Thursday, January 07, 2010

'The Ruse of the Creative Class'

Is Richard Florida, author ("The Rise of the Creative Class"), professor and guru of the Creative Class philosophy, just another Harold Hill selling bohemian coffee shops and brew pubs, instead of band instruments to gullible townspeople?

An article in the American Prospect, "The Ruse of the Creative Class," by Washington Post writer Alec MacGillis inches up to that conclusion – without completely landing it. But MacGillis point to the huge number of cities such as Elmira, N.Y., and Cleveland, that embraced Florida's theories – some of them paying rather a lot of money to his consulting firm – but haven't yet found creative class nirvana.

MacGillis writes, "... by some measures, yuppie idylls like San Francisco and Boston have lagged behind unhip, low-tax bastions like Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina."

Ouch! Unhip? Us? (And I know plenty of people are yelping, "low-tax"??!!!)

The lengthy article is nuanced and points out many complexities, and quotes Florida at length answering his critics. I recommend reading it – before you come to any knee-jerk decision on whether you do or don't agree with it, or with Florida.

That said, my take on Florida's theories goes roughly like this: He pinpoints something that has been important in some cities, but there's no silver bullet that will solve what ails many cities. If a city attracts more artists and creative types, it generally prospers. But simply declaring one's city to be "creative" doesn't make it so, nor does paying a consultant to come tell you you should be creative. (Charlotte tried that a while back. I don't think we're any more or less creative than we would have been. We're bigger now, so we have higher numbers of "creatives" but I'm pretty sure that was a result of growth, not any study for which anyone got paid.) Cities are organic and develop in organic ways that are hard to manage and predict.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but this is a poorly written article. As an editor, you should know better than to assume the reader is familiar with the subject. I am not familiar with the subject matter and I was totally lost and learned nothing from it. Some background and explanation is needed before you can ask the reader for an opinion.

Anonymous said...

Privatize liquor stores.

Anonymous said...

Mary, am I remembering correctly that you were one of those on Florida's bandwagon not so long ago? If you've lived and worked in creative hubs, as I have, including here in our Charlanta region, Florida's views were comforting (maybe inducing a little smugness) but never really a prescription for what ails much of America. I think MacGillis has it right- "A tautology lies at the heart of Florida's theory that has limited its instructive value all along: Creative people seek out places that draw a lot of creative people."

Joel Kotkin is sort of the anti-Florida. You should read and discuss him.

Mary Newsom said...

To anon 7;11: I've read some of Kotkin and he's not only the anti-Florida, he's the anti-everything. I think he's a contrarian against anything he sees as conventional wisdom.

As someone in the Prospect article notes, Florida's early work was valuable in pointing cities away from the conventional "buffalo-hunt" form of economic development. He made people notice how places such as Austin, San Francisco, DC, Boston were successful in part because of the creatives who live and work there.

Charlotte, in particular, was helped by having a lot of civic leaders read Florida and think, "Say, those artists are scruffy but maybe they have some value, even if I do think their art is silly." Or maybe it was "Say, those gay people are perverts, but ... etc. etc."

I just think things are complicated and there's no single "solution" to anything as complex as a city's economy.

Cato said...

One of the problems with Florida's "creative class" notion is that he developed it during the tail end of the dot-com bubble, when there was a once-in-a-lifetime labor market for certain creative types who could pretty much pick a city, move there, and have a good job in a week or two. Those conditions are gone.

Another is that I suspect he got the chain of causation more or less backwards. Charlotte, like Houston and a number of other buttoned-down, business-oriented cities, started their new-urbany, hipster retrofitting after their big growth periods, during which they were magnets for suburban families. Which is more likely: an art dealer decides to set up shop in Charlotte because she sees bankers awash in cash, or the bankers flock to the art dealer?

I think two factors have been crucial in the urban revival of the past 10-15 years. 1) In the early/mid 1990s, the country began taking urban crime seriously, which made cities attractive to people who had choices about where to live. 2) Trade policies have absolutely gutted the American manufacturing sector, which has harmed not just big cities like Detroit and Cleveland, but innumerable small towns where one or two companies used to employ significant portions of the local middle class, who in turn supported local merchants and professionals.

