Richard Florida has built a thriving
career on the theory that the
"creative class" drives urban economic growth.
increasingly say his ideas just don't add up.
By Christopher Shea, 2/29/2004 - The Boston Globe
THE ECONOMY MAY have been flat for the
last two years, but
Richard Florida is soaring. The Carnegie Mellon business
professor's 2002 book "The Rise of the Creative
with something in the public psyche. It heralded the
arrival of a
new breed of American worker: educated, ambitious, hip,
probably a mountain biker, ready to dump a job whenever
with the slightest urge for a "life shift."
These workers differ
from the old Organization Man in many ways, but this
is crucial: Creative-class members want not just decent
good schools but "authentic" neighborhoods,
Thai food, a
happening arts scene, and -- most importantly -- proximity
Florida's jaunty New Economy tome, a bestseller, set
his thriving career as an urban-development guru. Even
post-boom era, civic leaders are seizing on the argument
need to compete not with plain old tax breaks and redevelopment
schemes, but on the playing fields of what Florida calls
T's: Technology, Talent, Tolerance."
The mayor of Denver announced last fall that he'd bought
of "The Rise of the Creative Class" for his
staff and, inspired by
his reading, engaged an $80,000-a-year public-relations
"rebrand" the city as a more creative metropolis.
the book, Michigan governor Jennifer M. Granholm put
on a pair
of sunglasses and boasted that, thanks to Florida's
Detroit,Dearborn, and Grand Rapids would soon be "so
you'll have to wear shades." She has asked the
mayors of 250
Michigan cities and towns to form "Cool Cities"
to brainstorm about hipsterization strategies. Additionally,
Michigan is spreading seed money to startups in the
high-tech automotives, and homeland security.
Florida consults with Granholm free of charge, but
he gives about
50 paid speeches a year and also owns a consulting company,
Catalytix, that has helped Providence, R.I., measure
drain" and is now assisting upstate New York with
revitalization plan. (Some suggestions: Promote outdoor
create "support mechanisms" for artists, and
have local families
"adopt college students" so they'll stay in
the area after
graduation.) Last spring, he appeared with leaders of
Massachusetts arts groups at a two-day conference in
Framingham aimed at making the case for increased state
funding as an engine of economic growth. Last month,
with Hillary Clinton's staff to discuss the upstate
New York plan.
Now, just as the paperback of "The Rise of the
Creative Class" is
appearing in bookstores, Florida is internationalizing
argument. In the current Washington Monthly, he argues
places like Brussels, Sydney, Wellington (think "Lord
Rings"), and Dublin are giving American creative-tech
run for their money by hustling for mobile intellectual
Meanwhile, he writes, the Bush administration threatens
off a "creative class war" with innovation-busting
the ban on stem-cell research and increased scrutiny
At the same time, an anti-Florida tsunami is gaining
A growing number of urban-policy commentators question
advice that mayors concentrate on luring "singles,
homosexuals, sophistos, and trendoids," as Joel
journalist and professor of public policy at Pepperdine
University, put it in the magazine American Enterprise
Florida is taking political hits from the right and
the left -- and
battling back on his lavish website, CreativeClass.org.
just one problem: The basic economics behind [Florida's]
don't work," writes Steven Malanga in the Winter
2004 issue of
the conservative City Journal. And in the latest issue
waggish leftist journal the Baffler, based in Chicago,
Maliszewski calls Florida's city-revitalization theory
and backward that it reads like satire." Florida
has "mistaken the
side effects of a booming economy," he writes,
"for the causes of
growth." After all, "Potemkin bohemias"
are not going to get old
steel cities humming again.
Pepperdine's Joel Kotkin, who runs his own consulting
says he first had his doubts about Florida's work when
he read a
Florida paper yoking together the Bay Area's gay-friendliness
with its success as a tech incubator. "I started
to think, `San Jose
is 40 miles from San Francisco and those are really
worlds,"' he says.
Then Kotkin was startled when the leaders of gray Midwestern
cities began to ask him for advice on how to lure 25-year-old
college graduates to their regions. "I'd say, `What
do you mean?
