Cities and the Creative Class

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Richard Florida’s theory that a “creative class” made up of professionals involved in what he terms “creative” occupations is the main catalyst for the development of cities and regions has become one of the preeminent theories of urban development amongst planners, including those in the state of Michigan. Numerous states have launched projects like Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative hoping to attract the fabled creative class Florida discusses in his books, 2002’s The Rise of the Creative Class and 2005’sCities and the Creative Class. Cities and the Creative Class is a companion book to The Rise of the Creative Class, compiling the empirical data used to make the conclusions presented in The Rise of the Creative Class.

Richard Florida’s Creative Class Theory is based on the idea that the creative sector of the economy is the driving force behind most new development and that those cities that have high percentages of people in the “creative class” are the fastest growing regions in the country. Florida defines the creative class as those people employed in science and engineering, research and development, technology-based industries, arts, music, culture, design work, or knowledge-based professions. People employed in these professions account for nearly half of the wage income earned in the United States and about a third of the total workforce. Florida grounds his theory in “the 3 T’s,” technology, talent, and tolerance, and uses copious amounts of data to prove that regions that blend these three areas are experiencing the most development. Moreover, Florida argues that his theory emphasizes the expansive role of culture, the limitless potential of humanity, and the importance of unleashing that potential to spur societal growth.

Florida’s theory of the creative class has garnered criticism, a fact that he cites in his book. Due to Florida’s use of his “gay index” to determine a city’s relative diversity, Florida has been accused of “eroding traditional family values, promoting a gay agenda, and that he is undermining the tenets of Judeo-Christian civilization”–not a particularly coherent critique, but one that would no doubt arise in the era of conservative culture wars. To this criticism, Florida responds that he is “straight” and is not promoting a “gay agenda;” a response that is inherently problematic and unenlightened. Unfortunately, this type of response, at least as far as this work is concerned, seems typical of the flippant nature by which Florida rejects criticism of his theory. A far more coherent critique could be made regarding the fact that Florida’s Creative Class is fairly exclusive, and while there is the theoretical possibility that some people may move from low-paying service industry jobs into his coveted Creative Class careers, the fact remains that only one-third of the United States workforce is a part of Florida’s class. Consequently, development designed to cater towards this minority population-who more likely than not has a high disposable income to fund a lifestyle in which they act like “tourists in their own cities” who treat themselves to a variety of luxuries-downplays the real needs of the majority of people in US cities. Florida briefly responds to this criticism, mentioning that critics on the left have accused him of wanting to make “cities yuppie-friendly”, yet he shies away from a serious discussion of the possibility of gentrification arising from the cities targeting the Creative Class. Florida’s so-called “bohemian” artists have long been the first wave of gentrification in cities across the United States and a failure to account for this remains one of the most serious flaws in the book, along with the fact that one of the barriers for entry into the Creative Class includes specialized education that is systematically denied to low-income populations in the United States.

Consequently, it is not surprising when Florida demonstrates little concern for the people who are most likely to be affected as a result of development based on his theory of the Creative Class. Rather than be concerned about the fact that all people suffer the effects of uneven regional development, Florida bemoans the fact that artists and creative people may be forced out-but demonstrates no genuine concern the low income people with or without homes that are forced out of city centers as they are redeveloped to satisfy the “needs” of the Creative Class. It is no surprise that Florida’s own numbers show that inequality is the worst in regions with a high-level of creative development. Moreover, while Florida shows little concern for people of low-income, he displays strikingly little concern for the gay population that he uses as a barometer for diversity. After praising the “progressive” nature of the gay population and their presence in urban centers, Florida says nothing about the importance of gay rights and instead refers to himself using the oppressive “straight” construct when explaining that he is not an advocate of “the gay agenda.”

Despite the flaws of the Creative Class theory, it remains one of the major influences on urban redevelopment, and as such, deserves the attention of those interested in development. Cities and the Creative Class provides the perfect starting point for those seeking to better understand the theory, as it provides the raw numbers used by Florida to arrive at the conclusions outlined in his The Rise of the Creative Class. For most people in the United States, Florida’s theory and suggestions offer nothing, but his book does provide an important information on current development patterns.

Richard Florida, Cities and the Creative Class, (Routledge, 2005).

Author: mediamouse

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