Creative Class

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"Market value in the knowledge economy is driven by creative energy in the workforce. In his groundbreaking 2002 bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class, prize-winning economist Dr. Richard Florida profiled the characteristics of creative knowledge workers, and introduced strategies for attracting and leading them successfully. With The Flight of the Creative Class, Florida addresses global competition and what countries and corporations must do to thrive in the knowledge economy." (


A Confusing Concept

Christophe Aguiton and Dominique Cardon:

“the notion of "creative class" could be extremely confusing. Firstly, it brings together social groups with very different lifestyles and socio-economic conditions. To describe a young person painting tags on the wall of her city and living on the minimum income and Bill Gates or a CEO of a successful software company as member of the same "Super Creative Core" does not make much sense. Secondly, the notion of "Creative class" tends to gloss over the hierarchies and inequalities inherent to this era of globalised capitalism. Saskia SASSEN, in her book (2001), described in the same way as Florida the related growth in the dominant cities, such as New York, London or Tokyo, of the well paid workers of the financial economy and the poor, precarious and generally immigrant workers in services such as restaurants, security and the maintenance of those cities. However, instead of describing the growth of a Creative Class in several cities only according to their level of tolerance and the quality of their educational systems, Sassen draws the picture of hierarchical archipelagos where one two or three cities are at the centre of the worldwide flow of financial capital, giving them a dominant place in the world economy. We could hypothesize that the growth of digital cooperative uses associated with new Web 2.0 services could create the same kind of inequalities, on the basis that a network structure always creates some new form of exclusion (BOLTANSKI & CHIAPELLO, 1999).”

Source: The strength of Weak Cooperation. Christophe Aguiton and Dominique Cardon. Communication & Strategies, No. 65, 1st Quarter 2007.

The Post-Meltdown Fading of the Creative Class

By Scott Timberg:

1. The Crisis

"For many computer programmers, corporate executives who oversee social media, and some others who fit the definition of the “creative class” — a term that dates back to the mid-’90s but was given currency early last decade by urbanist/historian Richard Florida — things are good. The creativity of video games is subsidized by government research grants; high tech is booming. This creative class was supposed to be the new engine of the United States economy, post-industrial age, and as the educated, laptop-wielding cohort grew, the U.S. was going to grow with it.

But for those who deal with ideas, culture and creativity at street level — the working- or middle-classes within the creative class — things are less cheery. Book editors, journalists, video store clerks, musicians, novelists without tenure — they’re among the many groups struggling through the dreary combination of economic slump and Internet reset. The creative class is melting, and the story is largely untold.

It’s happening at all levels, small and large. Record shops and independent bookstores close at a steady clip; newspapers and magazines announce new waves of layoffs. Tower Records crashed in 2006, costing 3,000 jobs. This summer’s bankruptcy of Borders Books — almost 700 stores closed, putting roughly 11,000 people out of work — is the most tangible and recent example. One of the last video rental shops in Los Angeles — Rocket Video — just announced that it will close at the end of the month.

On a grand scale, some 260,000 jobs have been lost in traditional publishing since 2007, according to U.S. News and World Report. In newspapers alone, the website has tracked some 40,000 job cuts since 2008.

Some of these employees are young people killing time behind a counter; it’s hard for them, but they will live to fight again. But education, talent and experience — criteria that help define Florida’s creative class, making these supposedly valued workers the equivalent of testosterone injections for cities — does not guarantee that a “knowledge worker” can make a real living these days.

“It’s sort of like job growth in Texas,” says Joe Donnelly, a former deputy editor at L.A. Weekly, laid off in 2008 and now pouring savings and the money he made from a home sale into a literary magazine. “Gov. Perry created thousands of jobs, but they’re all at McDonald’s. Now everyone has a chance to make 15 cents. People are just pecking, hunting, scratching the dirt for freelance work. Living week to week, month to month.”

