Cities and the Creative Class by Richard Florida

Reviewed by Henrik P. Minassians, PhD, instructor in AJU's Political Science Department since 2006. He teaches Law and Society, Introduction to Public Policy, and Analysis and American political Thought.

HenrikPMinassians        Modern mass communication and globalization have exposed us to many cities around the world, along with attempts at modernization by developing countries. Richard Florida's theory, as expressed in his former book, The Rise of the Creative Class, suggests that a creative class, consisting of professionals in innovative and artistic occupations, is the main catalyst for continued development of modern cities.  In addition, many politicians and students of political science, public policy, and urban planning subscribe to this theory: that the development of cities is intertwined with the existence of the creative class, which in turn contributes to the economy by establishing new, knowledge-based ideas. The empirical data for this theory is supported by conclusions in The Rise of the Creative Class.
       In his book, Cities and the Creative Class, Florida examines two theories:
(1) the role that the creative sector plays in the economic development of various regions; and (2) the reasons for the concentration of the creative class in certain areas of the country. Who makes up the creative class? According to Florida, they are individuals employed in science and engineering, research and high tech-development, arts, culture, design work, and knowledge-based professions.
       The unique characteristic of the creative class is that its members are engaged in an innovative, meaningful form. This creative core produces new structures or designs that are transferable and broadly useful for economic development. However, Florida does not explain how the ideas of the new creative class differ from the work of previous groups.
       A primary difference between the previous generation of innovators and the current creative class is the level of education, which leads to a higher level of human capital. The unique characteristic of these members is their ability to exercise considerable judgment and apply radically new strategies to solve problems. One third of the total workforce falls into this sector and accounts for nearly half the wage income earned in the United States. 
       An over-arching question is why some regions become destinations for the creative class and others do not.  Florida's theory is grounded in three "T's:" talent, technology, and tolerance.  He associates these three characteristics to regions in the country with the fastest economic development, directly linking the ideas of tolerance and cultural openness to the rise of the creative class. The assumption is that as a region becomes more tolerant, it attracts people engaged in creative work. He uses Boston as an example.  With its famous universities, global research centers, and tolerance, the city is an ideal spot for the rise of the creative class. He also argues that places like Austin, Texas, have attracted young bohemian crowds because of its rich cultural and music scene.
       He suggests that the three cities in the United States with the highest rank in creativity index are San Francisco, Austin, and San Diego/Boston tied for third position. One is perplexed at the exclusion of Seattle and New York from the top ranks and the placement of Los Angeles at 31, just next to Kansas City, despite its high level of tolerance and active creative class in arts, music, and entertainment industries.  This is because a major limitation of the author's ranking method is in his definition of cities, which is based on metropolitan regions.  This ranking method presents serious limitations since every metropolitan region has pockets and clusters of creative people.
       For example, the Los Angeles metropolitan region consists of many tolerant communities populated with highly talented individuals. A subset of Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, includes Studio City, where many highly tolerant and creative people reside, while the central portion of the valley is home to a working class population that is vital to the overall economy of the city.  Although Los Angeles ranks low in creativity, there is not an exodus of people moving away.
       Richard Florida's creative class is fairly exclusive, since only one-third of the United States workforce is included. Consequently, developments designed to service the needs of this particular class and their lifestyle downplay the real needs of the remainder, and thus the majority, of the people in the United States. He has responded to critics who have accused him of "yuppification of neighborhoods" by suggesting that this particular class has become the economic engine for community development. He does this without addressing some serious questions about the gentrification and division of real class issues within cities.  It's the bohemian artists and scientists that Florida believes have long been the first wave of gentrification in cities across the U.S.   
       Another significant flaw of the book is ignoring the importance of specialized education that has been systematically denied to low-income populations. Florida does not address how market- forces and government policies tend to the needs of the creative class at the expense of neighborhoods who become gentrified. 
       Despite the flaws of the creative class theory, it remains one of the major influences on urban redevelopment and, as such, deserves the attention of social scientists, politicians, and city planners. Cities and the Creative Class provides the perfect starting point for the reader to understand how the theory impacts economic development and the use of raw numbers and methods. For most Americans, this theory may suggest very little, but this book does provide important information on current development patterns. In fact, many global regions and governments have relied on similar strategies in order to attract a creative class of people to their countries, hoping to lead in the race to the top.