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The City as Modern Muse

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 18, 2006

On a mid-morning in early August, Richard Florida -- theoretician du jour about what makes cities succeed -- wouldn't stop staring at the rows of bungalows speeding past his car window in the city's Brookland area.

"This is a really lovely neighborhood. This is a real neighborhood. I know when people hear the term 'Northeast' what they think," he said. "This is remarkable. The typical advantaged person doesn't know this exists."

With Florida riding shotgun, his assistant steered his seven-year-old Land Rover toward Prince George's County. The author of the best-selling "The Rise of the Creative Class" has become increasingly influential with local development officials since moving here from Pittsburgh two years ago for a post at George Mason University.

In Prince George's, his work -- which argues that cities that attract highly educated "creative class" workers fare better economically -- was considered "validation" for the Gateway Arts District, a public initiative to revive the Route One corridor. The Greater Washington Initiative last week began running ads that cast Washington as a creative-class hub. In Fairfax, economic development officials are working on a summit on creative economies and how businesses in the region can attract a creative workforce.

Florida approves of such talk. His criticism of Washington is that not enough of its residents think of themselves as living in a creative, dynamic place, worthy of cutting-edge architecture and other traits of a world capital.

"People in these communities think they're part of a different region and they're not," he said. "This is a global center. It's one of the 10 most important economic regions in the world, a place approaching the influence of a London, and to not think about it that way is tragic."

But what about Hyattsville?

The small, inner-Beltway city was not looking like part of a world capital when Florida saw it in August, invited by a reporter to tour the region and discuss how his theories apply in different neighborhoods. He hasn't done much touring yet, between travels and lecture and consulting and teaching. He's still at that introductory stage, where a casual glance of a Hogs on the Hill restaurant on Bladensburg Road in Northeast Washington provokes delight.

"Boy, that place looks fabulous."

Upon arriving in Hyattsville, he paused in front of a laundromat along Route One. Through the window, a man inside motioned him to move his car along.

"He thinks we're coming to transform the neighborhood. 'Get out.' Great," Florida said.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, Florida surveyed a series of billboards advertising town homes starting in the $300,000s. The signs depicted a tidy, middle-class community scheduled to take the place of empty lots. Local officials envision a potpourri of artists and families and professionals inhabiting a vibrant new neighborhood.

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