Cities and the Creative Class by Richard Florida

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Posted 2005-04-20

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

This book presents academic articles that serve as a prequel to Florida's previously published book, The Rise of the Creative Class.

In Cities and the Creative Class, Florida attempts to document his central thesis that "creativity has become the principal driving force in the growth and development of cities, regions, and nations" (p. 1). He defines the creative class in terms of members who "create meaningful new forms" (p. 34), and he ranks, sorts, analyzes, and plots various metropolitan areas on a wide range of indices measuring things like patents issued, bachelor degree holders, diversity in terms of gay couples, bohemianism (as number of artists, writers, and performers), percent of foreign-born residents, high-tech growth, and other measures.

The strength of this book seems to be in the discussion and introduction sections to the chapters where he suggests, qualitatively, the insights he has gained. For example, he states early that cities and regions must "capture the imagination, dreams, and desires of young creative workers who are making location decisions" (p. 68). Creative types want to know if amenities exist as symbols of a region's "vibrancy" (p. 84) and if it is possible to plug into a group of like-minded friends immediately (p. 86).

His ideas on rebuilding lower Manhattan best illustrate his qualitative points. For the World Trade Center site, he suggests a high-quality place with amenities that attract creative, diverse people and which is linked by transit to the region's other centers (p. 156). In other words, he suggests making lower Manhattan a hub for creative people from all over the region to use for face-to-face meetings or other activities rather than making it a center for just one industry (presently financial).

Florida does not provide an overall conceptual or theoretical model at the start of the book that serves as a guide for the statistical tests, so I had a hard time following how he operationalizes "growth and development" (which is the dependent variable in his analysis), how he chose the indexes he discusses, how the indexes relate to the thinking or composition of the creative class, or how these results suggest specific strategies for places. I also had a hard time understanding why statistical correlation was his test of choice.

Florida (p. 20) reacts very briefly to accusations that his work is "eroding traditional family values" along with other things. I would have liked to see him react more specifically and seriously to these issues, and I think a fuller explication of his work's implications (and the limitations of correlation tests) would clarify his thesis and answer his critics.

After reading this book, I wondered about other factors the author does not mention. How much do young creative people form their opinions about cities and regions based on their peers' opinions or media portrayals? Do creative types see their chosen place as deeply symbolic of their own self-worth and status in the larger culture? Do creative types rely heavily on superficial cues about a place or region (e.g., the visuals of outdoor cafes, landscapes, and street life) without actually ever participating in these features meaningfully? Does crime or government corruption repel creative types? When do creative types move away from a place once it is no longer considerd "cool"? How much does the mix of creatives, manufacturing workers and service workers affect the health of a region (after all, a region of only creatives might not be a healthy one)?

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2024-05-14 · John December · Terms ©