The Two Creative Classes

Many of mankind’s greatest achievements are products of the urban cauldron. That the density, heterogeneity and social environment of cities leads to more rapid innovation and idea sharing should not surprise many, but it’s worthwhile to examine and understand the mechanics of the relationship between cities and their cultural products.

Richard Florida’s Creative Class thesis has garnered much attention since he introduced it in 2002 with The Rise of the Creative Class. That book’s main point—cities that manage to attract members of the “creative class” benefit economically and socially in comparison with cities that don’t—seems to dovetail nicely with the notion that cities are innovation hubs.

The relationship between the two ideas, however, may not be entirely harmonious. While the coffeehouses of early 20th century Vienna may have produced the likes of Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus, those literary talents didn’t necessarily equate directly with Vienna’s economic vitality. Likewise, the music scenes that emerged from New York and Cleveland in the 1970’s came out of urban decay, and didn’t necessarily effect a change in those conditions.

The Creative Class, on the other hand, is expected to translate that same intelligence into economic activity. When civic leaders develop incentives to attract this demographic, their goal is generally not art for art’s sake—not that it should be. Municipal government should not be charged with giving a city an arts scene, but it’s reasonable to charge city leadership with creating economic activity. That, in short, is what the Creative Class program means for mayors and city councils.

So far, so good. City leadership can take a laissez-faire approach to the arts and a hands-on approach to the local economy. The trick, though, is not to stifle the former by attending to the latter. A city can attract plenty of creative types who will start companies and go out to eat four times a week, but the incentives employed to attract those groups might inadvertently extinguish the scenes that don’t pay and don’t spend. If it becomes too difficult to live cheaply in a city, the will to tinker or experiment on a minimal income might dwindle or vanish. The two aforementioned groups need not be mutually exclusive, however, and as planners and elected officials articulate their vision for a given city, they should remain conscious of what both creative classes have to offer and encourage each to exist in that city.

(Photo from Flickr user nickmickolas.)


Manu said...

This is a good point. Risk of gentrification should not be forgotten and happens if you do not realise creative people exist even out of the spotlight. This is exactly where Florida´s vision is weaker, as class is a confusing term when talking about cvreativity.

Julia said...

What city is doing this well? I want to move there.

Misa said...

I definitely see what I guess you could call the dangers of inviting the creative class into a city, and in doing so, risking gentrification. You can see this happening (or it has already happened) in Silverlake and Los Feliz. And even earlier than that Venice, Ca. Importing or giving incentive for the “creative class” to enter a city has its ups and downs, and I don’t necessarily think that cities need to be reinvigorated with outside talent when that talent could very well already exist within that city and just needs to be found.
The “creative class” connotes, a certain hierarchy, that, just looking at local examples of this “creative class,” is young, middle class and white. In effect, living in places like Los Feliz, became to expensive to live in (which is a good sign of economic progress) making it difficult the existing population could no longer live there (which kind of sucks.) I wonder if there is a possible equilibrium between these different groups (or I guess you could say “classes”.)