Richard Florida is an urban studies theorist, the co-founder of CityLab, a senior editor at the Atlantic, and a professor at the University of Toronto. Before serving as a panelist on the April event “How Do Our Cities Prepare for the Post-Apocalypse?,” part of the Zócalo/University of Toronto The World We Want series, he talked in the green room about the pain of writing, the best thing about Canadians, and the first “serious art” he ever bought.
What's your morning routine?
Fail to get out of bed miserably. My incredibly sweet wife gives me a cup of black coffee. And then I usually have two kids on me watching Peppa Pig. After I watch a little Peppa Pig, I sit somewhere, typically on the sofa in the family room, and I put my laptop on a pillow. I check email and Twitter, but if I have something to write, within 15 minutes, I start.
What has been your biggest quarantine guilty pleasure?
Bicycling. I'm a pretty good road cyclist, but I've gotten better because I lost weight. In the summer and fall it was in the ravines in Toronto; now it's been more Peloton.
Do you have a pet peeve about urbanist rhetoric?
All of it. Never use rhetoric; talk in plain language. The biggest compliment I get is: "You speak and write in ways normal people can understand. You make things clear." My dad had a seventh-grade education, and my mom was a high school graduate. The way I saw it is that if my parents couldn't understand me, then I wasn't making sense. "Gentrification" might be the biggest highfalutin term I would use.
Of everything hanging on your walls, what's your favorite piece?
Oh, we have so much art, it's really hard. I have a neon representation of a book cover of famous philosophers like Marx, Hegel, and it's really cool. I think that's the first serious art I ever bought.
You've written nearly a dozen books. How do you celebrate finishing a manuscript?
You don't celebrate—you can't—because writing is so horrible. You're just thrilled to be done with it, and you don't want to think about it ever again. And you forget how painful it is to write, and I think that's why you do it again. It's lonely, it's terrible, and it's obsessive. You have to have, at some point, the whole book in your head when you're writing. And you just live with it for whatever it takes—three months to two years, depending on what project it is. It crowds out every other part of your life.
Do you have a hidden talent?
I don't know if it's hidden. In my mind, I was supposed to be a blues rock guitar player on the order of Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page. I haven't been a musician for decades. I took my guitar out for the first time this year, and tried to play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" to my kids. But I still think of myself principally as a guitar player. I'm still much more obsessed and in tune with that side of myself than I am as a writer. It's what I did from when I was 7 years old until I was in graduate school.
If you could time travel to any year, past or future, which would you choose?
1968. It was such a year of incredible music and cultural explosion and disruption; it's really the pivot point for all the changes in our current society. I'd like to go back there as an adult and see what it really felt like.
What's the first thing you do when you visit a new city?
Take a nap. [Laughs.] Then I drink like three espressos. And then, I don't try to explore on my own. I try to find somebody to show me the city.
What stereotype about Canadians is actually true?
That Canadians are nice. My best friends in the world are all people I've met in Toronto. That tells me something: They're not just nice—that's the glib, surface-level [stereotype]—Canadians invest in other people. They make real friendships and invest in other people. I've never seen anything else like this. My sample is Torontonians.