Past groups punctured by economic and technological change have been woven into myth. Charles Dickens wrote sympathetically about Londoners struggling through the Industrial Revolution of 19th-century Britain. John Steinbeck brought Dust Bowl refugees to life; Woody Guthrie wrote songs about these and others with no home in this world anymore. One of his inheritors, Bruce Springsteen, did the same for the declining industrial economy.

But the human cost of this latest economic/technological shift has been ignored. Many of us, says Northern California writer Jaime O’Neill, are living in a depression. “It’s hard to make the word stick, however, because we haven’t developed the iconography yet, he writes in a recent essay titled “Where’s today’s Dorothea Lange.”

A fading creative class — experiencing real pain but less likely to end up in homeless shelters, at least so far, than the very poor — may not offer sufficient drama for novelists, songwriters or photographers.

But journalists themselves have also ignored the human story all around them. In fact, the media — businesses that have been decimated by the Internet and corporate consolidation — have been reticent at telling the tale of this erosion. Good newspapers offer responsible coverage of the mortgage meltdown and the political wars over taxes and the deficit. But it’s easier to find a story about a plucky worker who’s risen from layoff to an inspiring Plan B than it is the more typical stories: People who lose their livelihood, their homes, their marriages, their children’s schooling because of the hollowing-out of the creative class and the shredded social safety net. Meanwhile, luxury coverage of homes, fashions, watches and wine continue to be a big part of magazines and newspapers.

Optimists like Florida are undoubtedly right about something: This country doesn’t make things anymore and never will. What the United States produces now is culture and ideas. Trouble is, making a living doing this has never been harder."

2. The Non-Response to the crisis

"So as these people lose their jobs, where are they going? The book/record/video store clerk is not only a kind of low-paid curator, but these jobs have long served as an apprenticeship for artists such as Patti Smith, Quentin Tarantino, R.E.M.’s Peter Buck or Jonathan Lethem.

Donnelly, who co-edits the Los Angeles literary magazine Slake, has watched numerous friends leave writing, art and acting. “I’ve seen a lot of people go into marketing — or help companies who want to be ‘cool.’ What artists do now is help brands build an identity. They end up styling or set decorating. That’s where we’re at now.”

The hard times and frustration are not confined to writers: Eric Levin is a kind of creative class entrepreneur: He owns Aurora Coffee — two cafes in Atlanta that employ artists and musicians as baristas, and the Little Five Points record shop Criminal Records, which, after 20 years, has just announced that it will close. (There are local efforts underway to try to save it.) When asked if he knows anyone who’s hurting, he replies, “Everybody I know.” And he emphasizes that independent business people are in the same boat with writers and musicians.

“Main Street U.S.A. is suffering,” he says. “If you like big-box retailers –they’re winning. Corporations are winning.”

The arts — and indeed, narratives of all kind — can capture a time, a place and a culture, and the inner and outer lives of its people. “But the tale of our times,” O’Neill wrote in his piece on the silence of the new depression, “is mostly being told by our unwillingness to tell it.” (

Creatives follow the economy, not the way around

Frank Bures:

"The prob­lem is with the idea of the Cre­ative Class itself.

What was miss­ing was any actual proof that the pres­ence of artists, gays and les­bians or immi­grants was caus­ing eco­nomic growth.

Jamie Peck is a geog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor who has been one of the fore­most crit­ics of Richard Florida’s Cre­ative Class the­ory. He now teaches at the Uni­ver­sity of British Colum­bia in Van­cou­ver, but at the time Florida’s book was pub­lished in 2002, he was also liv­ing in Madi­son. “The rea­son I wrote about this,” Peck told me on the phone, “is because Madison’s mayor started to embrace it. I lived on the east side of town, prob­a­bly as near to this lifestyle as pos­si­ble, and it was bull­shit that this was actu­ally what was dri­ving Madison’s econ­omy. What was dri­ving Madi­son was pub­lic sec­tor spend­ing through the uni­ver­sity, not the dynamic Florida was describing.”