I grew up in a small town that had a big manufacturing sector. Many of the local leaders in the 70s and 80s were professionals with degrees from prominent universities. In the 90s, the factories all closed. Today, a bright college grad would have to be out of his mind to move there with the idea of building a career and raising a family.

While many would have gone to urban areas on their own, I suspect a significant number have done so by default.

consultant said...

All cities are complicated, to some extent. But what I've noticed in my travels that make cities "different", is the degree of tolerance in the community.

To what extent are a variety of different people in that community able to cope with differences: people, ideas, tastes, etc.

Show me a tolerant community, and generally I'll show you a creative one.

JDC said...

Either MacGillis doesn’t get out much, or Charlotte has a long way to go to gain name recognition despite prominence as a financial center, major airport hub, etc.

I say that because he mentions us as “Charlotte, North Carolina”, as though his readers won’t know which major city named Charlotte to which he refers unless he qualifies it by state. Yet he’s comfortable with just “Toledo” and “Des Moines”.

Should we start referring to “New York, New York” and “Boston, Massachusetts” in retaliation?

Cato, great commentary. But I think labor unions had more to do with the demise of cities like Cleveland and Detroit than the much later trade agreements.

I remember that a college degree was of little interest to many of my friends in Northeastern Ohio, because Uncle Louie could get them into the union and a union job making inflated wages.

Unionization sort of matches the platform on which I ran for student council president back then: “We want better grades and less work!”

consultant said...


If not for labor unions, the post WW II growth of the middle-class would not have happened.

This is a confirmed fact that seems lost on most people as they watch their jobs disappear and their wages stagnate or decline.

The fact that unions too became comfortable with the status quo doesn't negate the huge benefits they brought to millions of families in this country.

If you want to wait on Wall St. (or Charlotte) bankers to provide fair wages, be my guest (let me know when you get them).

Unions are routinely attacked by anyone who thinks "they" deserve what they get while everyone else is "taking" from them. Classic ruling class/peasant mentality.

That kind of neocon thinking is what got us into this mess in the first place.

J said...

My observations:
- The whole "art" think mystifies me. Government talking heads, as well as know-it-alls like Mr. Florida, love to rank municipalities based on how much "art" and "cultural" offerings there are. I view art like I do sports teams - if you like the team, go to their games, if not, ignore them. Same goes with art. I am not more or less of a person based on how much involvement I have in "the arts."

-As I just mentioned, Florida is a know-it-all who has an ego bigger than several of the solar system's planets. It is NEVER a good idea to listen to 1 person declare (s)he has all the answers and putting all your stock (or tax dollars) into that one set of teachings.

-This notion of a city's worth being based on its level of acceptance of homosexuality is also ridiculous. Just because Frisco embraces and encourages homosexuality and a conservative city like Charlotte is more leery doesn't make Frisco a superior place to Charlotte. I disagree with homosexuality but others are free to make their own choices on what life to live. (And no, simply disagreeing with homosexuality is not hatred, judging or prejudice; it's just disagreement. If you're homosexual, that's your thing; it's just wrong for me.) I just think there are far more important factors to use to determine a city's desirability.

-Yes, I'm one of those that was taken aback by the description of Charlotte as "low-tax." I've never understood how the more liberal-leaning politicians, who believe the more you make, the more you should be taxed, raise sales taxes so often. There is no more regressive tax than the sales tax. And ours is way out of control.

-And yes, the second commenter is right. Privatize liquor stores! :-)

J said...

CORRECTION (to use what JDC said):

Instead of saying "Just because Frisco embraces and encourages homosexuality..." I should have said, "Just because San Francisco, California embraces and encourages homosexuality..."

Anonymous said...

