Why your next job won't be in surburbia

The world may be flattening, but the best ideas will likely come from urban concentrations of smart people.

It may well be that the world is now flat and location doesn't matter. Just don't tell that to the rising creative class that increasingly congregates in cities.

I've suggested before that companies in Europe and elsewhere beyond the borders of Silicon Valley need not relocate to Silicon Valley to be relevant. While I still believe that's true, a recent article by Richard Florida in The Atlantic cogently argues that the recession will push ever-greater concentrations of the creative class into cities and out of suburbia.

While Silicon Valley won't be the sole beneficiary of this geographic shift, it stands to benefit as secondary suburban outposts (like Utah, where I live) will likely suffer in the midst of an economy the increasingly depends on premium ideas rather than cheap goods:

Suburbanization--and the sprawling growth it propelled--made sense for a time. The cities of the early and mid-20th century were dirty, sooty, smelly, and crowded, and commuting from the first, close-in suburbs was fast and easy. And as manufacturing became more technologically stable and product lines matured during the postwar boom, suburban growth dovetailed nicely with the pattern of industrial growth....

But that was then; the economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs. The economy is driven by key urban areas; a different geography is required.

Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, might disagree, countering that the Internet 'flattens' geography, anyway, making location secondary to the value of one's ideas. Maybe.

However, as much as we may like to celebrate social interaction over the Web, it comes in a distant second place to face-to-face interaction, whether in the office or over drinks at the local pub. Florida's argument is that density (of disparate people and, hence, disparate ideas) matters in any economy that depends upon intellectual property, as the United States increasingly does.

So while your next job may be in Louisville, Kentucky, it's more likely to be in Waltham, Massachusetts. There are fantastic people in Louisville, but they're unlikely to help you devise the next big breakthrough in semiconductors or software.

That breakthrough, for better or worse, is likely going to be in Silicon Valley or another urban technology hub, or by people who have moved away from Silicon Valley and have stretched their networks to accommodate their desire to live elsewhere.


Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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