The problems with creative cities…


In past classes and in the readings from this past week “creative cities” and the “creative class” have been mentioned here and there (MMW, page 66).  The end of chapter 7 also mentions how willing and able the creative arts are when it comes to moving; for example, the film industry and tax incentives in different states.  I wanted to explore these phenomenons and share insights from other arts admin classes I have taken.

When Richard Florida’s book, The Rise of the Creative Class, started to circulate and gain attention, it really changed the perspectives of city planners when it came to arts and culture.  According to Florida, local economic development of cities was going to depend a lot on their ability to draw in what he called the “creative class.”  The “key to economic growth” required creative class people, but their presence alone was not enough.  Forming “new ideas, new high-tech businesses, and promoting regional growth” were the real desired outcomes that came along with attracting artists.  No one can argue the popularity and impact of The Rise of the Creative Class, but it is not always relevant or accurate.  Richard Florida’s basis of justification and his ideas about the creative class specifically are not completely true.

There are multiple problems with the ideas behind The Rise of the Creative Class that are almost logistical in nature.  The conclusions drawn in Richard Florida’s book and articles are often supported by his observations and by relating them but rarely do they discuss the reasons why those correlations exist or how they were caused.  The information (often drawn from censuses) is also quite out-of-date.  Another problem is that the very definition of the “creative class” is very broad.  Who does it include, and how are they identified?  Self-identification?  That can be very biased…  According to Florida, about 38.3 million Americans belong in the creative class, and that equates roughly 30% of the workforce.   The definition of an “artist” for the Florida’s Bohemian Index is more defined, including “authors, designers, musicians and composers, actors and directors, craft-artists, painters, sculptors, and printmakers, photographers, dancers, and artists, performers, and related workers.”   (Check page 91 MMW).  There are also other discrepancies in Florida’s platform that will be noted.

One of the goals Florida says cities should focus on is “attracting artists” and other members of the creative class.  In an Albuquerque Journal article by Anthony DellaFlora about how Albuquerque compared to other cities, the opening almost makes it seem like if they can just appeal to creative people, the money and economic development will automatically followHowever, they are not looking at the big picture.  When a member of the creative class leaves city A for more attractive city B, there is a gain and a loss that has to be accounted for.  Also, it is very difficult to lure artists away from the already established cultural centers.  For example, in the leading cultural districts over 35% of the workforce (within the city) is considered of the creative class.  Creative people will naturally cluster where the arts flourish.  Max Stern, from the University of Pennsylvania, even makes the point that cultural districts cannot be created from scratch somewhere where the arts are not already doing well.

Florida also gives cities some pointers and things to work on that would draw the creative class in or help retain the creative people already in the area.  To become a destination city for artists Florida says things like low entry barriers, jobs and a thick labor market, a high level of diversity and a high quality of life, lots of stimulation and activity (“street-level culture”), lots of opportunities for outdoor recreation, and a feeling of “authenticity and uniqueness” are paramount to the city’s success.   While these are all good and valid, they do not necessarily mirror the preferences of all of the members of the creative class.  Edward Glaeser brings to light the fact that there are many creative, well-off people who live in the suburbs and commute daily.  They also enjoy their life and contribute to their communities, but do not always participate in all the street-level culture or constant stimulation.  Florida’s focus seems to be only geared toward young people, who he names the “engine of economic growth.”   Others, however, do not think that cities should only focus on catering to the young and hip crowds who are focused on consumption.  Maintaining a good standard of living for those already there and keeping the already established creative class there is also a goal.

With the attraction of the creative class population, the cities also hope to draw in companies and more job opportunities.  However, companies will move to where the skilled and educated workers are, not just to where the creative workers are.  Companies will move to where there are the resources are.  One sees this in the for-profit world as well.  Outsourcing jobs and moving manufacturing overseas- keeping jobs on US soil vs. shipping them overseas- has been a issue in politics in the recent past, especially with high unemployment where it is.  Some are of the opinion that this is smart of companies!  Efficient and effective…

Even if Richard Florida’s conclusions are not all perfectly supported, there are still some good points he brought to light.  Cities everywhere suddenly looked at their arts and culture as a more legitimate resource and valued their culture more highly.  Sometimes, cities will value the arts for their economic development potential rather than for their inherent value.  Cultural districts and economic development are being used more and more for justification for arts support spending, and it is not the best approach.  The creative class rationalization is not as well-founded as it should be, and there is not enough proof that the arts, economic development, and urban planning should all be linked.

-Emmalyn Helge


DellaFlora, Anthony. “City’s Multitalented People Could Drive Economic Growth.” Albuquerque Journal (2001).

Florida, Richard. “The Rise of the Creative Class.” The Washington Monthly (2002)             <;.

Florida, Richard. “Bohemia and Economic Geography.” Journal of Economic Geography (2002): 55-71.

Glaeser, Edward L. “Review of Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class.” Regional Science and Urban Economics 35 (2005): 593-596.

Markusen, Ann. Cultural Planning and the Creative City. Minneapolis, MN: University of  Minnesota, 2006.

Rushton, Michael. Lecture Notes (Oct. 2010).

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