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Cities and the Creative Class by: Richard Florida Essay

With the shift from manufacturing to “creative” industries, a new creative age is increasingly becoming a defining aspect of securing a nation’s economic growth. According to Richard Florida, human creativity is now the “decisive source of competitive advantage” and cities can thrive by tapping and harnessing the young, mobile, and talented individuals known as the “creative class” (Florida, 2003). Florida particularly outlines how certain cities are able to attract these innovative and talented individuals. He argues that cities that succeed have three main ingredients: technology, talent and tolerance (Florida, 2003). To prove his point, Florida uses information of both thriving and failing cities, showing their contrasting features. He examines San Francisco Bay area, Boston, Washington, Austin and Seattle’s openness and bohemia as magnets for the young, highly-talented creative class while criticizes Baltimore, St. Louis and Pittsburgh for their unwillingness to be sufficiently tolerant and open-minded, therefore unable to attract top creative talent.

Richard Florida argues that the creative class look for “communities with abundant high-quality experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else, the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people” (Florida, 2003). These people, in turn, create economic growth and innovation. Although Florida was successful in selling the idea of a “creative class,” this is hardly news. Florida was simply describing the “human capital theory,” which states that the amount of highly-educated people in an area is what drives economic growth. Florida argues, however, that his theory differs from the human capital theory as “(1) it identifies a type of human capital, creative people, as key to economic growth and (2) it identifies the underlying factors that shape the location decisions of these people” (Florida, 2003).

However, the creative people that Florida is describing are, for the most part, highly-educated and they choose to move to certain locations mainly because they have employment opportunities, not because of creativity and diversity. In a knowledge-based economy, it’s hard to believe that creative capital is worth more than human capital. Simply, it is the highly-educated people who are the driving force of the economy. Richard Florida only reiterates this idea by describing these highly-educated people as “creative and valuable”. Another criticism of Florida’s “creative class” is that he exaggerates the size and creativity of this group of people. He describes a “super creative class” that includes scientists, engineers, professors, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects (Florida, 2003). He also goes beyond this core group and scrutinizes “creative professionals” working in knowledge-based occupations in high-tech sectors. Florida seems to reiterate that there is a pool of talented individuals everywhere and that all human beings are potentially members of this creative class.

However, Florida fails to acknowledge individuals who are deemed as “non-creative”. These “non-creative” people mainly work in service and production industries with little flexibility in working hours and conditions. The non-creative class is practically invisible as they live to support the creative population. Thus, Richard Florida is unsuccessful in discussing the effects of the creative age on individuals who do not possess the talent and creativity to flourish in a creative environment. Lastly, Richard Florida is criticized for failing to take into account the neighboring cities around creative cities. Creative cities are feeding into these small, surrounding neighborhoods in order to sustain such creativity and innovation. This means that creativity is only limited to certain areas, while the rest of the surrounding cities lose their resources and people in order to support the economic growth of these centres.

Richard Florida’s idea of creative class promotes growth at any cost, creating a high concentration of innovation and growth to only certain areas. Creative cities tend to attract talented, highly-educated young people, causing a local “brain drain” in other neighbouring cities. As well, there is a notion that creative cities will provide wealth and opportunities for everyone. As a result, even “non-creative” people are pooled in to relocate into these centres only to find that they lack talent and skills necessary to find meaningful and creative jobs. Overall, creative cities are only promoting greater social inequality, in which people are increasingly becoming disconnected from each other and their communities. In conclusion, Richard Florida is overly optimistic about the notion of the “creative class.”

His ideas are hardly news, as he merely attempts to redefine the idea of “human capital theory”. He suggests that creative and innovative people are valuable but these groups are also highly educated. This simply means that economic growth is not a result of the creativity or diversity, but powered by knowledge and education within the society. Florida also exaggerates the quantity of the so called “creative class” and capitalizes on the idea that creative cities are composed of an increasing number of “more creative, more innovative, and more gay” people. Lastly, he fails to consider the detrimental effects of these creative cities on surrounding neighborhoods. These centres often create brain drains in their neighbouring cities, emphasizing the idea of growth at any cost. Overall, Richard Florida’s ideas of “creative class” can be problematic as it neglects other populations that only act to support the interests of the centres.


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