Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Apparently, Blogger went down today, so I'm republishing yesterday's post--with a couple new links.

If you're interested in "creative class" analysis, you should read a longer article by Richard Florida on his research and conclusions in this month's Washington Monthly. It also contains a link to his website, where you can see how your community ranks if you're not in Phoenix. I'm not totally convinced; any ranking that puts both Allentown and Harrisburg, PA in the top 10 "most creative" medium sized cities may need some fine-tuning. However, the theory du jour is no longer "bowling alone"--it's now time to focus on whether our community has enough gay people and rock bands to encourage economic growth. Also note subtle triathlon reference, letting me link to my results (split times now available). I'm still telling everybody.

Column for May 19th:


The latest sociological theory gaining mainstream “buzz” is Carnegie Mellon University professor Richard Florida’s “creative class” analysis. Florida’s research finds future economic success dependent on attracting and keeping young, single people in key creative disciplines.

These creative class members have cutting-edge skills, are attracted to the new, and--vital for start-up businesses--can work longer hours and take greater risks because they don’t have children. Florida considers this fast-growing cohort of highly educated, youthful, and well-paid workers in technology, finance, entertainment, high-end manufacturing, and the arts absolutely key to future economic growth.

(As most business leaders, politicians, and editors are older and married, we’re uncomfortable with the future belonging to the funky. It’s hard respecting our juniors; we’d rather slam the young for not bowling in leagues.)

Creative class numbers are growing, as the age of marriage (particularly among the college-educated) has risen significantly. They’re also a key demographic, because even after marriage and kids, the amenities and dynamism that attracted them still matter in middle age.

Florida ranks a community’s ability to attract members of the creative class along with new ideas, high-tech businesses, and regional growth. He sees economic success as dependent on the “three T’s”: technology, talent, and tolerance.

These members of the “creative class” don’t think of themselves as a class, but share beliefs in creativity, individuality, difference, and merit. Companies have switched their recruiting to attract these folks--with relaxed dress codes, flexible schedules, and Frisbee-and-foosball perks--but municipalities, by and large, have not.

Too many cities have tried to compete for these knowledge-based workers with a tired recipe of begging for high-tech jobs and subsidizing professional sports and cookie-cutter retail malls. But Buffalo, New Orleans, and Pittsburgh all lost out to Boston, Washington, DC, Seattle, and Austin in economic development, largely because those cities attracted a critical mass of creative class residents.

In Florida’s analysis, Phoenix ranks 22nd, right in the middle. We do well because of many high-tech jobs and openness to new residents. But we lose points because of our large percentage of service-class jobs and “lifestyle” issues. Creative class types value diversity, authenticity, and quality--attributes sometimes in short supply here.

Florida writes that creative class people value interesting experiences. They want to try new cuisine, listen to new music, and do new things. They especially want to meet people unlike themselves, in a community open and tolerant to all different sorts of people. They prefer active recreation to passive spectating at an institutional event--the undiscovered band in a new club instead of a huge middle-aged rock group reunion concert.

Places with chain stores, restaurants, and nightclubs, offering the exact same experience as everywhere else, don’t attract tomorrow’s economic talent.

Florida also notes that today, with political will difficult to muster for almost anything, numerous cities somehow develop the consensus to invest hundreds of millions in professional sports stadiums. However, his focus groups reveal that to the creative class, professional sports simply don’t matter.

In Phoenix, we say we want to attract talent, high-quality jobs and workers, but we won’t do any of the things those people truly want, and what we are doing (that new “multipurpose facility”) is simply irrelevant to them.

Despite their youth, investing in the creative class is also a better long-term strategy. We’ll put a couple hundred million into the stadium, but in a decade or two, the Cardinals will get a better deal and move on. Those same dollars could be invested in libraries, urban parks, hiking trails, and bike paths--which won’t relocate if we don’t give them a better revenue-sharing package.

If Florida’s right, then Tempe Town Lake--where creative class types can row crew, kayak, or even swim in triathlons--means far more to 21st-century economic development than any NFL team.

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