In his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, economist Richard Florida described the emergence of a social group whose economic contribution was one of ideas. This “Creative Class” was populated not just by scientists, engineers, architects, and educators, but also designers, artists, musicians, and entertainers. Furthermore, this group has developed in cities (or metropolitan areas) the best of which have become cauldrons of technological innovation, attracting even more creative talent and creative enterprise to these places. Examples: San Jose (Silicon Valley); New York; Washington, DC; Seattle; Austin; Boston/Cambridge.
So far so good. But then Florida went on to assert that the metros that are most effective at attracting creative types are the ones most tolerant, inclusive, and open to diversity—which includes an acceptance of immigrants, “bohemians” (artists, writers, actors, musicians, dancers, etc.) and gays. He showed studies that correlated high bohemian and gay populations with strong high-tech industry concentrations, meaning that the former was a leading indicator of the latter. (In other words, a place open to bohemians and gays accepts all kinds of people—which is an attractor for the Creative Class, including the technologically creative.)
But reaction to Forida’s thesis—which was developed and expanded in his later books—has been near hysteria in some quarters.
The author has since been accused of (as he describes it) “attacking traditional family values, of promoting a gay agenda, and undermining the foundations of Judeo-Christian civilization.” Whoda' thunk? (And this is a fellow who describes himself as “politically independent,” “fiscally conservative,” “married,” and “straight.”) But, to be fair, his research has been questioned by some economists.
In The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited (2012) Florida returns to his theories of a decade earlier and cites statistical survey after survey in defense of his provocative theories. I’ll leave it to others to evaluate that defense. But here are some of my favorite passages:
Capitalism has expanded its reach to capture the talents of heretofore excluded groups of eccentrics and nonconformists. In so doing, it has pulled off yet another astonishing mutation: taking people who would once have been viewed as bizarre mavericks operating at the bohemian fringe and placing them at the very heart of the process of innovation and economic growth…The creative individual is no longer viewed as an iconoclast. He—or she—is the new mainstream.
What set Silicon Valley apart was not just Stanford University or the warm climate. It was open to and supportive of the creative, the different, and the downright weird…The same basic pattern can be found in almost every other high-growth technology region. Before these regions where a high-tech hotspots, they were places where creativity and eccentricity were accepted and celebrated. Boston has always had Cambridge. Seattle was the home of Jimi Hendrix and later Nirvana and Pearl Jam as well as Microsoft and Amazon...Before Silicon Valley erupted, New York had Christopher Street, SoHo, and the East Village. All these places were open, diverse, and culturally creative first. Then they became technologically creative, birthing high-tech firms and industries.
Music is a key part of what makes a place authentic. The phrase “audio identity" refers to the identifiable musical genre or sound associated with local bands, clubs, and so on that give a city a unique soundtrack…Music, in fact, plays a central role in the creation of identity in the formation of real communities…It is hard to think of a major high-tech region that doesn't have a distinct audio identity…It is for this reason that I like to tell city leaders the finding ways to help support a local music scene can be just as important as investing in high-tech business and far more effective than building a downtown mall.
No argument from here.
To read more about the role of cities in innovation, check here.