Book Review Archive: “The Great Reset” by Richard Florida

Each Tuesday, I’m posting book reviews that I did in the past for D+A Studio’s blog. I’m doing this because, well, I love to read, and a good book will not be dated and will keep coming up when discussing current issues.  Click on the “Book Review” tab to see all reviews. 

OK, so it’s not an architecture or urban planning book, but “The Great Reset” does touch on some ways that the built environment can respond to the “new way of living.”

Florida looks at two key previous “resets:” the Long Depression of the late 1800’s (1873-1879) and the Great Depression of the 1930’s, and how these have spurred innovation and changed our ways of living and working. This is a great read, especially for us demographics junkies, with talk about cities mixed in with sociology and economics.

One of the changes that Florida anticipates is the move away from the emphasis on home ownership as the end-all be-all of the American Dream. He observes that home ownership has been a hindrance to many, especially since it has not turned out to be the ultimate investment that can be easily liquidated for a profit, as a home was thought of a few years ago. According to Florida, “Mobility and flexibility are key principles of the modern economy. Home ownership limits both.”

Florida notes that areas of the highest home ownership also have the highest rates of unemployment, which he thinks is due to the fact that people who own homes cannot readily move to another area for a job opportunity. In that situation, if the economy is bad enough that there are no jobs to be found, chances are the real estate market is not great either. This is especially true of areas where the construction industry became a boom unto itself–places like Phoenix, Las Vegas and areas in Florida where the main industry was real estate and construction-growth spurred construction and construction spurred growth.

Florida envisions a future of “plug and play housing” where a large rental company owns property in many cities. You choose your paint colors and fixtures to customize your rental, and then when you need to move for a job you transfer your lease to another city and your preferences will be plugged in to your new place.

An example he cites is Korman Communities,which offers flexible rental communities in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia. According to their website, “Korman’s original furnished apartment concept, conceived forty years ago short-term, furnished apartments in a traditional multi-family residential setting has evolved to an innovative residence hybrid embraced by both the corporate and private worlds of travelers and discerning investors.” The AVE: furnished apartments and suites, offer hotel services and resort-like amenities, with month to month leases.

I don’t exactly agree with Florida on all of these points–to me, a society of the transient creative class renting and city hopping to the next job opportunity is somewhat depressing.  There will always be people who stay in one place their whole lives and those who are restless, or want to explore, or try on cities like they are clothes. My husband and I could definitely be considered a part of the latter group-I moved away from my home state of Texas to attend graduate school in Chicago, where we met, and we moved to Seattle for his graduate school. But part of my sanity is returning to the home my grandparents have lived in since I was born and the home my parents have lived in for over 20 years.

The buzz word right now is definitely “community,” and I think that there is something in all of us that needs to be connected: to our town, to our neighbors, to the land. There is something to be said for staying in one place. This won’t be as easy for us Gen X-er’s as it was for our parents, who could reasonably expect to hold one or two different jobs in their adult life. Staying put could mean making a sacrifice of the ultimate career or a larger salary. But it could mean lasting, dare I say, “community,” and to some that may be ultimate lesson of this “reset.”