The creative class solutions didn't take off in Elmira and Cleveland probably becasue of other reasons the other endeavors in the two cities haven't taken off. People, conservative or creative, have to have economic interests to move somewhere before anything else. The reason Charlotte, and other conservative cities, have had trouble attracting the creative class was because of these cities' downright hostility towards the creative communities. Until about 10 years ago, Charlotte was dead set on closing down certain nightclubs, shops and arts spots that didn't fit the image of a 'meat & potatoes/soccer mom' persona. Once the city leaders took a more 'live and let love' approach to such establishments did things begin changing. In the meantime, places like Asheville, Columbia and the Triangle prospered by attracting this crowd. Charlotte realized it was not going to be a dynamic metropolitan center, but a bigger version of Spartanburg or Lubbock, if it didn't lighten up a little.

Anonymous said...

I meant 'live and let live' though letting love isn't a bad thing either.

Anonymous said...

Asheville is the most overrated town.

Anonymous said...

Charlotte is "low-tax," compared to New York. And Charlotte is "unhip," well, again compared to New York.

But conversely, Charlotte is "high-tax," compared to Omaha. And yep, you guessed it, Charlotte is rather "hip," compared to Omaha.

Anonymous said...

There is something wrong, on principle, with our elected officials looking at their jobs through Florida's way of reasoning. They are not landlords who can pick tenants. They are the servants of the people who voted them in, and if those people don't include the "creative class," so be it.

consultant said...

Anonymous 6:39pm, you make a good point.

There is an element of hucksterism in not only the way Florida "sold" his ideas, but also in the content. For the city leaders who paid handsomely for what he was saying there's this old saw: A fool and his money shall soon be parted.

In defense of Florida, as one of his managers suggested in the article, why would any city think a college professor has all the answers for turning your city around?

Cities and regions rise and fall for a number of reasons; always have, always will.

But I mention hucksterism because selling an idea of something that can be is as much a part of America's success as anything else.

We've always been a nation of tinkerers, hobbyists, salesmen, loners, builders, dreamers, hard workers, joiners and world-class liars.

Florida fits in there somewhere.

Anonymous said...

seriously? Columbia cooler than Charlotte? Really?

Cato said...

One thing that made Florida's ideas so potentially risky is how seductive they were to local governments. I imagine that if you're on the city council of a mid-size city, it's a hell of a lot more fun to fund arts projects and greenways than it is to oversee the drudgery of road maintenance and law enforcement.


Going back to your statement: Cities are organic and develop in organic ways that are hard to manage and predict.

This is somewhat at odds with your wistful nostalgia for the days when Hugh McColl and John Belk would hash out the city's future over pecan pie at Anderson's. Whether good or ill, the influence of that fading corporatist oligarchy was about as organic as a slab of Velveeta.

Anonymous said...

Just want to let the poster on this board now that I "tolerate" his heterosexuality too.

Oh but I am not bigoted. At least own it your prick.

JDC said...

I think Florida needs to study history to better understand population trends. And he needs to redefine his boutique definition of “creative class” to reflect that major businesses are the real creators (and sustainers) of boomtowns.

Charlotte started to boom when IBM, Royal Insurance and other major firms relocated here in the 1970s – not because we had several mid-size regional banks headquartered here. Other large businesses followed. So did many of their employees. It had nothing to do with the presence (or absence) of artsy-crafty faux and fickle creative classers, who, incidentally, always follow the money.

Our growth came because of lower taxes (at least a t that time), cheaper operating and construction costs, and the potential for cheaper labor in the long run. There were really no outstanding colleges locally at the time, other than Davidson, although there were several further east and southwest from which to draw skilled employees. The presence of these firms and the lower cost of living in this area attracted additional skilled workers and managers, many of whom started their own firms.

Charlotte, like other Sunbelt cities, didn’t boom because our weather attracted fixed-income retirees or gallery owners. It was because our good infrastructure, a growing airport, and a welcoming business climate drew major businesses.

If our new mayor and governor and our county commissioners want to sustain our growth, they can start by downsizing state and local government. Eliminate inessential programs and duplication of effort in order to lower tax rates. As much as I detest pork barreling, it would be pragmatic for our Senators and Representatives to prostitute their votes for more funds for city projects.

And by all means pour as much money as possible into UNCC, Queens, and Johnson C. Smith so these breeders of future entrepreneurs can crank out more creators who are likely to remain in this area.

