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Competing on Creativity: Placing Ontario’s Cities in a North American Context

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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In this report, Richard Florida and collaborators apply the analysis from his popular 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class to Canada, with particular emphasis on Ontario. The authors argue that regional economic advantages are no longer based on raw materials or on competition for companies. Rather, “creativity has replaced raw materials or natural harbours as the crucial wellspring of economic growth. To be successful in this emerging creative age, regions must develop, attract and retain talented and creative people who generate innovations, develop technology-intensive industries and power economic growth.”

This report is an important assessment of the relationship between creativity, diversity, talent and technology in Canada. The key statistics in the report analyze the correlations between factors such as the percentage of the population with at least a bachelor’s degree (called “talent”), a community’s share of cultural occupations (“bohemians”), the proportion of foreign-born residents (“mosaic”), and the share of technology employment in a community (“tech”). The analysis of these factors clearly shows that diverse communities with significant artistic communities have a higher concentration of high-tech employment. In fact, the relationship between artistic occupations (“bohemian index”) and high-tech employment is the strongest relationship between any two variables in the report, meaning that “the prominence of creative types seems to strongly mirror the geography of knowledge-intensive employment”.

In one sense, this is far from surprising. The technology index is weighted toward large cities, which also tend to attract foreign-born and artistic residents. And there must also be a significant proportion of highly-educated people to make large cities tick.

The report would be even stronger if the factors examined were also correlated with an indicator of general economic growth, rather than relying solely on the high-tech employment factor as the key to economic growth. In addition, the indicators focus on the supply of individuals (talent, mosaic and bohemians), rather than on demand-based factors, such as any differences in tastes and consumer spending on arts activities in different communities. An examination of these factors would also strengthen the report.

The authors conclude that Ontario city-regions, despite their lower levels of university-educated individuals than many American cities, can successfully compete against US city-regions. The work also reinforces the importance of urban centres and distinct urban characteristics, the importance of immigration in feeding economic growth, and the need to nurture the arts and creativity.

For arts organizations, this paper provides significant arguments to promote the importance of culture in communities. However, it is clear that not all economic development officials have the same perspective, as can be seen in the recent push by the world’s largest automakers to receive significant government assistance based on their investments in certain communities. The impetus to recruit companies and jobs, rather than skilled, diverse, creative individuals, is still very strong across North America. Hopefully the arguments made in this paper, along with recent Census findings on the importance of immigration in filling skilled employment positions, will convince policy makers at all levels of government to invest more in creative and diverse communities. The fact that the report was commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation – not the Ministry of Culture – may be a good early sign in this educational process.

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