Obstacles to Retaining the Creative Class

10:17 AM

Some years back, I asked an urban planner of the city of South Bend for some recommendations in his chosen profession. After Jane Jacobs and her 1961 classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities, he recommended reading Richard Florida, and I quickly picked up and read The Rise of the Creative Class from 2002. Now, more than a decade later, I come to his 2006 follow-up The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent.

Richard Florida, the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute and professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, researches the social, economic, and demographic factors that drive the contemporary world economy.

In The Rise of the Creative Class, Florida argues that those whom he describes as the creative class are a key driving force for economic development of post-industrial cities in the U.S. Cities like Austin, Chapel Hill, Portland (OR), San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. exemplify Florida's "three 'T's": Technology (the technological infrastructure necessary to fuel an entrepreneurial culture), Talent (a highly talented/educated/skilled population), and Tolerance (a diverse community, accepting of bohemians and homosexuals).

In The Flight of the Creative Class, Florida argues that the U.S. has become less supportive of members of the creative class. The end result is that the U.S. attracts fewer foreign graduate students, academics, and entrepreneurs, because of increased immigration restrictions due to the War on Terror, weakening our Talent, which in turn will drive down competitiveness.

Another way to put it is this: kids graduating in May from nearby Salina Central High School are not competing for jobs with kids from Salina South High School, let alone with the kids from Sacred Heart High School or St. John's Military Academy. As Tom Friedman constantly points out, the competition is global. Our youth are competing for jobs with kids from India, China, and Germany, competing with young people from Brazil, Chile, and South Africa.
Richard Florida (used by permission)
I agree with many of Florida's essential claims: a bedrock faith in the creative capacity of every human being, the importance of immigration, the detrimental effect of political polarization, his concepts for local economic development, and his prescient remarks about economic inequality. At the same time, the book already seems dated: a mention of the Palm Pilot (26), a quaint reference to a political newcomer (35, Barack Obama did not even make the index; I hunted for half an hour to find the page), and a hope that our protracted political paralysis would yield more promptly. Also, as the Great Recession occurred shortly after the book was published, I look forward to seeing how Florida will articulate his views in subsequent works.

A few great quotations:
  • In almost all of my public speaking, I've called for a moratorium on such government megaprojects [stadium-building and large-scale downtown revitalization]. Like Jane Jacobs, I argue that real economic development is people-oriented, organic, and community-based. (49)
  • This much is clear: Immigration is the lifeblood of the creative economy. (86) [There is a beautiful anecdote about immigrants contributing to local Midwest economies on 70-71.]
  • [Quoting Charles Darwin] It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. (133)

One might describe Florida's early work as Jane Jacobs meets Peter Drucker, as both have ample citations in his work. In fact, Florida writes that his concept of the creative class was constructed in contrast to Drucker's categories like knowledge worker (35). Flight introduces Jacobs and Drucker to Tom Friedman's notions of globalization, although he is cited only once. Obviously, this oversimplifies Florida's contributions. While this may not be the best place to begin, anyone concerned about their city's development, especially elected officials, should be familiar with Richard Florida's important work.

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