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Creative Class: A Short Summary of the Theory

October 17, 200517 October 2005

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A Short Summary of the Theory

Richard Florida’s 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, has garnered a lot of interest from arts communities in many parts of the world and has generated a significant amount of speaking and consulting work for Florida and his colleagues. The crux of Florida’s argument is 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” (quote from Competing on Creativity). Florida has coined the term “creative class” to describe these talented and creative people who, in his theory, help spur high-tech growth.

Florida’s analysis rests upon the correlations between indices of what have been described as the “three T’s” of economic growth: talent, tolerance and technology. The correlation analysis shows a statistical link between measures of talent (% of residents with a bachelor’s degree), tolerance (% of the population that is foreign-born), creativity (a city region’s share of the nation’s employment in artistic and creative occupations relative to the region’s share of the nation’s population) and technology (a region’s share of national employment in high-technology industries relative to the region’s overall share of national employment).

The report Competing on Creativity: Placing Ontario’s Cities in a North American Context provides a convenient ranking of Canadian metropolitan areas on the various indices. A more recent report done for the Greater Halifax Partnership updates the rankings to take into account 2001 census data. These reports provide a basic introduction into the concepts and variables used in Florida’s analysis. An even more recent report, Europe in the Creative Age, reiterates the basic theories behind the approach and compares slightly different European indices to equivalent U.S. data. (No Canadian data is provided in this report.)

Florida’s analysis has been applied to argue for the improvement of the “quality of place” of various cities, most often with implications for cultural and recreational development. In particular, his analysis has been a key component of cultural policies and strategies in Montreal and Calgary.

The President of the University of British Columbia recently spoke of the role of universities in creating a “people climate” that includes the key attributes of talent, technology and tolerance. Dr. Martha Piper argued that, rather than a strong and innovative economy allowing us to afford a quality of life that includes tolerance, social responsibility and cultural diversity, these factors themselves build the environment necessary to attract creative people. Creating a people climate “must be an integral part of any economic development strategy – not as an add-on or an after thought – but rather as a strong pillar of our economic agenda – to remain open to diversity and invest in the lifestyle amenities that people really want and use often”, such as urban parks and cultural programs.

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