevard is Miracle Mile Shopping Center, home of the newest LA Fitness as well as Starbucks and Panera.  Nearby is Eat N’ Park, a local restaurant chain.  One of Monroeville’s best kept secrets is Nick Marie’s Esta Esta, a fantastic Italian restaurant founded in the 1950s.


Other stops I might make in Monroeville are:


Primanti Brothers:  Everyone in Pittsburgh has heard of and probably eaten at one of the various Primanti locations.  This one is unique in the fact that it was the very first one to be built from the ground up instead of using an exiting building.


Phantom of the Attic:  I no longer collect comic books, but this is a well known shop for comic book fans.


Tolerico’s:  Another good Italian restaurant.  It was established just recently.


La Cucina Dolce:  Yet another good, local Italian restaurant!  (And yes, there’s an Olive Garden in Monroeville, but you can still go local instead of to a chain!)


Monroeville is also home to several Indian grocery stores and restaurants as well.


I love Monroeville.  From where I lived (Stonecliffe), I could walk to the grocery store, to Starbucks or LA Fitness, and even, if I was ambitious, to Monroeville Mall two miles away.  Even when driving, nothing is more than ten minutes with traffic.  This included the Monroeville Library which is apparently the third largest in Allegheny County in terms of circulating books.  As I’ve noted, the population is pretty international.  Soon, UPMC will establish a second hospital here, but Westinghouse will be moving to Cranberry, so it will be interesting to see how things change over the next few years…

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this suburb, but I hope you can see that there is indeed more to Monroeville than you might think!


Join the Rustbelt Neighborhood Walk!

I’m excited about this.  My neighborhood is Monroeville, and i think it’s a really misunderstood place.  Can’t wait to give my impression of it!

Cynthia Closkey


They’re using cutting-edge technology to revitalize Rust Belt cities

PITTSBURGH, PA – OCTOBER 30, 2008 – The problems of post-industrial cities seem so complex, intertwined, and entrenched, it’s hard to imagine how to start restoring these places to their former glory.

But a group of bloggers says that getting started can be as simple as taking a walk.

The Neighborhood Walk is a chance for individuals throughout the Rust Belt of the U.S. and Canada to recognize the place they live, work, or call home — and to introduce it to the world. The project is the inspiration of a social network called Rust Belt Bloggers.

On November 11, 2008 (11/11/2008), bloggers, podcasters, vloggers, photobloggers and others throughout the Rust Belt region will each take a walk around their neighborhood, make media about it — a blog post, photo gallery, video, or whatever you prefer — and post it on the web.

These individual perspectives and accounts of life at the street level will show both strengths and weaknesses of these neighborhoods: new businesses taking root, old factories and shops closed and abandoned. By raising awareness this way, the people involved hope to build interest in simple revitalization efforts.

How can someone get involved? Take a walk around your block and photograph what you see. Sit outside and write about the people who pass and the world around you. Turn on your video camera and give a guided tour of your neighborhood.

Post your media anywhere — your blog, Facebook, MySpace, anywhere. Tag it as “neighborhoodwalk” so everyone can seek out what everyone else has posted. Then do a search and see everyone else’s neighborhood.

This is the first project of its kind dedicated to documenting and raising awareness of life, work, and culture in the Rust Belt of the United States and Canada. More than 20 bloggers throughout the region have already committed to the project, with more joining each day.

About Rust Belt Bloggers
Rust Belt Bloggers is a group that uses social media to discover and build upon opportunities available in the Rust Belt cities — post-industrial cities in the northern states of the U.S. and southern provinces of Canada. For more information, visit

Partying with the Maniacs



Last Thursday night my wife, a friend of mine, and I all went to a launch party for Maniac Magazine’s annual fashion issue.  It was hosted at Eleven, a new restaurant in the Strip District.  The Strip is just east of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Allegheny River and despite it’s name has nothing to do with exotic dancers, despite what many of my company’s customers think.


Eleven was quite impressive and is definitely an upscale place.  It has two stories and for this night the VIP section for the party was on the top floor.  Our friend Viviana escorted us up to our own table, complete with gift bag and bottles of Absolut Vodka and Glaceau vitamin water.  There were also small cupcakes.  I’ve never been VIP before so I have to say we enjoyed it.  The view, towards the river, was beautiful and the weather was just right.


We didn’t eat there, although I’m told the entrees are quite good.  The appetizers certainly were; we tried mushroom pot stickers, mini-BLTs, and ricotta cheese bites.  I’m sure there are fancier names for them, but I’m not that upper class!  There was also an ice sculpture by Richard Bubin, and the man himself was drinking out of a lighted ice beer mug.  Mini of Pittsburgh’s  Bill Schmitt was there as well and the guests were able to have their pictures taken in front of the Mini Cooper banner.


The lovely blonde on their cover (see above) this month is Summer Wise.  She runs an internet business called Trendy Trousseau selling fashion items.  My wife introduced her to my friend and I early in the night, and then later had her picture taken with her.  My gorgeous brunette and a beautiful blonde – I’m looking forward to seeing that picture in the magazine!


