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Critical Commentaries on the Creative Class

October 17, 200517 October 2005

Critical Commentaries on the Creative Class

In the February 2003 issue of the Arts Research Monitor, we noted that the statistical correlation between educated people, artists, foreign-born residents and technology is not 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 February 2003 issue of the Arts Research Monitor also noted that Florida’s analysis would be stronger if an indicator of jobs or overall economic growth was also analyzed, rather than relying solely on the high-tech employment factor as the key to economic growth. In Europe in the Creative Age (February 2004), Florida has correlated a creativity index with Gross Domestic Product for the first time. (Critics from the U.S. have argued that The Rise of the Creative Class used data from the peak of the high-tech boom and argued that Florida’s data would not hold up after the tech bust.)

In a report on cultural spending in Canada, Hill Strategies Research compared Florida’s factors of the supply of talented individuals with demand for cultural goods and services in different communities. This report noted that there was not a strong relationship between the supply-side and the demand-side factors: there were only limited similarities between the municipal rankings on the cultural occupations and the cultural spending data.

Strong criticism has come from detractors in the U.S. In an abstract of a presentation to be given in May of 2004 in Montreal, Marc Levine (an Urban Studies professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) argues that “there is almost no empirical evidence to support any part of the creative class thesis. There is no correlation between any of Florida’s celebrated indices – the “gay index”, the “bohemian index” or the “coolness” index – and basic indicators of urban economic performance, such as job growth or poverty rates.” In addition, Levine notes that those with “creative class” jobs often prefer to live in uncool suburbs of metropolitan areas. He concludes that “Florida’s thesis distracts our attention from the real problems facing North American cities: suburban sprawl and regional polarization; corporate disinvestment; ongoing fiscal crises; and declining civic infrastructure.”

In a City Journal article entitled “The Curse of the Creative Class”, Steven Malanga contends that “the basic economics behind [Florida’s] ideas don’t work…. A number of the cities the professor identifies as creative-age winners have chronically underperformed the American economy…. Some of his top creative cities don’t even do a particularly good job at attracting – or keeping – residents.” Malanga cites job growth statistics showing that the top-ranked U.S. cities in Florida’s analysis have lower job growth than the bottom-ranked ones. Malanga also provides data on domestic migration showing that “five of the ten places atop Florida’s creativity index had steep losses of U.S. residents [in the latter half of the 1990s], while some of Florida’s creative losers – including Las Vegas, Memphis, and Tampa Bay – were big winners.” A recent Inc. Magazine ranking of the “Top 25 Cities for Doing Business in America” looks very different from Florida’s top cities. In fact, San Francisco, Boston and New York are on the list of “10 Worst Metro Areas” in Inc. Magazine but were near the top of Florida’s list of most creative large cities. Interested readers may want to access a recent Boston Globe article that summarizes a number of other objections to Florida’s theses.

In his responses to some of these criticisms, Florida argues that his core message has always been that “human creativity is the ultimate source of economic growth. Every single person is creative in some way. And to fully tap and harness that creativity we must be tolerant, diverse and inclusive.” He also argues that he is not saying that gays and artists “literally ’cause’ regions to grow. Rather, their presence in large numbers is an indicator of an underlying culture that’s conducive to creativity.” Florida’s full responses can be found at http://www.creativeclass.org.

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