In 2002, the American urban studies theorist Richard Florida, professor and head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, published “The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community, and everyday life” which heralded the emergence of a new class of workers whose aim was to lead the economy. The goal of this paper is not to do a detailed review of the whole book, but to focus on some of the main topics in the author’s thesis and the criticism they have received.
THE CREATIVE CLASS
The creative class, according to Florida, is constituted by members engaged in work fields whose function is to “create new meaningful new forms” and includes a very vast amount of jobs correlated to “science, technology, art, media, culture and traditional knowledge”. He describes the creative class as a group of 40 million workers which represents around 1/3 of U.S. workforce. Florida divided the class into two distinct components: Super-Creative Core and Creative Professionals.
The Super-Creative Core group includes about 12% of all jobs in U.S. such as scientists, engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects, as well as the thought leadership of modern society: nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts and other opinion makers. This group is considered innovative and creator of commercial products and consumer goods: “fully engaged in the creative process”.
The Creative Professionals instead, are descripted as professionals who work in a wide range of knowledge-intensive industries, such as high-tech, financial services, the legal and health care professions, and business management. These workers are engaged in creative problem-solving and require a high degree of formal education and thus an elevated level of human capital – the stock of knowledge, habits, social and personality attributes, including creativity, embodied in the ability to perform labour so as to produce economic value (1).
As opposed to the creative class, Florida divides the rest of the society in working class and service class. He identifies as one of the main challenges of the creative society to have the latter participate to the increasing economic success of the creative class.
However, this approach to human capital has faced certain scepticism. Edgar Glaeser wrote: “While Florida acts as if there is a difference between the human capital theory of city growth and the ‘creative capital’ theory of growth, that is new to me. I have always argued that human capital predicts urban success because ‘high skilled people in high skilled industries may come up with new ideas” (2).
THE 3T’s OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
One of the topics I found most interesting in Professor Florida´s book is the thesis of the 3T’s of economic development: “The key to understanding the new economic geography of creativity and its positive effects on economic outcomes is what I call the 3T’s of economic development: technology, talent and tolerance” (3).
The author describes the importance of advance of technology as key to growth by recurring to Karl Marx and Joseph Schumpeter, and stating that advances in technology are what enable capitalism to constantly revolutionize itself. The second T, talent, is built on the premise that “skilled, ambitious, educated and entrepreneurial people – and he still refers to the hu-man capital – are a central force in economic progress” (4). Finally, the third T, tolerance, which for Florida plays a significant role inside the economic development: “Tolerance provides an additional source of economic advantage that works alongside technology and talent” and “the places that are most open to new ideas and that attract talented and creative people from across the globe broaden both their technology and talent capabilities, gaining a substantial economic edge” (5).
The author builds a Tolerance Index that includes three diversity measures: the Melting Pot Index (a measure of the concentration of immigrants), the Bohemian Index (a measure of concentration of working artists, musicians writers, designers and entertainers across metropolitan areas) and the Gay Index.
THE GAY INDEX
The Gay Index was first created in 1990 by Gary Gates but it became well known through its relationship with the Tolerance Index of Florida’s thesis. Gates created a measure of where gay/lesbian people were located, based on the 1990 Census, and has since updated the data to reflect the 2000 Census. The Gay Index ranks regions by their concentrations of gay/lesbian people.
However, the index faced criticism from activists, gays and lesbians are placed on a pedestal as they become the ‘canaries of the coal mine’, a complex situation which might seem a positive step toward the gay rights movement. But, as Alexia Serpentini wrote: “In reality, the index only perpetuates the dehumanisation of gays and lesbians as they more firmly connote with ‘alternate’ and ‘other,’ remaining deviants from what is considered normative culture, and thus inferior. ‘Other’ is never equal.” (6)
THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE 3T’s: THE COOL CITIES INITIATIVE
Together, the three T’s comprise the “creativity index” that measures a region’s economic potential as a result of its supply of “creative capital”.
The creative class thesis and its creativity index soon became the reason behind several redevelopment projects. Municipal officials, corporate CEOs, foundation staff, and other policy wonks embraced the concept, citing Florida in their intention to promote arts and culture districts: gentrification.
However, the practical implementation of some of the conclusions of Florida’s thesis has proven difficult. An interesting example of this is the “Cool Cities”, which was an initiative of the Governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, that provided grants and other resources to the Rust Belt cities of Flint, Saginaw, and Detroit in hopes of bringing them back from near extinction. The plan: to “make our cities vibrant and cool, and they’ll attract and retain more talent, hopefully slowing the ‘brain drain’ of college graduates from the state”.
Nineteen “Cool Cities” pilot projects received stimulant grants in 2004 of up to $100,000 and had access to more than $100 million in state grants, loans and other resources. Cities spiffed up their facades, created community art centres, added zip to their night life. It was about encouraging creativity and creating places where people want to live.
A “Cool Cities” designation brought with it a variety of “tool box” items, including more than 75 of the state’s community improvement grant, loan and assistance programs. “The Cool Cities designation had more value than the $100,000 and it generated buzz. But buzz is not sufficient to keep a project afloat. The SmartShop Metal Arts Center in Kalamazoo, a 2004 Cool Cities grant project, announced in 2010 that it had to close, citing the poor business climate. The non-profit metalworking school and art gallery didn’t get the broad audience it needed (7).
As Carducci defends, Florida’s theory is actually a good thesis. I think that most of the cities that adopted it haven’t read it or, at least, have misunderstood it. One of the problems is that they don’t seem to recognize what Florida acknowledges about statistical research, namely that correlation does not imply causation. In this case the presence of the creative class in a metropolitan area is associated with economic growth but may not be the root cause of it. There may be what statisticians term ‘intervening variables’ – a hypothetical variable used to explain causal links between other variables – at work (8).
As shown by the examples above, Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community, and everyday life”, has been widely criticised by theorists, academics and activists. However, from my point of view, the weaknesses in the field of statistical accuracy, political correctness and practical implementation in Florida’s thesis do not eclipse its major strength: its relevance as a powerful tool to understand the crisis and dynamics of the current society beyond the limitations of the human capital theorists. After all, if sociologists and political scientists had taken more seriously his thesis and the tensions between the working and service class and the creative class that Florida predicted, perhaps one of the biggest surprises in the recent political history of the United States would not have been such.
(1) Goldin, C. (2014). Human Capital. [PDF] Department of Economics Harvard University and National Bureau of Economic Research. Harvard.
(2) Glaeser, E.L. (2005). Review of Richard Florida’s The Rise of the creative Class. Regional Science and Urban Economics, 35 (5), 593-596.
(3) Florida, R. (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class: and how it’s transforming work, leisure, community, and everyday life. Philadelphia: Basic Books.
(4) See supra note 3
(5) See supra note 3
(6) Serpentini, A. (2013). Inappropriate, Irrelevant, Important: Richard Florida’s ‘Gay Index’ and the Quest for Creativity. [PDF] King’s College London. London.
(7) Finch Hamilton, T. (2010). Where are they now? Catch up on what happened to those Cool Cities grantees. [online] MLive. Available at: http://www.mlive.com/news/idex.ssf/2010/06/where_are_they_now_catch_up_on.html [Accessed 20.06.2017].
(8) Carducci, V. (2014). ‘The Creative Class’ Rises Again. [online] POPMatters. Available at: http://www.popmatters.com/review/179898-the-rise-of-the-creative-class-revisited-by-richard-florida/ [Accessed 21.06.2017].