The Maniac girls were there – April Hubal and Emily Geyman.  We also met some of the interns, including Whitney Meyer, Ashley Attisano, and Jackie Spyra.  Other members of the staff were there too.


The place was pretty crowded by 10:00 and it looked like quite a few people were enjoying themselves and the special Maniac martinis.  They also were flipping through free issues of the magazine, which features an interview with Jesse McCartney, a photoshoot of the B-94 morning crew, and an article on the House of Diehl as well as their usual columns and great coverage of Pittsburgh’s growing social scene.  Of particular interest to me was an article on the branding campaign for X Shadyside, a gym that always has eye-catching ads.


This was my friend’s first time at a Maniac event and he thoroughly enjoyed it, rubbing elbows with models and photographers and writers and various others.  We’re looking forward to their next issue!



Never Eat Alone in Action

What do you call it when you have a birthday party and the guest of honor only knows 5 of the 14 guests?


One heckuva good time!


On Sunday night I attended a surprise birthday party at the Gypsy Café on the Southside.  The café is very nice, somewhat eclectic, and serves some very good appetizers.  The staff was attentive and responsive.  The prices are a little on the high side for Pittsburgh, but as time goes on and Pittsburgh begins to get more like New York and LA (It IS happening, just really really slowly) the prices will be seen as reasonable.  You can find them on the web here.


The party itself was pulled together by my friend Viviana.  She’s originally from Rome and is a master networker.  She had to be, moving to a foreign country and getting involved in as many activities as she could.  Viviana knows people from many different places.  She’s a great example of Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone in action.


It was entertaining and fun, as the pics below show.  Special thanks to Alan, who took most of the pics.


    Jen loves her chocolate!

  Jen and Viviana – Queen for a day!

  All that and she’s a marksman too!

   Party guests


 Make a wish!

  I’ll be in my bunk…(points if you get the reference)

  Okay, time to go…

Misplaced Priorities

I’m not one for writing on politics, and I rarely rant on anything.  I’m also taking my life in my hands to criticize the Pittsburgh Penguins, who just smashed the Ottawa Senators and may be on their way to another Stanley Cup.  (Note:  Go Pens!)

But I had to get this one off my chest.  I have a four and a half year old boy.  He’s my greatest treasure.  And this one’s for him.  Note:  He’s a Pens fan too!

Back at the end of March, the Children’s Center for Creative Play in Edgewood closed down.  My son has been there numerous times and enjoyed himself.  It was a place where there was lots to do and where he could, dare I say it, exercise his creativity.  In this day an age, especially with globalization, creativity is a pretty important thing.  Just read A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink.

Anyway, the Center closed due to lack of funding.  So let me get this straight:  we can build not one, not two, but THREE sports arenas for millionaire athletes playing CHILDREN’s games, but we can’t take care of our own children?  Where are the priorities in this city?  Mr. Ravenstahl, are you not supposed to be a fresh new face doing things different?  No, you’re just like your predecessors pandering to the big money donors and ignoring the little people.  Wouldn’t creative, well-educated kids make a bigger difference in our ACT 47 city than a new hockey arena, a casino, and so on?

I guess not.

I encourage everyone to fight for the Center for Creative Play – there’s a group trying to save it at THIS WEBSITE.

Rant done.

What do you think?  Is it worth saving?


Thoughts on the Future of Work

Lately I’ve been following Penelope Trunk’s thoughts on the future of work, as well as Richard Florida’s thoughts on the future of cities  (See also All About Cities, an excellent blog on…cities!).  Add to that Jamais Cascio’s thoughts on the Metaverse, and it’s a lot of food for thought.


Here are Penelope’s predictions:


1.) The end of gender disparity
The end of the stay-at-home parent
The end of the grind
The end of “work friends”
The end of office life
The end of consulting
The end of hierarchy

I’m not so sure.  Coming as I do from Pittsburgh, a conservative town, most of this stuff is FAR from reality.  Even with Gen Y coming in to the workplace, very little has changed.  And most of the X’ers I know just adapt – indeed, are co-opted – into the conservative culture.  Five days in the cube, with extra hours when necessary.  No special perks or cool offices.  And everyone goes home at the end of the day and work and home are completely separate arenas, as far as friends, anyway.  Believe me, hierarchy is alive and well here.  Perhaps that’s part of the reason we have outmigration.

Perhaps in tech firms it’s different, but as far as I can see in the engineering industry and the banking industry nothing has changed here.


When it comes to parenting and work, most households I know have both parents working full time jobs.  A few, like mine, have one parent working while the other stays home.  We pay the price in that we can’t afford some of the things that others can – for example, we’re still in an apartment although we’re saving for a house.  It also leads to friction since the stay at home parent feels like they work more than a full time job and can’t understand why the wage-earning parent wants to relax in the evening since they don’t get a chance to relax.


