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“Creative Class” May Help Themselves, But Not The Secret to Urban Success
March 21, 2013, 9:31 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Creative Class” May Help Themselves, But Not The Secret to Urban Success:

Urban policy mavens Joel Kotkin and Richard Florida have been
mixing it up at the Daily Beast over the key to urban
success and growth. Florida is known for the thesis that, very
roughly, appealing to a “creative class” is the way to urban growth
for all.
Cabrini Green Housing Project

Kotkin yesterday said

Florida himself, in his role as an editor
at The Atlantic, admitted
last month
 what his critics, including myself, have said
for a decade: that the benefits of appealing to the creative class
accrue largely to its members—and do little to make anyone else any
better off. The rewards of the “creative class” strategy, he notes,
“flow disproportionately to more highly-skilled knowledge,
professional and creative workers,” since the wage increases that
blue-collar and lower-skilled workers see “disappear when their
higher housing costs are taken into account.” His reasonable and
fairly brave, if belated, takeaway: “On close inspection, talent
clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down

Kotkin says that rust belt cities trying to emulate a San
Francisco/Seattle model are failing:

The most risible example of this may have been former Michigan
Jennifer Granholm’s “cool cities” campaign of the mid-oughts, that
sought to cultivate the “creative class” by subsidizing the arts in
Detroit and across the state. It didn’t exactly work. “You can put
mag wheels on a Gremlin,” comments one
long-time Michigan observer. “but that doesn’t make it a
Alec MacGillis, writing at
The American Prospect in 2009, noted that after
collecting large fees from down-at-the-heels burgs like Cleveland,
Toledo, Hartford, Rochester, and Elmira, New York over the years,
Florida himself asserted that we can’t “stop the decline of some
places” and urged the country to focus instead on his high-ranked
“creative” enclaves. “So, got that, Rust Belt denizens?” MacGillis
noted wryly in afollow-up
 last year at the New
 Pack your bags for Boulder and
Raleigh-Durham and Fairfax County. Oh, and thanks again for
the check.”

Kotkin hat-tips to what is true in a “creative class” model:

Perhaps the best that can be said about the creative-class idea
is that it follows a real, if overhyped, phenomenon: the movement
of young, largely single, childless and sometimes gay people into
urban neighborhoods. This Soho-ization—the transformation of older,
often industrial urban areas into hip enclaves—is evident in scores
of cities. It can legitimately can be credited for boosting real
estate values from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Wicker Park in Chicago
and Belltown in Seattle to Portland’s Pearl District as well as
much of San Francisco.
Yet this footprint of such “cool” districts that appeal to
largely childless, young urbanistas in the core is far smaller in
most cities than commonly reported. Between 2000 and 2010, notes
demographer Wendell Cox, the urban core areas of the 51 largest
metropolitan areas—within two miles of the city’s center—added a
total of 206,000 residents. But the surrounding rings, between two
and five miles from the core, actually lost 272,000. In contrast to
those small gains and losses, the suburban areas—between 10 and 20
miles from the center —experienced a growth of roughly 15 million
The smallness of the potentially “hip” core is particularly
pronounced in Rust Belt cities such as Cleveland and St. Louis,
where these core districts are rarely
 to more than 1 or 2 percent of the city’s shrinking
population. Yet the subsidy money for developers is often justified
in the name of “reviving” the entire city, most of which has
continued to deteriorate…..

And yet:

The sad truth is that even in the more plausible “creative
” cities such as New York and San Francisco, the emphasis
on “hip cool” and high-end service industries has corresponded with
a decline in their middle class and a growing gap between rich and
poor. Washington D.C. and San Francisco, perennial poster children
for “cool
,” also have among the highest percentages of poverty of
any major urban center—roughly 20 percent—once cost of living is
figured in.

Kotkin’s long and detailed piece goes on to explain that
creative class enclaves are still hotbeds of poverty and/or are
becoming less ethnically diverse, and less-family oriented, despite
Florida’s celebration of diversity. And if you want fast job
growth, “the fastest job growth has taken place in regions—Houston,
Dallas, Oklahoma City, Omaha—whose economies are based not on
“creative” industries but on less fashionable pursuits such as oil
and gas, agriculture and manufacturing.”

came back today with
 a long response, also at Daily
with a lot of irrelevant political labeling of
Kotkin’s financial supporters meant to get a typical “creative
class” reader suspicious of Kotkin.
Florida’s response largely seems to be not about debunking the
specifics of Kotkin’s analysis, but questioning Kotkin’s framing of
that analysis as saying that Florida has backed down from his
belief in the wonders of creative class urban planning.
To the contrary, Florida says he’s always known that when
housing prices are factored in creative class thinking is not
enough to lift all boats comparatively.
Florida’s conclusion, which I will point out is convenient for
someone in Florida’s business of advising cities on planning and
scheming, is:

We need to leverage density, skill, and knowledge to propel
further innovation, economic growth and development (lord knows our
economy needs it), and at the same time we have
to build new institutions, new strategies, and a new urban social compact to improve
the lot of those at the bottom.

Which means figuring out public policy ways to raise working
class wages and make housing more affordable and increasing mass
transit. And hooray for urban planners, because:

the invisible hand of the market can only take us so far. The
rest is up to us. This is not a time to complain about or belittle
this shift, or, as with Kotkin, to pretend that it is not even
taking place. We need to build the new institutions and the new
social compact that can harness its power and extend its benefits
to everyone….

Enough already with this tired and divisive debate about
families versus hipsters, cities versus suburbs. We know that
cities and skills power growth and we know that we’re facing real
divides and real inequalities. Let’s get on with the critical task
of drafting the new social compact that our urban age requires.
Now that’s a debate worth having.

For those needing a new social compact written, Richard Florida
can help with that. Please call or write to discuss his reasonable
Reason and Drew Carey offered our own
dynamic libertarian urban renewal plan for Cleveland
A Reason.TV double-feature, starting with Kotkin:

And now Richard Florida on Reason.TV:


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