05 May The Creative Class – from my perspective
Rich Florida has taken a lot of crap from the academic community for the theory he vetted in his best-seller, The Rise of the Creative Class. To summarize, Dr. Florida says that a city’s predisposition for Talent, Tolerance and Technology are indicators of economic boomtowns.
Some of Rich’s indexes are controversial. For example, Rich shows that the higher a city’s concentration of gays, the more likely the city is to be economically successful. Rich’s “Gay Index” gives right-wingers the heebie jeebies: how could GAY people (whom they hate) help line their pockets (which they LOVE?)
By connecting indexes that demonstrate the link between creativity and economic prosperity, Rich has taken some heat. He has been alternately criticised as “supporting the gay agenda” (note: Rich is straight as an arrow) or basing his theories solely on the go-go 1990’s.
I’ve been asked by several of our fearless readers how I weigh in on the Rich Florida/Creative Class theory debate. Here are my brutish observations:
1. “Creative Class” is just a sexier term for Drucker’s “Knowledge Worker” (circa 1960.) Both Rich and Peter are talking about people who solve problems for a living. Whether that problem is how to add value to the design of eyewear (Rich) or how to streamline patient care in hospitals (Drucker), it’s all problem-solving. Call them “Creatives,” “Knowledge Workers,” or Pat…just PLEASE recognize their importance to creating economic value.
2. The only nouveau idea in Rich’s book is the connection between the economic value knowledge workers create during the day and how they like to play after 5 and on weekend. He makes the WILD and CRAZY leap that if your communities have the after-five amenities Creatives prefer, you’ll get more of them to live in your community. And then companies will follow them. I don’t see any controversial rocket science here.
3. Some of the academics who’ve criticized Rich – including the Wall Street Journal online tirade in February – make criticisms that seem more like personal vendettas than balanced analysis. I’m all for disagreeing with someone – it’s one of the remaining (theoretical) beauties of this country – but as my debate coach Doris Sexton used to say, “You have the right to swing your arm around as much as you want, but when it hits my nose, you’ve lost your right.” I think some of these wonks are gunning for Rich because they’re jealous that he’s become a rock star who can afford better suits than they can.
4. My company uses two of Rich’s indexes – the Bohemian and the Gay – among the 43 metrics we use to measure cool communities. That’s the highest praise one economist can give another. Truth is, I love a good proxy measure and Rich’s are some of the most interesting I’ve seen.
So, what it all boils down to for me is that Rich has: (ONE) restated a previously accepted economic truism (that Pats are key to the economy) and that where Pats live, companies follow. I’m all good with it.
Now, here’s my crazy idea – I’d like to moderate a debate between Rich Florida and Joel Kotkin, or any of the other folks who’ve been critical of Rich’s work. Corenet, ACCE, or a national Economic Development conference would be a great venue for such a cat-fight, er, academic debate. I’ve asked Rich if he’s willing to do it and he said he’s in. I’ll see Joel in a couple weeks when he speaks in Madison (my new home town.) I’ll ask him about it then. I’ll keep you posted.
To see how Rich Florida responds to his critics: http://www.americancity.org/Archives/Issue5/florida.html.
Rebecca Ryan is founder and partner of Next Generation Consulting. She drinks coffee from a mug that says, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” Next Generation Consulting is a thinkubator committed to building Next Generation Companies and Communities. Her columns address the work and life trends of today’s young, tech-savvy talent as well as the tools, tricks and tips for those daring hot companies they work with. Please e-mail topics, suggestions and feedback to Rebecca at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.