I want to explore this more in the coming days.  Telecommuting is rare here (as a regular practice, anyway) since most employers are conservative Boomer types.  Gil Schwartz wrote an article in Men’s Health Best Life magazine where he demolishes the idea of telecommuting.  He questions why he would want an employee that doesn’t want to be in the office.  It’s a bit tongue in cheek, and totally opposed to Penelope and Ryan/Ryan’s Gen Y thoughts, but it rings true to me, at least here in Pittsburgh.


What are your thoughts?  Do you see a shift to more telecommuting?  Do you see a blending of work life and home life?  Are your friends at work and your friends at home the same or separate?  Is your organization flat or pretty hierarchical?  Let me know in the comments!


Open Source Warfare, Urban Takedowns, and Pittsburgh

Ryan Clark Holiday recently did a post on 4th Generation Warfare on the Internet(link), which lead me to a post on Global Guerillas that talked about Urban Takedowns in India, as well as this IEEE Spectrum article.

Back in the eighties a friend of mine read a book (the title and author are lost to memory) about a guy who did guerilla warfare against New York City.  One of the exploits was poisoning the reservoirs.  Around the same time, the Tommy Lee Jones movie “The Park is Mine” came out where one man was able to defend Central Park against a host of law enforcement types long enough to make a statement.  I often wondered at the time when it would really happen here.

Big shows by terrorists like the WTC or Oklahoma City get a lot of attention but fade pretty quickly.  Even the effects of the WTC, which is now six years in the past, are fading.  People are pretty much back to business as usual.  Global Guerillas makes the case that:

  • Singular terrorist events (black swans), like 9/11, do not impact city viability.  The costs of a singular event dissipate quickly.  In contrast, frequent attacks (even small ones) on a specific city can create a terrorism tax of a level necessary to shift equilibiriums.
  • In the labor pooling model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 7% will cause a city to collapse to a lower equilibrium.  Labor pooling equilibrium reflects the benefits of aggregating workers in a single location.  Workers get higher wages and more choices.  Firms get stable wages (no one firm can deplete the market) and more candidates.
  • In the core-periphery model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 6.3% will push a city to a lower equilibrium.  The core-periphery model is based on transportation costs.  Firms generate transportation savings by concentrating in a single location next to suppliers and customers.  Customers and workers glean the benefit of lower transportation costs by locating near jobs and goods.

Back in the day there was a novel by Thomas Harris and a movie called Black Sunday, where a guy attempted to crash the Goodyear Blimp into the Super Bowl where the Steelers where playing.  I write stories and one idea I fooled around with was a terrorist cell operating in Pittsburgh.  Consider the possibilities:



          The airport


          Reservoirs and water towers

          Cyber attacks on stoplights and such

Route 376, the Parkway, is the major route in and out of the city on the east side.  It has a bottleneck at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels.  Let’s say at about 5 AM, an active terrorist cell brings two trucks laden with explosives from opposite sides of the tunnel.  They coordinate their attacks using throwaway cell phones.  They park the trucks, jump out and get into (stolen?) cars following the trucks, and once clear of the tunnels use the phones to detonate the bombs.  That artery is now closed and many thousands of people are re-routed through suburban arteries with stops signs and lights.

The next day the same terrorists drop the Fort Pitt Bridge, a major artery out of the city to the west, into the Monongahela River.  Note that many terrorists are engineers, so this isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility, especially if they do it at night.

Over the coming days, they put anthrax in several reservoirs and water towers, launch a Stinger at aircraft taking off from the airport, and use cyber attacks to play with traffic signals causing accidents and snarling up traffic even worse.  Perhaps a few smaller bombs at shopping malls.

And then they quietly evac out of the country over the open Canadian border.

They’ve gotten major media attention, every attack is posted to Youtube, and now several other cells mount attacks in other cities, using the lessons learned from this first group.

And suddenly, it isn’t so safe here in the US anymore.  And no nukes were required.

So how do we defend against something like this, without declaring martial law?  That’s complicated, I think.

First, better protection at the borders.  We have over 12 million illegals here in the United States.  Who’s to say if some of them are not here for a better life?  How do we protect those borders?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of well-trained, experienced soldiers getting shot at in Iraq….

Regular patrols and electronic surveillance of public infrastructure targets like reservoirs, water towers, tunnels and bridges.  One question is who would handle this?

          Police – obviously, this would require a lot more manpower as well as being expensive.  The police are not really meant to be used for this sort of application anyway.

          Army or the like

          Mercenaries like Blackwater.  If this option were used there would need to be strict Rules of Engagement to avoid shooting of innocent civilians, as has happened in Iraq.

Jammers around public infrastructure – this would inconvenience people with cell phones, and would only be supplemental.  After all, a timer can be used to detonate explosives, requiring no radio signal.  But it might be helpful anyway.

There are ways around each of these, of course, and I’m sure there are many other solutions I haven’t noted.  There are no easy answers, but in the Flat World this sort of thing is a danger that we’ll eventually have to grapple with.