You don't have a snowball's chance in hell.' "
Kotkin dismisses Florida's idea of a 38-million-strong
class" -- some 30 percent of the US working population
lumps together everyone from ballerinas to software
accountants. "I don't see how they are more creative
bricklayers," he says.
In publications ranging from Metropolis to Blueprint,
magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council, Kotkin
been arguing that right now workers and businesses --
tech firms -- are more interested in affordable housing
costs than they are in the availability of lattes. Besides,
tech people actually *like the suburbs.
Kotkin also takes issue with Florida's metrics. According
Florida, for example, San Francisco (#2), Boston (#4),
Portland (#6) are all among America's most creative
cities -- past
and future powerhouses. But in the current issue of
Magazine, Kotkin presents a list of the "10 Worst
in which to do business, which uses a more blunt measure:
creation in 2003. Boston, New York, and San Francisco,
view, are the "lost bubble children of the 1990s":
overreliant on tech.
The top big-city job creators last year, meanwhile,
Riverside-San Bernardino, Las Vegas, San Antonio, and
Palm Beach -- none of which are superstars according
Kotkin is especially hot on Riverside-San Bernardino,
California's "Inland Empire" -- a hipster
urbanite's idea of
sprawling hell on earth, but one which has attracted
660,000 new residents since 1990.
In his City Journal article, Stephen Malanga adds some
attacks on Florida's statistics. Florida's list is self-contradictory,
he argues: The Top 10 creative large cities increased
base by 17 percent over the past decade, while his 10
roster of shame that includes Oklahoma City, New Orleans,
Vegas, and Memphis) grew by 19 percent. The best remedies
downcast cities, Malanga argues, are the good old conservative
ones: Cut taxes and slash onerous regulations.
But Florida sticks to his guns in the face of these
arguing that his ideas sit squarely in the economic
He points to a long line of respectable research --
by the Nobel
Prize-winning economist Robert Lucas and the Harvard
sociologist Daniel Bell, among others--citing the rising
importance of "human capital" as America de-industrializes.
Some cities may bind businesses in excessive red tape,
but in the
end American cities can't compete -- among themselves,
worldwide -- on cost alone. "Why does New York
have to play
the same role in the world economy as Bangalore, or
City?" he asks.
As for Kotkin's alternate list of hot spots, Florida
says: "I will
take any day Boston and San Francisco and New York over
Vegas and Des Moines and the rest of Joel's cities."
group, he points out, just end up manufacturing and
what the more "creative" cities have invented.
Can hard numbers resolve this debate? According to
economist Edward Glaeser, there are grains of truth
-- and great
dollops of hype -- in both Florida's and Kotkin's views.
onto something -- but only in the industrial Midwest
where "skills are close to destiny," he thinks.
(He defines skills
largely as a college degree, without all the extras
College-educated workers, he points out, helped Boston
itself after factories were shuttered.
But nationally, Glaeser believes other factors are
People want to live in sunny, dry climates and -- to
the horror of
smart-growth advocates everywhere -- they actually like
centered cities. In place of Florida's "Technology,
Tolerance," Glaeser proposes a different recipe:
The most biting attack on Florida comes, ironically,
grounds. When Pittsburgh razes an old factory, the Baffler's
Maliszewski charges, Richard Florida gets teary over
the loss of
future loft apartments, while the steelworkers who've
jobs over the last quarter-century are acknowledged
passing and as statistics." In Florida's new utopia,
class exists only to "serve the creatives, cleaning
up their mess."
In a C-SPAN exchange acidly described by Maliszewski,
entrepreneurs with "idle minds and comfortable
bodies" whine to
Florida that unions and taxes are hampering their deep
Florida, who has posted a lengthy rebuttal to the Baffler
website, calls this attack "really weird."
He says he is constantly
telling city fathers that they need to harness the creative
all their citizens, rich and poor. "What we have
to do is open up
membership in the creative class to a much greater group
people," he says, until it eventually includes
So schools need to get better, for starters. Admittedly,
quite as catchy as the soundbites Florida was generating
years ago, but at least it's one even squares can get