We should show businesses, especially international ones, that Charlotte is all about them. We’ll have more jobs, which mean fewer foreclosures, which translates into a much lesser homeless problem, Mayor Foxx.

consultant said...

When are people going to stop beating that "lower taxes" horse to death?

The next post like that and I'm calling the ASPCA.

Anonymous said...

Consultant,your kind of liberal spending and thinking is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Anonymous said...

"Taxation of earnings from labor is on par with forced labor" Robert Nozick

consultant said...

Anonymous 2:53pm, aka-I flunked high school civics:

My kind of liberal thinking is what got us:

the Revolution, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, ended slavery, created the land grant colleges, championed women's rights, ended legal segregation, created a progressive tax system, created public schools and libraries.

Your neocon thinking gave us Benedict Arnold, Reagan, Nixon, George W. Bush, the KKK, slavery, Sarah Palin and every archaic thought that's been inflicted on this country since it's inception.

And please, look up the word archaic before you reply.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Consultant:

Funny, I just finished watching the HBO mini-series "John Adams," and was struck by the modern-day parallels.

The revolutionaries (Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Hancock, etc.) were the liberals of their day. They're the ones who threw the tea in the harbor, not the conservatives. If they were around today, they would be pushing for health care and financial reform.

The loyalists (Dickenson, Arnold, Howe) were the conservatives -- loyal to the King, fat and happy with what they have, and don't want to rock the boat. If those people were around today, they'd be attending teabag parties, and going on about the ills of government.

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 10:25

You must have gone to public school and slept through history class. You need to go back and read for yourself how the founding fathers really felt and how they best match conservatives today.


consultant said...

Anonymous 11:05am:

" the founding fathers really felt and how they best match conservatives today."

Only in your mind; only in YOUR mind.

It's funny to the point of insanity that some leading "conservatives" today claim that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican. Some have went as far to claim that if he were alive today, he'd be a conservative.

I only want to know what kind of weed are today's conservatives smoking?

Anonymous said...

Founding Fathers: Political party affiliations
Political parties did not exist in 1789. Washington despised the idea of political associations, formed in such a way as to pit one group of citizens against another. In his farewell speech in 1796 he said:

[While speaking on the subject -- The very idea of the power and the right of the people to establish Government presupposes the duty of every individual to obey the established Government.]

"All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They [political parties] serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.

"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion."

[Bold emphasis not in original text.]

It is not very clear how the most famous Founding Father's tenets would fit into today's political parties.

Alexander Hamilton was an extreme anti-federalist [pro-Federalist Party, opposed to de-centralized authority], inclined toward what today is referred to as "the far left." His philosophical bent would fit comfortably within the modern Left political spectrum. He would be best described as "ultra-radical left."

Born in the West Indies, Hamilton came to New York City as a young man and studied politics up close and personal, from the European perspective. He found no problem with the concept of a monarch as long as the king was kind, had a good heart, and was interested only in the welfare of the nation. Hamilton thought his mentor, George Washington, was just right for the job of King of America. He never grasped the reality of human nature that, unlike lower forms of life, humans perform poorly when left without the pressures of accountability.

Toward the other end of the political spectrum of the late 1700s was Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, both of whom believed that central power should be tightly restrained, restricted and controlled. Yet when Jefferson was President, he thankfully departed from those views by using the power of his office for the Louisiana Purchase without any 'controlling legal authority.'

Anonymous said...

Does the above indicate that Hamilton would have been a liberal Democrat and Jefferson and Madison conservative Republicans (the currently claimed popular public doctrines)? Au contraire! It is impossible to imagine Jefferson or Madison embracing political dogma in support of today's Republican Party stance on prayer in schools, abortion, etc. The notion to keep the federal government OUT of religion and religion out of government was Jefferson's, but he would be appalled to see the federal government interfering with LOCAL decisions on religion or any like subject. On abortion, or women's right of choice, both Jefferson and Madison most likely would take the position to keep the federal government OUT of personal lives, TOTALLY. Again, Jefferson and Madison perceived the central government's role as strictly national defense, international and interstate commerce, treaties, postal system, and the like. EVERYTHING else was a state or local matter.

