Richard Florida: Parks, Community Attachment, and the Knowledge Economy

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People care for and protect the places they love. And, just as importantly, they tend to stay in and invite others to those places Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, is a long-time observer of public spaces whose work focuses on the common factors and the socioeconomic impact of this "community attachment." In our shift from an industrial- to a knowledge-based economy, abundant, walkable, "serendipitous" public spaces have come to represent the new gold standard of community attractiveness, Florida says. "A park is not a frivolity."

In fact, local park systems provide (or have the potential to provide) the quality-of-life assets Americans claim to value most highly. He recaps the findings of the Knight Foundation's 2009 "Soul of the Community" survey of 28,000 people by Gallup: Aesthetic appeal, inclusiveness, and opportunities to interact with other people ranked as the top three determinants of residents' attachment to their communities.

In his books, including The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida documents major economic shifts that may explain these priorities Public lands and green spaces are integral to the new knowledge economy in obvious and not-so-obvious ways, he contends As corporate recruiters have discovered, skilled professionals demand outdoor recreational experiences close to home. Yet the sprawling built environment or many U.S. cities and suburbs are neither walkable nor recreation-friendly; they me, rather, vestiges of an automobile-centered, industrial-age mindset.

"We have damaged our cities in terrible ways, and we need to change," he says, pointing out that the communities Americans of all demographic groups find most appealing are green and walkable--and they feature town or city centers that offer a vibrant, accessible "functional core."

Job demands are changing in ways that may make parks a more central part of adults' daily lives, he notes. Eighty percent of the American workforce now holds skilled "knowledge jobs" in which daily productivity is measured by intellectual output. …