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creative class struggle

Sean isn’t the only blogger who has a problem with Richard Florida. A group in Toronto founded a new blog with the sole purpose of offering a rebuttal to Florida’s ideas and the policies he advocates (I checked and Sean is not one of the blog founders). In short, Florida advocates policies and infrastructures that help cities recruit more creative professionals, which in turn helps the cities build wealth and prosper. The blog (HT to Urbanorgs), creative class struggle, maintains that cities latch on to Florida’s ideas as a way to “build money-making cities rather than secure livelihoods for real people.” A selection from a recent post about the problems in Albuquerque, NM, a city that Florida rated as one of the best mid-sized cities in the U.S., demonstrates why this group believes Florida’s ideas are dangerous.

Florida’s creative class is popular in New Mexico and elsewhere because the index obscures the overwhelming data illustrating the contradictions of the system Florida has chosen to celebrate—a system that cannot function without extreme levels of inequality.

The beauty of an index is its simplicity: you take a few variables, calculate a number and rank. Multiple data sets are blended into a “Creativity Index” or a “not-so-creative index” or a “reliable-ranking-produced-by-a-social-scientist index.” The purpose of the index is to measure only certain variables—in this case, those associated with the creative class. To accomplish this, one has to cancel out or ignore two-thirds of the city’s population. The act of isolating the creative class and ranking the locations where its members live depoliticizes this group of often middle-class workers, and their choices, by emphasizing the individual. It allows employers free rein to exploit these workers by emphasizing the benefits to the local economy, and it encourages government to focus its limited resources on those with skills and means while ignoring those most in need (emphasis mine).

It’s not often that you see a movement expressly dedicated to combating one person’s ideas. For you movement and class theory junkies, the blog is worth reading. Also, I second Teppo’s endorsement of Whale Wars as fun tv-watching with a movement angle.

UPDATE: For those interested in engaging with Florida’s theory of the creative class, here are a few links to some papers in which he addresses some of his critics: a paper in the Journal of Economic Geography that weighs the relative effects of the creative class and human capital on regional development, a Washington Monthly column in which he discusses inequality, an essay from The Atlantic about the geographic sorting of classes, and another essay about spiky globalization and the distribution of prosperity. It’s clear from these papers that Florida is interested in inequality, but he and the creative class struggle bloggers probably disagree about the particulars.

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Written by brayden king

July 24, 2009 at 5:19 pm

9 Responses

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  1. it’s interesting that (so far) they aren’t really contesting that Florida’s strategy creates growth, they’re just arguing that it also creates/assumes inequality. given that the “starving artist” and “superstar” effects are thoroughly documented and modeled in the social science literature, i think the “creative class struggle” people are right about an arts-based economy implying inequality. however in making this critique i think they’re missing the real problem which is that it doesn’t even work if all you care about is growth. when steve malanga attacked florida (from the right), he took the growth question head on and argued that it was a fluke of counting silicon valley and san francisco in the same MSA during the tech bubble.
    for what it’s worth, i don’t know any academics who buy the florida plan as applies to the metro level, though i know a lot of people who think it’s plausible at the neighborhood level. (Though this also has inequality implications in that artists are usually the forefront of gentrification).

    Finally, if i may be so bold, I had my own post yesterday criticizing arts-based development strategies.

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    Gabriel Rossman

    July 24, 2009 at 7:14 pm

  2. Gabriel, you may definitely be so bold. Thanks for the link to the great post (I love the David Duchovny reference, BTW).

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    brayden

    July 24, 2009 at 7:27 pm

  3. I am not willing to wade into the Richard Florida criticism business further than I’ve done already. So I will not comment further other than to point out the juicy minimalism implied in linking to the “house and home” feature. Nicely played folks.

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    Sean Safford

    July 24, 2009 at 7:52 pm

  4. I was criticizing Florida before it was cool (p. 94ff).

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    Kieran

    July 24, 2009 at 11:34 pm

  5. “i don’t know any academics who buy the florida plan as applies to the metro level, though i know a lot of people who think it’s plausible at the neighborhood level.”

    What Gabriel hits on here is actually my biggest problem with Florida’s analysis. As examples, he gives anecdotal evidence from “cool” places and “cool” neighborhoods (to rip from Michigan’s hope to capitalize on this phenomenon). Yet, his analysis is all at the metropolitan level. This slippage between his data and his anecdotal evidence means that there really is no proper unit of analysis and the “creative class” can be inserted at whatever level facilitates one’s personal or political ambition at the time.

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    mike3550

    July 25, 2009 at 2:38 pm

  6. mike,
    it’s even worse than that. in “flight of the creative class” he changes the unit of analysis to the nation-state. while i haven’t read the book, the impression i got from the reviews was that he was making a slightly more sophisticated version of the “if Bush gets reelected i’m moving to Canada” thing.

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    Gabriel Rossman

    July 26, 2009 at 5:41 am

  7. Steve Sailer had a review of Florida’s book which has disappeared from its original location, but I have preserved here.

    Another notable Florida critic is Joel Kotkin, who has published by righty institutions but calls himself an old fashioned “sewer socialist” urbanist.

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    teageegeepea

    July 26, 2009 at 9:54 pm

  8. I swear Healy, between this and the Mitchell & Webb, the universe of stuff you haven’t already covered well and earlier is getting too small. Too small.

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    Peter

    July 27, 2009 at 2:08 am

  9. I wonder, now that Florida has been parsed to the bone, who appears next on orgtheory’s popsoc hit list? Gladwell?

    Like

    Craig

    July 27, 2009 at 7:04 pm


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