It has always seemed to me that Florida was and has been confusing cause and effect when talking about the “Creative Class” and its impact on cities and their economies
Florida’s idea was a nice one: Young, innovative people move to places that are open and hip and tolerant. They, in turn, generate economic innovation.
But the problem is, as the essay points out all too clearly, there’s a chicken and egg thing going on. Is your economy thriving because “creatives” are flocking to it or are “creatives flocking to it because it’s thriving?
What was missing, however, was any actual proof that the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants was causing economic growth, rather than economic growth causing the presence of artists, gays and lesbians or immigrants. Some more recent work has tried to get to the bottom of these questions, and the findings don’t bode well for Florida’s theory. In a four-year, $6 million study of thirteen cities across Europe called “Accommodating Creative Knowledge,” that was published in 2011, researchers found one of Florida’s central ideas—the migration of creative workers to places that are tolerant, open and diverse—was simply not happening.
But mayors and civic leaders bought into it. Here in Toronto we had a mayor practically prostrating himself in front of the Church of Florida. But there really was nothing behind any of this. Looking at a study by Michele Hoyman and Chris Faricy in 2009, we get to the point
“The measurement of the creative class that Florida uses in his book does not correlate with any known measure of economic growth and development. Basically, we were able to show that the emperor has no clothes.” Their study also questioned whether the migration of the creative class was happening. “Florida said that creative class presence—bohemians, gays, artists—will draw what we used to call yuppies in,” says Hoyman. “We did not find that.”
But we still want to believe because if we don’t we would have to admit the truth that it was just basically a one big hipster circle jerk.
In other words, if there was anything to the theory of the Creative Class, it was the package it came in. Florida just told us we were creative and valuable, and we wanted to believe it. He sold us to ourselves.
I know now that this was Florida’s true genius: He took our anxiety about place and turned it into a product. He found a way to capitalize on our nagging sense that there is always somewhere out there more creative, more fun, more diverse, more gay, and just plain better than the one where we happen to be.