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VOL. 3, NO. 1 -- DECEMBER 2000

New Economy Towns

By Paul Muldawer

Can you imagine staid developers listening to a hip professor talk about lifestyles where workers have tattoos, pierced bodies, multi-colored hair and tank tops and where they work in lofts in tight clusters with interior spaces containing rock climbing walls, foos-ball games, workout equipment, Frisbee areas, numerous dogs, and computers?

This seemingly far-fetched idea was, in fact, reality at the National Town Builders Association Symposium in Atlanta, November 2nd - 4th. Themed "New Urbanism for the New Economy," the symposium was designed for developers and planners involved in building new urbanists communities who want to understand the dynamics of the new economy and how to profit from it.

The first day featured a dialog between Richard Florida, one of the most influential experts on the new knowledge economy, and new urbanist leader Andrés Duany. In describing the new economy, Florida said, "The greatest shift in history has been from a mass production-based economy to a knowledge-based economy." This new type of economy produces a knowledge worker, he explained, one who believes money isn't enough. They want challenge, impact, role making, and job sharing. They are young, very individualistic in dress and tastes, work intensely for long, unscheduled hours, prefer hard-edge environments (where wires look good on the floor), and dislike the corporate environment. They like to mix fun with work, to be close to stimulations from colleagues, in close proximity to outside activity and recreation, and live and work in places convenient to services and recreation.
"In this milieu, talent is scarce. Everybody is competing for the best people, and if you don't have quality of life and quality of place, you won't get talented people," said Florida. "Skilled talent calls the shots in where and how they want to work."

More than 50 percent of knowledge companies are housed in central business districts. Knowledge workers like old buildings, authenticity, diversity, the efficiency of integrating work and play, low-entry barriers, a morph of work and life. They want quality of place that can accommodate their desired lifestyle.

Duany painted verbal pictures of how new urbanist communities could include knowledge workplaces. He stated that the dream of many Americans is to own one's business, become independent, and grow -- many of the same values of the new knowledge workers. In this new economy, with the growth of telecommuting and home offices, Duany predicted, "In five years, all new houses built in America will be in some form of 'live-work' or 'flex house.' The market is not quite there yet but coming, and we must be ready to adjust."

The central topic was addressed by a host of interdisciplinary speakers that included author Peter Katz, Mindspring founder Charles Brewer, government expert Joel Hirschhorn, retailing maven Robert Gibbs, and developer George deGuardiola. Presenting revolutionary concepts in new economy real estate were John Vivadelli, Lorraine Saunders and Marilyn Kasko. From the new urbanism viewpoint, speakers included Joel Embry, Jackie Benson, Doris Goldstein, Rob Steuteville, Bob Chapman and Bob Turner.

It was the consensus of the symposium that the new urbanism will be the most supportive environment for the new economy.