In his ini­tial cri­tique, Peck said The Rise of the Cre­ative Class was filled with “self-indulgent forms of ama­teur microso­ci­ol­ogy and crass cel­e­bra­tions of hip­ster embour­geoise­ment.” That’s another way of say­ing that Florida was just describ­ing the “hip­ster­i­za­tion” of wealthy cities and con­clud­ing that this was what was caus­ing those cities to be wealthy. As some crit­ics have pointed out, that’s a lit­tle like say­ing that the high num­ber of hot dog ven­dors in New York City is what’s caus­ing the pres­ence of so many invest­ment bankers. So if you want bank­ing, just sell hot dogs. “You can manip­u­late your argu­ments about cor­re­la­tion when things hap­pen in the same place,” says Peck.

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.

“They move to places where they can find jobs,” wrote author Sako Mus­terd, “and if they can­not find a job there, the only rea­son to move is for study or for per­sonal social net­work rea­sons, such as the pres­ence of friends, fam­ily, part­ners, or because they return to the place where they have been born or have grown up.” But even if they had been pour­ing into places because of “soft” fac­tors like cof­fee shops and art gal­leries, accord­ing to Ste­fan Krätke, author of a 2010 Ger­man study, it prob­a­bly wouldn’t have made any dif­fer­ence, eco­nom­i­cally. Krätke broke Florida’s Cre­ative Class (which includes accoun­tants, real­tors, bankers and politi­cians) into five sep­a­rate groups and found that only the “sci­en­tif­i­cally and tech­no­log­i­cally cre­ative” work­ers had an impact on regional GDP. Krätke wrote “that Florida’s con­cep­tion does not match the state of find­ings of regional inno­va­tion research and that his way of relat­ing tal­ent and tech­nol­ogy might be regarded as a remark­able exer­cise in simplification.”

Per­haps one of the most damn­ing stud­ies was in some ways the sim­plest. In 2009 Michele Hoy­man and Chris Far­icy pub­lished a study using Florida’s own data from 1990 to 2004, in which they tried to find a link between the pres­ence of the cre­ative class work­ers and any kind of eco­nomic growth. “The results were pretty strik­ing,” said Far­icy, who now teaches polit­i­cal sci­ence at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity. “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.”

I sent some ques­tions about all this to the media con­tact at Richard Florida’s con­sult­ing firm, the Cre­ative Class Group (which advises cities and com­pa­nies how they can move up in his rank­ings). To his credit, he sent back a 3000-word response. Unfor­tu­nately, his answers didn’t really shed any more light than his books. When I asked if he could show me a city that had had mea­sur­able eco­nomic growth as a result of an influx of cre­ative indi­vid­u­als, Florida said there was “wide con­sen­sus” that migra­tion of cre­ative indi­vid­u­als had taken place, and named some places like Wash­ing­ton DC, greater Boston, greater NY, and greater San Francisco.

But whether those places grew because cre­ative peo­ple came there, or cre­ative peo­ple came there because they grew is not clear. After that he pasted in an Op-ed from Michael Bloomberg, titled, “Cities Must Be Cool, Cre­ative and in Con­trol.” Of course, Mayor Bloomberg is enti­tled to his opin­ions. But more to the point, this felt like the same thing I’d been read­ing for a decade: List­ing suc­cess­ful cities with­out any proof that gays, bohemi­ans or techies were actu­ally mak­ing them suc­cess­ful. The best, and most con­crete, piece of evi­dence Florida offered was an unpub­lished study from 2001 in which author Robert Cush­ing said, “[The] cre­ative cap­i­tal model gen­er­ates equally impres­sive results as the human cap­i­tal model and per­haps bet­ter.” That’s fine, except that Hoy­man and Faricy’s study, which was pub­lished in the jour­nal Urban Affairs Review in 2009, tested for the same thing and found pre­cisely the oppo­site. There is one test in eco­nom­ics that is meant to set­tle the kind of ques­tions that Florida’s work raises, regard­ing hot dog ven­dors and invest­ment bankers. It’s called the Granger causal­ity test and it’s designed to dis­en­tan­gle pre­cisely what causes what. I asked Florida if he had done one of these to test his the­ory, but he said he was “not aware of any Granger causal­ity tests.”

