"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
Photo credit: / / Public domain

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 benefits."…

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 Mustang."

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 story last year at the New Republic.  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 people.

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 home 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 class" 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 cities," 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."

Florida came back today with a long response, also at Daily Beast, 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 rates.

Reason and Drew Carey offered our own dynamic libertarian urban renewal plan for Cleveland in 2010.

A Reason.TV double-feature, starting with Kotkin:

And now Richard Florida on Reason.TV:

NEXT: Sorry, GOP, but You Will Never Out-Care the Democrats

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  1. Fairfax County has a “creative class”? If bureaucrats and Program Assistants at NGOs are considered the “creative class” here, then I guess so.

    1. You must admit, they are creative about extracting $ from the rest of the country!

      1. Schwing!

        But your statement is true – Fairfax County is vital and thriving because of government, not some hippy dippy hipster artistes.

      2. You must admit, they are creative about extracting $ from the rest of the country!

        As a resident of Fairfax, I thank you all. Now get off my lawn!

    2. Prince George’s County does. Heck, Hyattsville even has an area called the arts district. Scoff at that, naysayers.

      Seriously, I keep hearing about the DC area’s creative class, but where is the fruit of all of that creativity? In areas from the arts scene to the number of patents relative to population, it’s conspicuous by its absence.

    3. You’re forgetting all the IT folks in the Dulles corridor busy cobbling together the surveillance state. They make a *lot* of money. A lot more than bureaucrats or nonprofit flunkies.

  2. “Kotkin hat-tips to what is trye in a “creative class” nodel”

    Editing FTW!

  3. “You can put mag wheels on a Gremlin,” comments one long-time Michigan observer. “but that doesn’t make it a Mustang.”

    “Lipstick on a pig” just got harshed.

  4. OT

    And these people vote. About the sequester getting sent to Portugal.

  5. Nothing good arises spontaneously. Without central planners, humanity would still be scratching in the dirt for subsistence.

    1. But would they be gamboling?

  6. Pet peeve moment. I work as a design engineer in the oil industry. At the end of the day, me and my team have created, from scratch, the drawings, plans, and procedures to build a 60 ton piece of equipment that didn’t exist beyond the inchoate need of a customer when we started.

    Fuck your boho hipster creative class bullshit. I create the world you hippies live in. Get back to me when your ‘creative class’ actually makes something that works.


    1. Your equipment whimpers and grovels before the majesty of artisanal mayonnaise.

      1. My equipment crushes artisanal mayonnaise with the pure unrefined power of volatile hydrocarbons. Fuck mayonnaise, we got oil.

        1. Fuck mayonnaise, we got oil.

          +1 bbl

          1. Hey, just for that, I’m not gonna send you any of my delicious goodies.

    2. That’s nothing compared to artisanal mayonnaise.

    3. Oil industry! Gross! We don’t want your kind of business.

      Green is the future.

      *backs dumptruck full of money into giant chasm & sets on fire*

      I love the money fires!

      1. Not burning money is racist!

    4. That is so Randian. Which, as always, I mean in a good way.

    5. Where do you work (geographically), and what are the uses for your product? Can I expect to see them in the California patch, or is it designed for somewhere else?

      I’m curious because I’ve not seen or heard of much innovation that’s applicable out here since they started hydrofracking 30+ years ago.

      1. The fracking of 30+ years ago, hell, of 5 years ago, is light-years behind what they do now, especially when you throw in horizontal drilling.

        The new thing in fracking is propane fracking, where they pump the formation full of propane to crack the rock, and then start extracting.

        And drilling a hole a mile deep, turning a corner, dilling another mile horizontally, and lining the whole thing with steel pipe, is just voodoo wizardry to me.

      2. I work in Houston, and I make subsea equipment. We’re going deeper and handling higher pressure. And one client I work for has a bug up their ass about a slight boo boo, so we’re adding more redundant systems.

        1. Oh nice. I suppose your clients are planning on doing their drilling far, far away from American territorial waters then?

    6. At the end of the day

      Speaking of pet peeves, that’s one of mine. It’s okay, I ordered an artisinal camomile tea and managed to soldier my way through.

      1. Gotta give the creative class credit – they didn’t create language like “at the end of the day.”

        Now let’s circle back and decide how to approach the problem going forward.

        1. They’re still striving to reach that level, for the most part.

    7. Yeah, but did you create that using free wi-fi at Starbucks, for the cost of a 2 block unicycle ride and a $4 latte over the course of 6 hours?

      I thought so.

  7. I create the world you hippies live in. Get back to me when your ‘creative class’ actually makes something that works.

    Reality is overrated, dude.

  8. I despise the term “creative class”, but whatever you call this demographic it’s obvious you can’t build a functional city around just the industries they happen to find acceptable. And that’s the problem — these sorts of people have spent the last 40 years aggressively regulating everyone else’s industries out of existence. The best thing rust-belt cities could do is tell them to stuff it up their ironic asses, invite those industries back with favorable policies, and stand by their guns when the EPA and the NLRB slither in. Maybe they’re not desperate enough yet.

  9. This Florida has been publishing a series in The Atlantic Cities about class divisions. In Philadelphia he for some reason focuses on the “hipstery” areas that are damn expensive within the City of Philadelphia rather than recognizing a divide near where I live: the border between the City of Philadelphia and Cheltenham Township, the latter of which is a peninsula of “creatives” into the “service” area of North Philadelphia.

