Eclectic Curiosity

The Flight of the Creative Class


Posted on June 5th, 2005, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Uncategorized. No Comments

Richard Florida, the bestselling author of 2002’s The Rise of the Creative Class, took a lot of heat in some circles for everything from his assertion that a new knowledge age/class is emerging and its obvious impact on cities to the methodology with which he measured this group and, especially, his suggestion that bohemians, immigrants, and gays played a significant role in such a movement. Being someone who works in creative fields, who feels the pulse of the so-called knowledge economy, and who has even moved cross-country, in part, to find a city more in tune with my values, Florida’s observations and arguments seemed quite apparent and even common sense. Really, who can reasonably argue that talent, technology and tolerance (his 3 Ts) aren’t the pillars of today’s economic reality? So, anyway, I was somewhat pleased to see Florida challenge his critics head-on in his follow-up book The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent, in fact dedicating most of chapter 2 to that task alone.

But FotCC is not simply a defense of Florida’s original arguments. He updates his Creative Class findings, expands his thesis to a global context, outlines where various nations rank in the worldwide creative economy, and rather passionately highlights the areas where his home country, the US, is falling short (it will be interesting to see how Americans respond to him this time around). Four themes surface repeatedly throughout the book:

–The US does not have exclusive superiority on the creative economy and is in fact slipping in several key areas because of itself (eg. increased border security and abrasive foreign policy in response to terrorism is isolating the country and has turned away thousands of students and deterred thousands more from seriously considering the US as a place worth studying or working in). The future is more likely to belong to dozens of smaller and more open creative nations than just a few superpowers. “More and more countries are coming to understand that lasting economic advantage relies on attracting and retaining talented people, rather than simply competing for goods, services, and capital.”

–Competition for creative talent, which is increasingly mobile and adventurous, is worldwide and its fierce. Open, stimulating, and networked cities, regions and countries will prevail. But it’s not a zero-sum game; think of it as ‘brain circulation’ rather than ‘brain drain’.

–The Creative Age is directly producing a range of damaging externalities, including everything from social and economic inequality to high stress and anxiety. One point Florida emphasizes often is that everyone has the capacity to be creative and that a healthy creative economy requires a healthy creative society.

–Diversity is very, very good.

Some quotes worth pulling:

Economists Frank Levy and Richard Murname show how work has split into the following types: expert thinking, complex communication, routine cognitive tasks, routine manual tasks, nonroutine manual tasks. “In Levy’s and Murname’s estimation, then, nearly all of the growth has come in two fields: expert thinking and complex communication. These are sectors that define the skill requirements and work profile of the creative class to a tee.” (p.31) [specialist thinking and generalist thinking]

Gary Gates’s 2004 study on the effect diversity has on economic growth: “He also identified two kinds of social capital originally identified as important to community cohesion by Harvard’s Robert Putnam: “bonding,” or within-group social capital, and “bridging” social capital, the strength of ties between different ethnic, racial, or social groups. In every measure Gates applied, he found diversity to be significantly related to economic growth. Particularly, he found that communities with higher levels of diversity in the form of ethnic and racial minorities, gays, immigrants, higher levels of integration, and higher levels of bridging social capital tended to have better growth rates.” (p.74)

“…the economic leaders of the future will not, I believe, be emerging giants like India and China, which rank far down the list, in forty-first and thirty-sixth place, even as they are becoming global centers for cost-effective manufacturing and the delivery of basic business processes. Instead they will be a host of smaller countries, such as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, that have built dynamic creative climates, investing in talent, leveraging technology, and increasing their effort and ability to attract creative talent from around the world.” (p.155)

“Older industrial regions such as Pittsburgh, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Detroit were especially hard hit by these twin forces, losing low-skilled industries and jobs to new foreign competitors, and homegrown and foreign high-skilled talent to rising knowledge-based regions. Newly industrializing regions from Taipei to Guadalajara have come to specialize in relatively narrow niches of the production chain, leaving them ever more vulnerable to swings in the economy and in their own cost structures.” (p.164)

“The end result is that all cities find themselves competing for smaller and smaller niches, causing them to seek advantage by mixing their talent and cost structures in ever more complex and sophisticated ways. These cities essentially perform a “talent arbitrage” by exploiting their niche. Regional economist Ann Markusen argues that American cities are witnessing a remarkable distinctiveness in economic activities: “it is thus an era of heightened specialization, and cities would be well advised to play to their strengths.”” (p.165)

“The sprawl that demands and in turn is demanded by traffic congestion also wreaks havoc on our competitiveness. A stretched-out, sprawled metropolis, where professors no longer live near universities, where laboratories ad high-tech firms can not co-locate, where entrepreneurs and newcomers are forced to the economic periphery, will lose the advantages that come from proximity, density, spontaneity, and face-to-face interaction. Factor in the hours upon days upon weeks lost to commuting time, missed meetings, and missed breakthroughs that don’t occur when people can’t get together and pool their brainpower, and it’s clear that traffic is clogging more than our streets and decay is more than environmental.” (p.201)

“The migrations that have spurred the creative economy also exacerbate its contrasts. It’s a sad irony: America’s creative economy sparked a demographic shift and political polarization that now threaten to choke that economy off. What the United States desperately needs now is political leadership savvy enough to bridge that gap.” (p.224) [See Leaders as Generalists]

“The key for the United States, then, is to design a strategy that enables it to prosper in this emerging multipolar world.” (p.237) “The very nature of their substantial advantage makes it difficult for them [hegemonic powers] to change, while up-and-comers have every incentive to try harder.” (p.240) [See Eating the Big Fish]

“…we can no longer afford to cater only to the monolithic notion of rote memorization that was important for the Industrial Revolution but has now become woefully outdated. … What we really need in order to prepare our children for the creative economy is a comprehensive education, something that takes them from aesthetics to algebra without pretending the two are mutually exclusive. … As society diversifies and specializes, more and more different kinds of education and teaching styles must be made available.” (p.254) [See A Whole New Mind]





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