But the test has, in fact, been done by Mel Gray, who teaches eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of St. Thomas, and the results cast doubt on the idea that a flour­ish­ing artis­tic envi­ron­ment will cause eco­nomic growth. “It’s impor­tant to get some evi­dence one way or another,” Gray told me. “I spent a sab­bat­i­cal in North Car­olina, and both Raleigh and Durham have estab­lished these Offices of Cre­ativ­ity, and they’re all doing this with­out a huge amount, if any, evi­dence that it makes that big a dif­fer­ence. We’d like to clear the air here, if we can. The test was really designed to see if we could fig­ure out what causes what. Was it growth that caused the arts, or the arts that caused the eco­nomic expan­sion?” Gray did the test with data from a hand­ful of metro areas, but the results were incon­clu­sive and didn’t show a clear effect one way or the other. So he decided to do it again with a big­ger dataset for a more robust con­clu­sion. This time he assem­bled data for fif­teen cities span­ning thirty seven years—from 1969 to 2006—and ran the num­bers again, a project which he just fin­ished this spring. “To my knowl­edge,” Gray says, “this is the only extended time series analy­sis that’s been car­ried out on this.” Over those thirty seven years, Gray found that spend­ing on the arts caused eco­nomic growth in four of the fif­teen metro areas: New York City, Atlanta, Dal­las, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In New York, the growth impact was short term, dis­si­pat­ing after four years. In Atlanta, it was longer term, appear­ing only after eight years. In both Dal­las and the Twin Cities, the effect was short and long term. In the other eleven cites, arts spend­ing had no clear effect on growth. “It really depends on poten­tial fac­tors unique to each city,” said Gray. “I’m tempted to acknowl­edge that we’ve been suc­cess­ful in the Twin Cities with our strong arts com­mu­nity. But I don’t think you can just recre­ate that by chang­ing bud­get allo­ca­tions in another city. There’s more to it than that. Fos­ter­ing the cre­ative envi­ron­ment may pay off. But there are so many other fac­tors that it’s not clear there is a guar­an­teed payoff.”

Today, Cre­ative Class doc­trine has become so deeply engrained in the cul­ture that few ques­tion it. Why, with­out any solid evi­dence, did a whole gen­er­a­tion of pol­icy mak­ers swal­low the cre­ative Kool-Aid so enthu­si­as­ti­cally? One rea­son is that when Florida’s first book came out, few experts both­ered debunk­ing it, because it didn’t seem worth debunk­ing. “In the aca­d­e­mic and urban plan­ning world,” says Peck, “peo­ple are slightly embar­rassed about the Florida stuff.” Most econ­o­mists and pub­lic pol­icy schol­ars just didn’t take it seriously.

This is partly because much of what Florida was describ­ing was already accounted for by a the­ory that had been well-known in eco­nomic cir­cles for decades, which says that the amount of college-educated peo­ple you have in an area is what dri­ves eco­nomic growth, not the num­ber of artists or immi­grants or gays, most of whom also hap­pen to be col­lege edu­cated. This is known as Human Cap­i­tal the­ory, men­tioned briefly above, and in Hoy­man and Faricy’s analy­sis, it cor­re­lated much more highly with eco­nomic growth than the num­ber of cre­ative class work­ers. “Human cap­i­tal beat the pants off cre­ative cap­i­tal,” Hoy­man said. “So it looks like growth is a human cap­i­tal phenomenon—if you’ve got a lot of edu­cated peo­ple. We’re in a knowl­edge econ­omy, where human cap­i­tal is worth a lot more than just show­ing up for work every day.” 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." (

More Information

Listen or watch: Richard Florida on the Creative Class