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Creative people, classes, neighbourhoods and cities

June 12, 200612 June 2006

The concept of creativity, as applied to people, classes, neighbourhoods and cities, has been thrust into the limelight by the success of Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class. In this analysis, people want to live ‘where things happen’, creative class workers flock to creative locales, and jobs follow people, not the other way around.

In this context, the arts, culture, creativity and innovation are receiving significant attention from economic development and urban planning spheres. The argument that the arts and culture sector fosters creativity and innovation is being heard with fresh interest. Municipal governments and non-profit organizations are examining ways of creating places that are affordable, safe, diverse and artistically inspiring.

Charles Landry indicates that his book The Creative City “describes a new method of strategic urban planning”. But what exactly is a creative city? In a research report for the Canadian Policy Research Networks, Neil Bradford defines creative cities as “dynamic locales of experimentation and innovation, where new ideas flourish and people from all walks of life come together to make their communities better places to live, work and play.”

Landry suggests that there are seven groups of factors that are present in a creative city: creative people; will and leadership; human diversity and access to varied talent; an open-minded organizational culture; positive and strong local identity; urban spaces and facilities; and opportunities for networking.

A Canadian Conference of the Arts report entitled The Art of Development and the Development of Art provides eight examples of “powerful partnerships that have grown up between artists and the creative communities that flourish around their enterprises”. Many of the examples feature community initiatives that have turned dire situations (a plant closing, a struggling downtown, the need to save a traditional art form) into unique opportunities to bring people together. As author Silver Donald Cameron points out, successful organizations understand that there are multiple bottom lines (financial, environmental, artistic and social).

The emphasis in a recent Fast Company article by Bill Breen is on the creativity shown by 238 people in seven companies in the consumer product, high-tech and chemical industries. The magazine article, based on a study originally published by Theresa Amabile in the Harvard Business Review, attempts to “bust six cherished myths about creativity”, specifically that: creativity comes from creative types; money is a creativity motivator; time pressure fuels creativity; fear forces breakthroughs; competition beats collaboration; and a streamlined organization is a creative organization. The article indicates that “creativity depends on a number of things: experience, including knowledge and technical skills; talent; an ability to think in new ways; and the capacity to push through uncreative dry spells. Intrinsic motivation – people who are turned on by their work often work creatively – is especially critical.”

If everyone is creative, how do artists and cultural organizations contribute to creative cities? Although Landry believes that we “need to get beyond the idea that creativity is the exclusive domain of artists”, he does point out how artists can bring about “unexpected connections” by providing experiences that unite people and foster introspection and imagination. Silver Donald Cameron, in his closing remarks at the 2003 National Policy Conference of the Canadian Conference for the Arts, sums up the potential contribution of artists to creative cities: “The creative problem-solving which is the daily work of an artist…certainly can contribute substantially to the general social repertoire of problem-solving, which is central to the process of innovation in every field…People who have the courage to innovate also have the courage to make demands on their society in every department”.

Although Landry’s book provides a model of the “cycle of urban creativity” as well as general characteristics of cities on a “creative city development scale”, it contains no specific indicators or measurement tools for identifying how creative a city is. Other groups are attempting to develop indicators of local creativity. Toronto Artscape has published two reports that seek “to understand the complex profile of social, cultural, and economic impacts of cultural and artistic activity at the neighbourhood level, and to use this to inform best-practice decision making for planning, capacity building and sustainability.”

Based on three case studies from Toronto and Vancouver, Beyond Anecdotal Evidence tracks changes in local economic conditions, the social environment, neighbourhood character, and demographics resulting from investments in cultural facilities. The researchers note that they are drawing associations rather than proving causality. However, the report does indicate that “In all three [study] areas, there is evidence that the artistic and cultural component of the area is strongly associated with growth, development, gentrification, investment, etc.”

The socio-economic and demographic changes in the neighbourhoods studied include higher education levels, higher incomes, more white-collar workers, lower unemployment, more middle-aged people, more single couples, and smaller families. In addition, property values increased, building permits grew (in the Vancouver case), business turnover was high, and new businesses were created, some directly related to culture. Retail sales also increased.

