Richard Florida on walkability and foreclosures

Normally, I defend Richard Florida from my fellow urban social science types. He’s an interesting guy, he’s obviously learned how to work the media, he’s raised some interesting issues, etc, even if his research doesn’t hold up very well under scrutiny. So what if he’s more focused on staying a celebrity than making scholarly contributions anymore?

But that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go along with what he says.

In particular, his high-profile claims about the way foreclosures are occuring just make no sense. Here are Richard Florida’s comments on how “central” and “walkable” places are less hard hit by the foreclosure crises.

We’ve had evidence for quite some time that central city locations and inner-ring suburbs have gentrified with higher income people less likely to have mortgages, less likely to default, and less likely to have taken on mortgages at all during the most hazardous time periods to do so. The chart Florida shows demonstrates that places which had a large portion of their housing stock constructed and sold during boom years are also getting hit hardest with the contraction and foreclosures. Why that’s evidence of anything is beyond me; it’s a regional-level chart, and it is basically an upside-down chart of Rob Lang’s descriptive work on “boomburgs.”

Florida’s little anecdote about Miami Beach REALLY sets my teeth on edge, however. You mean to tell me that Miami Beach real estate hasn’t lost much value? Surely you jest. That must be because it’s so darn walkable and such a good value therefore and not because rich people still have money, and rich people spend money on beachfront playspaces. Of course, walkability wouldn’t correlate with moneyed environments, either, would it? Or with the basic economic principle that increased land value prompts density and diversity in land uses which increase walkability, which then cycle through and increase land values?

How’s about this logic, instead: if affluent Americans weren’t such jerks about excluding people from housing opportunities in existing urban and regional environments over the past 30 years, people on the margin of home ownership wouldn’t have bought in far-flung, unwalkable suburbs.

I live in one of the densest urban environments outside of Manhattan with a very high walkability score, and there are three foreclosures in my high-rise, centrally located, infill development. Does that prove Florida wrong? No. It’s an anecdote. It’s not research.

So yes, walkability might be related, but not in the way people want it to be, and actual research findings? We’ve got nothing.

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