The Rise of the Creative Class And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life by Richard Florida

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Posted 2005-04-27

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

This book describes a class of people, termed the Creative Class, which Florida claims are the key to economic development.

Florida spends the first part of the book describing this class and how it flourishes in environments which are stable yet flexible, artistic and cultural, and value individuals, merit, diversity (of a certain kind), and openness. The Creative Class draws upon and generates a combination of technological, economic, and cultural creativity (p. 201) and Florida recommends the formula of Technology, Talent, and Tolerance to create an environment that seems correlated with the presence of creatives.

Florida observes that concentrations of people-oriented amenities within vibrant (yet safe) urban neighborhoods seem to be an environment favorable for these creatives. Thus, he makes a connection from people-oriented places to creative people to economic growth. This connection might be part of an argument to allow more people-oriented development in an area rather than subsidizing corporate moves or building sports stadiums.

On page 217, Florida reveals the "question that lies at the heart of our age" and which drove the research for his book: "How do we decide where to live and work?" Answering this question in a qualitative way based on his field research seems the strength of this book. Essentially, creatives seek a way of life of great autonomy within an environment offering easy access to a range of amenities that directly support their recreational and vocational, social, and mating pursuits. They don't care so much about stadiums and symphonies as much as running trails and busy nightspots. They don't really want to be part of the Chamber of Commerce as much as have places available with "active, informal, and street-level" amenities (p. 259). They don't care about a specific job as much as being in a place where they can network and move among a variety of jobs. The creatives seem to want to avoid anything that impedes the formation, support, and expression of their own identity, and are attracted to a setting where they can pick and choose among activities according to peer trends and their time-of-life.

Some pitfalls of this book involve misunderstandings it may encourage. For example, creatives favor quasi-anonymity and the weak ties of many friends over the strong ties predominant in previous generations of bowling leagues and lodge members. Florida suggests that this weak tie preference means that "Traditional notions of what it means to be a close, cohesive community and society tend to inhibit economic growth and innovation." (p. 269). This statement, along with his Creative Class concept itself, can be misapplied. For example, the pursuit of cool in economic development includes the state of Michigan's "cool cities" campaign, in which bureaucrats try to remake the state as "cool" in the belief that the creatives will come, and the economy will boom. This sort of conflation of correlation and causation seems to be a big problem potentially facing readers of Florida's work. Indeed, it may be that the Creative Class does not cause economic growth, but tends to prefer to live in areas experiencing growth and will move as economic conditions change (see Cities and the Creative Class).

Another possible pitfall of this book involves its foundation on class identification and separation. Demarcating society into classes and lavishing attention on only one of them seems profoundly disturbing to me. Particularly since it is not difficult to view the Creative Class as somewhat narcissistic, shallow, immature, and racist (the creative index is negatively correlated with large populations of racial minorities) who see the world in terms of how they can extract their own gratification from it. Moreover, I do not believe an area can be composed only of creatives and be healthy, and many people in the working class and service class are themselves creative, have much to contribute to society and economic growth, and everyone deserves a humane urban form with safe, walkable, and vibrant streets.

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