    Racists of all varieties might assume that Cheltenham is a sundown town, but the demographics are about the same on each side of the line. What’s different is the Township makes a basic effort to not be completely moronic, while Philadelphia across the street gets its own FBI corruption hotline advertised on billboards.

    Hipsters and ‘cool’ aren’t the solution even if you accept Florida’s main premises; basic sensible government is.

  10. would they be gamboling?

    Why, yes. Yes, they would. Also, they would be emaciated children, covered in shit and mud.

  11. whatever you call this demographic it’s obvious you can’t build a functional city around just the industries they happen to find acceptable.

    No shit. The collectivist busybodies have no fucking clue where anything comes from, but a building full of people actually making things is icky and depressing.

    1. Things just mystically create themselves. We need a new urban social compact to ensure that they’re reallocated fairly.

  12. Brackets are now locked in. We ended up with 76 brackets, which is 18 more than last year! want to wish everybody good luck, except for Bingo who not only has Ohio State losing to Iona, but he has Michigan beating Duke in the final.

    What an asshole.

    1. I’ve got Indiana winning it all, which makes me feel dirty, but realistic (like when I eventually end up voting for Rand Paul).

    2. Seriously. I’m worried about VCU-Michigan, assuming we beat Akron. Because I think Auburn Hills is where our games are, which means it’s basically a home game for the ScUM.

      1. I have scUM winning that game and getting to the last 8 in one bracket before losing to Georgetown and VCU winning in the other before losing to KU, who goes to the final 4.

        Tough to pick VCU when they’re playing in Michigan’s back yard.

    3. Who is “Most Transparent Bracket Ever”? Thats my fave name.

      1. That’s Counterfly’s.

      2. And by the way, Kristen, your bracket is fucking awful. Didn’t your boyfriend mansplain basketball to you before making those picks?

        1. It’s no different than picking lottery numbers, except with lottery numbers I let the machine pick ’em instead of randomly clicking on teams.

          The boyfriend isn’t a sports fan. His bracket, if he deigned to do one, would be worse than mine.

  13. Oh, you guys didn’t know this was played out. figures.

    1. I saw what you did there ages ago.

  14. If you really want cities to become vibrant again, you gotta fix the crappy schools so families will move back. That simple.
    And by fix, I mean take behind the barn and shoot.

    1. Hat tips are so 2012.

  15. “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.”

    So three industries that receive substantial federal subsidies?

    1. Name me three industries that do not receive “substantial federal subsidies”.

      And the FedGov is as much a deterrent to oil and gas producers and farmers as they are a supplier of largesse. Manufacturing is such a broad term, I can’t really comment on it.

    2. What’s that subsidy for oil and gas again? Allowing them to depreciate their wasting assets?

      That’s not a subsidy. That’s accounting 101.

      1. Tony has no idea what that means.

        1. Sure he does. He just ignores it because it runs counter to his stream of bullshit.

  16. The problem is the creative class is the only one who thinks “urban growth” is a goal worth pursuing. Why not “rural growth” or “suburban growth” or “urban right-sizing”? Just maybe urban growth is actually the problem rather than a worthwhile goal.

    In any event, perhaps the problem with urban areas in general is their restriction of liberty. Certainly the answers can’t be found by talking to trust-funders.

    1. In any event, perhaps the problem with urban areas in general is their restriction of liberty. Certainly the answers can’t be found by talking to trust-funders.

      Hey! The money their dads gave to them to live on during their funemployment is resurrecting those cities in the most unsustainable way possible!

      1. It’s like you just wrote an advertisement for a rooftop beekeeping operation.

        1. We should be converting entire buildings into beehive operations.

          Sidewalk-crack grass and invasive weed honey is the sweetest honey there is!

  17. Would this be the same Richard Florida who ginned up bogus gun control “studies” that leftists like to cite as “proof” that gun control reduces crime?

  18. You can pretty much stop reading whenever you see the words “creative class.” The rest is bound to be a bunch of hooey.

  19. “Dick Florida” sounds like a rapper or porn actor. Or a crossover porn-rapper.

    1. There’s an actual rapper named Flo Rida.

      1. Maybe I subliminally remembered that guy. Does that make me a racist? Should I be wearing a white wristband?

        1. I’d say he’s forgettable–he’s worked with folks like Ke$ha, for example. Not exactly another Ice Cube.

          1. Oh, and I know very little about rap, so don’t come back with all kinds of stuff I’ve never heard.

            1. Don’t orry, I won’t.

              Rap died with Tupac.

          2. I’d describe him much more as a pop artist than a rapper.

      2. When I was in college the guy with the apartment next door was a reclusive kid who most nights could be heard on MSN messenger with the ‘new message’ sound turned up so loud you could hear it through the wall.

        But once a month, he would hold big parties with a bunch of people in formal clothes and play Flo Rida’s ‘This Is My Jam’ over and over and over again so loud you could hear it in your anus.

        I fucking hated that kid.

  20. Anything less than a 100% tax on carbon energy is a subsidy.

    But electricity and gasoline should be free to the end user. Because FAIRNESS.

  21. I’ll repeat what I said in the 24/7 post:

    These guys are right that this is a failure, but it has nothing to do with what sort of people they’re giving money to. It has EVERYTHING to do with who’s doing the giving, and how. Government simply does not have the information necessary to allocate money efficiently. It will never be able to figure out who the most productive people, because the information necessary is in the heads of the myriad people they took the money from.

    I’ll add that neither Kotkin nor Florida understand what they’re talking about, all they can see is the surface of the issue, which only shows them what they want to see.

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