Public transportation touted as key economic driver in keynote session

Posted on October 5, 2011


Richard Florida speaks at the 2011 APTA Expo on innovation and the economy, and how public transportations boosts both.
Richard Florida speaks at the 2011 APTA Expo on innovation and the economy, and how public transportations boosts both.
Twenty million jobs in the “creative sector” have been formed in the last three decades — totaling 40 million overall — while millions of jobs are stripped from the manufacturing industry, says Richard Florida, guest speaker at the APTA Expo and founder of Creative Class Group. Florida, who has studied factories for 20 years, is considered an international expert on economic competitiveness, demographic trends, and cultural and technological innovation. 

Florida calls the current era the “creative age” because jobs in this sector evolve around emerging industries outside of hard labor — others call this era the “information age” or the “service age.” But whatever it’s called, it’s the only thing really driving the economy, he said, and public transportation is a major factor. 

In studies done by Florida and Creative Class Group, which looks at migration patterns by studying satellite images of Earth at night, among other demographic studies, what used to be nation states around the globe are now more like “mega regions,” as he called them. These 40 “mega regions” account for less than 18 percent of the world’s population, but produce more than two-thirds of our economic output and nine out of 10 innovations. 

The “mega regions” have something else in common: the “creative sector” lives here. Interestingly, this newer type of industry is more dependent on public transportation, walking and biking than others. “It’s the structure of our transportation systems … it’s how that structure — that skeleton — becomes the structure for the way we live,” Florida said. 

For example, suburbanization and investment in transportation, particularly on cars and highways, is what brought America out of the Great Depression, and a similar type of shift is what’s needed today, Florida says. “What brought it (the economy) down was a housing crisis, a crisis of the very model itself, a crisis of suburbanization,” he said, adding, “We have to build a new system now, a system that is no longer of the old industrial age — a system that is set apart from the car and home.”

So why does relying on public transportation, biking and walking allow these “creative economies” to be successful? “You can’t be creative when you’re behind the wheel,” Florida said, citing the substantial amount of time lost in productivity because so many Americans are car commuters — at least three quarters of whom drive alone. As well, this lifestyle stimulates innovation because, as Florida’s studies show, people are more likely to be happy compared to those who commute alone in their cars. 

And with 60 percent of Americans wanting more walkable cities, Florida says, by investing in public transportation, you’re also investing in “the human, the social, the cultural” — which then stimulates creativity, which stimulates the economy for “post-crash prosperity.”


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