Richard Florida’s latest Canadian application of his theories, Montreal’s Capacity for Creative Connectivity: Outlook and Opportunities, presents an upbeat portrait of the prospects for Montreal’s future growth. However, the study does not provide methodological details nor any proof of the connections between the indicators highlighted in the report’s tables and figures. One is left to take it on faith that Montreal, “one of the best-kept secrets in North America”, is an emerging “rising star” creative sector economy.

In fact, many of the indicators in the paper do not appear to favour Montreal’s growth prospects. The first figure in the report indicates that Montreal is in the lower half of each of seven overall benchmarks, except for recent job growth. The six lower-ranked indicators are population growth, (longer-term) job growth, per-capita income growth, firm growth, recent population growth, and a creativity index. None of these indicators are defined in the report.

Montreal does have somewhat higher scores on the benchmarks of talent, technology and tolerance. In previous research (Competing on Creativity, 2002), Florida and collaborators used 1996 census data to rank Montreal tenth of 25 Canadian Census Metropolitan Areas on the talent index, fourth on a bohemian index, eleventh on a mosaic index, and first on a technology index. It is not clear whether these historical rankings would have been high enough to drive Montreal’s overall growth between 1996 and 2001 (which, according to the new report, was not particularly strong compared with other North American cities).

Over the next ten years, Montreal’s creative sector is expected to grow by 21%, lower than the service sector (34% growth) but higher than the working sector (14% growth). The accuracy of these extrapolations of historical growth patterns may be questionable, and the sector definitions are not provided in the report but are awaiting an academic version of the paper.

The second table in the report shows that Montreal does rank highly among 25 North American metropolitan areas in the number of “super-creative core” workers. Montreal is second only to Toronto in this ranking, with Vancouver placing third. However, Montreal ranks in the bottom third in the broader “creative class rank” (18th), lower than the rankings of Toronto (7th) and Vancouver (12th). Any relationship between these indicators and overall growth is not provided in the report.

Based on 33 interviews, the report also provides a brief qualitative discussion of local connections between technology and the arts community, connections due to the linguistic nature of Montreal, and those arising from Montreal’s geographic and cultural position.

While the creative sector certainly contributes to the well-being of Montreal and other North American metropolitan areas, this report, given the lack of definitions and methodological notes, does not significantly further our knowledge of how or why.

Note: Volume 3, No 5 of the Arts Research Monitor examined four research reports from the Canadian Policy Research Networks on thetopic of creative cities. Volume 2, No 10 reviewed various reports and articles from supporters, followers and detractors of Richard Florida’s creative class theories, with a particular focus on Canadian implications.

The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida (2002)
Selected writings available at or

The Creative City by Charles Landry (2000)
Selected writings available at

The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida (2002)
Selected writings available at or

Montréal’s Capacity for Creative Connectivity: Outlook & Opportunities (2005)
Catalytix, available from Culture Montreal

Using Creativity to Drive Montreal’s Growth (Feb. 28, 2005)
Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal

Competing on Creativity: Placing Ontario’s Cities in a North American Context
Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, December 2002

Creative Cities: Structured Policy Dialogue Backgrounder (2004)
Neil Bradford, Canadian Policy Research Networks

6 Myths of Creativity by Bill Breen, Fast Company magazine (2004)

The Art of Development and the Development of Art: A Powerful Partnership – Business, Community and the Arts (2004)
Canadian Conference of the Arts and Community Economic Development Technical Assistance Program
Available on request from the Canadian Conference of the Arts, (613) 238-3561,

National Arts Policy Conference proceedings, Canadian Conference of the Arts (2003)

Beyond Anecdotal Evidence: The Spillover Effects of Investments in Cultural Facilities
Critique and Consolidation of Research on the Spillover Effects of Investments in Cultural Facilities
Toronto Artscape

See also Spillover Effects of Investments in Cultural Facilities, available for purchase from Ryerson University’s Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity, Research Report 2004-07

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