People like to speculate about the “next Austin” — the next quirky little city in the U.S. that young people will be moving to in droves, driving property values sky high, and filling the city with art and culture.
I’m probably within the fog of my own bias to some extent on this matter, but I laugh to myself whenever I hear this conversation. The “next Austin” is not in the U.S..
To frame my thinking aloud session, here is how a “next Austin” might develop:
- Cheap rent and a tolerant culture attract creative people.
- The creative atmosphere results in technological innovation.
- The technological innovation results in economic prosperity.
- People who moved there three years ago start complaining about all of the people moving there now. (See? Austin.)
Richard Florida impressively predicted the rise of places like Austin with his 2002 The Rise of The Creative Class. He said that, for a city to attract the Creative Class, it needed the “three T’s”: Talent, Tolerance, and Technology.
Basically, the most creative graduates from a nearby university decide to stay and do innovative work (Talent). They feel comfortable doing so because of the Tolerant culture, and they are able to innovate because of the Technological infrastructure.
For this formula to work again in the U.S., relies upon the following:
- People need a place to put all of their shit, and need to show up at their office, so they decide to stay in one place. This is true less and less of people who think on the fringes.
- There are exciting problems to be solved with technology—or at least, ones that are tractable. In Steve Case’s Third Wave, solving important problems just gets harder and less fun. Also see Silicon Valley recreating Mom. “We did it” with technology. The party is over.
- There are still places in the U.S. with cheap rent, and a Tolerant culture — but not so “Tolerant” that crazy ideas can’t be openly discussed without worrying about triggering someone. See the current pushback against Political Correctness, and the fact that an absolute lunatic has a nearly 100% chance of winning many states.
So, what places are left in the U.S.? Besides the fact that a significant portion of the country’s weather is absolute shit during one portion of the year or another, and that exciting technological problems are harder and harder to solve, it appears there are no affordable places left with a Tolerant culture. Raleigh? Transgender bathroom law. Detroit? Shit weather. Omaha? All of the above.
The “next Austin” is already rising, and has been for a long time. It’s not one place in particular. The creative talent of today can be seen floating from Berlin to Chiang Mai to Budapest to Medellín to Buenos Aires and back.
When you think of the 4-Hour Work Week disciples, you may think of a bunch of social outcasts doing automated AdSense arbitrage, or selling dubious diet pills. You may dismiss their nomadism as a refusal to connect with their surroundings.
But for those of us who have expatriated from the U.S., the return is always striking. We get no further than the immigration line in the airport before we realize we’re surrounded by people sleepwalking in their hedonistic pursuits. They can’t even stand in a line for 2 minutes without a huff or a sigh.
And that doesn’t bode well for the U.S.’s prospects of attracting creative talent. I don’t have a solution to propose, but having scooters on your corporate campus isn’t it.
But for now, we’ll stay where we are — at least until we head to the next place. We’re enjoying the fruits of humanity’s labor to build businesses of integrity wherever we like — or even to be employees of some very smart companies. We’re getting around in Ubers, and using grocery delivery apps just like you are, but meanwhile, we’re using Google Translate to connect with another part of the world. As cool as it would be to go visit Mars someday, we know there’s lots left to explore here on Earth.
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