Friday, August 15, 2014

Where Do the Smartest People Move? - CityLab

Readers know that I find Richard Florida's insistence that cities are in almost all ways "better" than suburbs and rural regions simplistic at best. His analyses depend on his (and similar scholars') definitions of what is "best" for humans and what variables don't matter as much. What we weight as important in such analyses reflects biases. Florida seldom acknowledges that cities mask social problems (income inequality, mental stress, concentration of power) and drive away some hypersensitive, great minds. Cities are inhospitable to those who need reflective space.

Imagine my pleasant surprise when The Atlantic ran a story reflecting the experiences and observations of my wife and me. The smartest people we know leave cities for more relaxed lives in the country (or exurbs).
Where Do the Smartest People Move? - CityLab: The most interesting finding here (below, far right) is that once income was taken into account, people who moved from the city center to rural areas actually showed a slight jump in cognitive ability over those who stayed. 
For good measure, Jokela ran a second analysis that incorporated additional follow-up surveys and found very similar trends. 
It doesn't surprise me that cognitive ability improves as you leave the city. Or, are those with higher abilities compelled to leave the city? Either way, a slight but significant different in cognitive ability corresponds to leaving crowded urban cores.
So how do we explain these relationships? Well, the inward moves make intuitive sense, as smart young people often seek education and higher-paying jobs, both of which tend to be found in cities. The move outward from city to suburb is likely a result of many educated Americans leaving the city for the suburbs to raise a family—especially in the 1980s, at the height of the survey. 
Consider where colleges and universities are: cities (generally). My wife attended a rural campus for her undergraduate degrees, but I went to school in Los Angeles. We both completed graduate degrees in Minneapolis — and I couldn't wait to leave the city behind once we were done.

Many of our friends did the same. They pursued their educations and built careers in or near urban cores. But, once established, they moved outside the cities, even if the move required commuting into the urban core. We live a little more than an hour from where I teach, but I'd never want to live in the city. That's not happening, for any amount of money.
As for the intelligence shifts from cities to rural areas, found once socioeconomic status was factored in, Jokela has no good explanation. "I assume this is a very special group of people," he says—perhaps converted city residents returning to their country roots.
The problematic phrase "no good explanation" reveals how biased, how blinded by their urban identities, the authors and editors of The Atlantic must be. It's easy to understand why the country is better: it is more relaxing and more productive for some of us. Not every personality flourishes in the city, and that includes many gifted and talented individuals.

I can only visit the same museums so many times. I drive into the city for concerts, the conservatories, and other events. I work at a major university. There's nothing that the city offers that requires I be there every day, all day. How many people really, truly care about the culture of the city?  Sorry, but bars and restaurants alone aren't justification for calling cities "better" than suburbs, either. When I was younger, those things mattered, but I haven't been "clubbing" in decades and have no desire to try it again.

I'd suggest a great many people would be more productive if they weren't surrounded by the sights, sounds, and smells of cities. Others need the city, and that's fine, but at least recognize cities aren't for all people.

No comments:

Post a Comment