City leaders, artists, entrepreneurs, university staff, real estate developers, students, researchers, and many others convened at the 2010 Creative Cities Summit in Lexington, Ky. this month to learn how they can help their cities attract and retain talent, promote entrepreneurship, and encourage civic engagement.
Keynote speaker Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?, kicked off the conference by discussing his research on capturing the essence of the “creative class” and using it to revitalize cities. Florida’s approach has been met with enthusiasm from some, skepticism from others. In his presentation, he emphasized the “3Ts”—technology, talent, and tolerance—as key ingredients for making great cities, and he provided compelling evidence that the “3Ts” have made places like Austin and Toronto the next generation of creative cities. But many see his solutions as a one-size-fits-all approach for cities.
A panel discussion with three Kentucky mayors gave a local perspective from cities that we might not think of as “creative class rock stars.” Lexington mayor Jim Newberry was joined by Elaine Walker, mayor of Bowling Green, Ky. and Jerry Abramson, mayor of Louisville, Ky. to share what they are doing to foster innovation and create a culture of openness in their cities.
Bowling Green focused on technology by establishing the Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation to provide graduates of Western Kentucky University with the opportunities they need in a diverse set of hi-tech industries to make the city their permanent home. Under the leadership of Mayor Newberry, Lexington tackled talent by establishing an ongoing local arts grant matching fund, which is made up of a city-county funded base to support local arts initiatives that must be matched by new community donors. Rounding out the “3Ts,” tolerance, or a diverse city fabric that makes outsiders feel welcome, is equally important to those who “fit in” and to those who may not. Mayor Abramson identified creating a culture of tolerance as a primary goal in Louisville, one that young professionals have a major role in promoting.
Chances are, these three mayors didn’t read Florida’s book and immediately begin following his gospel for transforming cities. Rather, his research, along with countless others in the field, merely provides food for thought for how to focus efforts to advance cities. It is much more likely that local leaders begin, not with an academic perspective, but with a practical one—identifying their specific city’s struggles and advantages—and building from there.
Florida was an appropriate choice to kick off the conference, but much more work needed to be done over the next three days of the summit and beyond. Research can provide the framework, but cities need to take the leap. And in doing so, cities need to identify what works for them and tailor their approach accordingly. Carbon copying Florida’s elements for transforming cities won’t turn Lexington into Austin, but with Lexington’s unique arts scene and vibrant community culture, who would want to?