In April 2006, the Richard Florida show arrived in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York. It was only one of the scores of appearances this decade by the economic-development guru, whose speaking fee soared to $35,000 not long after his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class made him a star on the lecture circuit. Cleveland, Toledo, Baltimore, Greensboro, Green Bay, Des Moines, Hartford, Roanoke, and Rochester were among the many cities that had already shelled out to hear from the good-looking urban-studies professor about how to get young professionals to move in.
John Edwards speaks at the University of North Carolina's anti-poverty center. (AP Photo/Jeffrey A. Camarati)
In the spring of 2007, I traveled to Allendale, South Carolina, a struggling town near the Georgia line, to interview John Edwards about his ideas on fighting poverty. I watched as, photographers in tow, he strolled the back alleys and shook hands across broken fences with some of the 40 percent of Allendale residents who live below the poverty line.
"We've got 37 million people who wake up every day in poverty," he declared to a group of local Democrats gathered under a giant live oak. "This is not OK, not in the richest country on the planet."