The Creative Class revisited

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The “Creative Class” has become a mainstay in the lexicon of city speak. Made famous by Richard Florida, the term refers to individuals whose jobs are inherently creative, like musicians and architects, or where creativity is a major function of the job, like doctors. As Florida defines it, the Creative Class generates wealth and lots of it. In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, it “accounts for nearly half all wage and salary income in the United States…as much as the manufacturing and service sector combined.”

In this context, Florida argued that as the nation moves from a manufacturing-based economy to one that’s knowledge-based, along with the increasing mobility of businesses, cities with concentrations of the creative class will be the economic power houses. Florida maintained that cities should stop business attraction economic development practices and focus instead on developing places that creative people will desire and flourish. And since the book’s release in 2002 many cities have followed suit, striving for Florida’s 3T’s: Technology, Talent, and Tolerance.

Last week in The American Prospect piece titled, “The Ruse of the Creative Class” Alec MacGillis questioned Florida’s work. According to Macgillis, Florida’s soon-to-be-released book The Great Reset argues “the recession has so decimated many cities and regions that it’s time for the country to cut its losses and instead encourage growth in places that are prospering.” The article raises the question: Do the people in cities considered “nonrenewable” just pack their bags and move to the nearest metropolitan core?

Florida’s sudden change of opinion highlights a major challenge cities face when deciding on an economic development strategy – how to adopt and adapt ideas and theories in the context of their own unique local strengths, realities, and circumstances? How does a city do “place-making” while still keeping its own unique sense of place?

Ironically, Florida provides an answer to this question in the preface to the paperback edition of the Rise of the Creative Class. Florida praised the local leaders who were energized by his ideas, but warned that there are no magic bullets, no one-size-fits-all strategy. He argued that each place needs to find the ideal “fit” for their communities that “…the solution lies in the hands of each region – in the knowledge, intelligence and creative capabilities of its people”.

As for The Great Reset and the cities Florida is counting down and out, I doubt many will be willing to follow his advice this time around.