The Great Reset: What Will It Mean for Jacksonville?

June 17, 2010 29 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

A local planner reviews Urban theorist Richard Florida's explanation of why the recession is the mother of invention and ponders what it means for Jacksonville.

For anyone who is thinking seriously about Jacksonville’s future in a post-Great Recession world, discovering Richard Florida’s new book, The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, is like finding cool water in the desert or sitting down to a comforting fire at the end of a long winter’s walk.  Florida, a well-known professional geographer with several popular works to his credit, has written what may turn out to be one of the most important and influential works of the decade, and it is must reading for anyone who is concerned about influencing the direction that life in this community may take.

Florida’s thesis, briefly summarized, is that we are now in the midst of an epochal social and economic transformation of the same magnitude as the Long Depression of the late 1870s and the Great Depression of the 1930s.  In each instance, the trajectory of existing modes of development reached and, inevitably, overshot its sustainable limits, thus occasioning a crisis in terms of finding a new balance – a better “spatial fix,” to use the author’s term – between technology, geography, and powers of human adaptation.  “Great Resets,” Florida observes, “are broad and fundamental transformations of the economic and social order, and involve much more than strictly economic or financial events.”  In all such cases, he continues,

“A true Reset transforms not simply the way we innovate and produce but also ushers in a whole new economic landscape.  As it takes shape around new infrastructure and systems of transportation, it gives rise to new housing patterns, realigning where and how we live and work.  Eventually, it ushers in a whole new way of life – defined by new wants and needs and new models of consumption that spur the economy, enabling industry to expand and productivity to improve, while creating new and better jobs for workers.”  (Florida, p. 5, emphasis added)

In the first Great Reset, marked by the end of agriculture and the existing pattern of rural settlement as the dominant modes in our national life, Americans creatively adapted the new technological innovations (railroads, streetcars, elevators, telephones, electricity, etc.) and social infrastructure (factories, public education, and a plethora of new social and political organizations) of the late 19th century to build the great industrial cities of that era.  By the late 1920s, however, the Fordist paradigm had begun to falter under the weight of its own internal contradictions and, typically, overshot into another speculative bubble similar to the one that preceded it in 1873.  At this point, a new set of social and spatial innovations – think cars, highways, shopping malls, and single-family homes – came together to create the transforming engine of suburbia.

Today – witness the crash of the real estate/speculative finance bubble and the myriad social costs of our expensive fixation with owning and operating our McMansions and SUVs – the paradigm of suburban growth has reached and overshot its functional limits.  In the present case, Florida believes that the emerging new spatial fix will involve the flowering of a number of incipient megaregions in which existing, highly flexible and creative cities (or clusters of cities) will become fully integrated with their suburban hinterlands to create a new centers of human productivity*.

“Megaregions,” he continues, “are to our time what suburbanization was to the postwar era.  They provide the seeds of a new spatial fix.  They expand and intensify our use of land and space the way that the industrial city during the First Reset and suburbia did during the Second.” (p. 144)  In Florida’s view, each of these periodic crises and responses represents a “great reset” to new modes of thinking and living, and we had better get about the business of accommodating ourselves to this realty.

*Ironically, we may have come full circle back to the concept of regionalism that was championed by Benton MacKaye at about the time of the last great reset.  Indeed, as Florida suggests, our ability to think from a truly regional perspective may be one of the greatest tests of our willingness to change.  

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