Hamilton, on the other hand, the 'ultra liberal' thinker of the group, would have had the President decide all of the above, eliminate the state and local governments, let Congress raise the money and shovel it over to the President with few strings attached. Hamilton would have expected HIS President to outlaw abortion, write a 'middle of the road' prayer to be recited in all schools, and require every citizen to own a gun, whether they wanted a gun or not.

Many historians, citing Washington's record as President with Hamilton as his right-hand man, claim that he was a Federalist (Party, although the "Party" wasn't formed until a bit later), placing him in the same category with Hamilton and John Adams. The facts simply do not support such a classification. Washington was four-square against federal involvement in personal lives, yet he did allow Hamilton almost total leeway in establishing a federal financial system because, as the first President, he saw the necessity in a start-up situation of pushing the boundaries. What Washington despised most was the idea of political parties; factions of any kind. He further warned in his Farewell Address; discussing factions between people, between North and South, between states and between nations, " is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy."

Anonymous said...

Washington went on to say,

"The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty."

As for the other famous Founders, Patrick Henry, said, "...give me liberty or give me death" and meant just that. He had no patience with any form of governmental control over individual lives, which would place him to the right of Jefferson and Madison but, as with their tenets, his views would cut across today's party lines, and he would be railing against the governmental tyranny. In his day, Henry served as governor five times (one year terms), then refused appointment to the U.S. Senate and later refused to serve as governor when he was once more elected to that office.

Benjamin Franklin may have been the centrist of his time. More of a philosopher than a politician, Franklin's perspective appeared to float above all the rest, ebbing and flowing with the consensus of the group so long as the group remained generally on track.

John Adams was a Federalist, believing in a strong central government, virtually ignoring the principle embedded in the Virginians -- Jefferson, Madison and Henry -- of keeping government at bay where private lives are concerned. Adams' beliefs would fit neatly into the political atmosphere around Ted Kennedy and the left wing of today's Democrats.

SW said...

The "creative class" is worthless if it doesn't actually create or produce anything of value.

The problem with many modern cities is that, in contrast to the past, they just don't actually produce very much; in the past cities used to be centers of manufacturing, but now most manufacturing is done in the suburbs or the countryside. All of the food is of course grown in the countryside too; thus, cities in modern times have become rather parasitic in that they do not create or produce very much at all.

Anonymous said...

I doubt Jefferson would be a democrat or republican today. For one he did want the federal government to control the economy. I think there are some on this blog that need to go back and read the constitution of the United States. Tell where the federal governemnt has the power to do 90% of what is does now.

Anonymous said...

Great Leftist leaders: Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Chavez. Need I say more?

Anonymous said...

Enough is enough. We as citezens need to demand more accountabilty from our elected leaders before they bankrupt this country.

consultant said...

Anonymous 5:16pm:"Need I say more?

No, you've said enough.

Anonymous 5:12pm: "Tell where the federal governemnt has the power to do 90% of what is does now."

Change is included in the language of the constitution. Slavery was in the constitution and we got rid of that.

Civics classes and typing classes will be held in downtown Charlotte and in a suburb of your choice. Sign up now.

consultant said...

"We as citezens need to demand more accountabilty from our elected leaders before they bankrupt this country."

I agree. That's why I think Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Tim Geithner, Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin, Bernanke, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Hank Paulson and every CEO and member of the board of Citi, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Wells Fargo and Countrywide should be immediately indicted for fraud and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Anonymous said...

Parks Helms is corrupt. Please leave the ABC board now!

JDC said...

Fortunately for later generations, the discussions among the above-mentioned forefathers didn’t sound like this:

“Hey Alex, you right-wing Nazi neo-con!”

“Yeah, Johnny. You left-wing liberal pinko!”

If they had, we’d still being trying to create a democratic republic.

Since such epithets are common nowadays among current discussions of major issues, it’s no wonder folks can’t compromise or reach a common understanding.