Few purveyors of big ideas have as much riding on a single notion or catch phrase as Richard Florida does with the “creative class.” Florida’s idea of a group of highly mobile, Mac-toting professionals driving economic development has sold him a lot of books, spurred a lucrative speech-making and consulting career, and gotten him a well-paid perch at the University of Toronto. As important, it has given the admittedly status-conscious academic—previously, an anonymous professor in Pittsburgh—a kinship with the progressive elites that his theory affirmed. He is our premier celebrity urbanologist, whose home page features a clip of Bono mentioning him on a panel with Bill Clinton.
All of which explains the awkwardness of the current moment for Florida: His theories about how to boost city economies have, quite simply, been discredited. Rather than provide universal uplift, as he promised in his 2002 treatise, The Rise of the Creative Class, the clustering of high-earning professionals in areas rich in his “three T’s” of technology, talent, and tolerance has exposed inequalities both between and within cities. (Florida’s advice for low-wage service workers has been to find ways to “creatify” their work—unions or minimum wages were rarely mentioned.)
And his ideas haven’t just failed on policy grounds; they’ve been rejected by voters as well, in places like Toronto, where Rob Ford rode a populist backlash against bike lanes and downtown arts initiatives to tabloid stardom, and New York, where Bill de Blasio won a landslide victory by running directly against the “luxury city” ideal of a mayor who explicitly echoed Florida. Ever since the economy fell apart, the creative class (which Florida defined loosely enough to include bankers along with Web designers) has come to look less like savior than culprit...
Labels: Media, Smart Growth