New Urbanism

Creative class, revisted

(Internet photo)

(Internet photo)

Richard Florida came to speak at my college (Elmhurst College) a few weeks ago. Here’s my write-up on the lecture for our student newspaper, The Leader.


He’s been called a rockstar and an urban savior — as well as a charlatan and an elitist. One thing is clear — urban theorist Richard Florida elicits strong reactions to his ideas.

He shared some of those theories, and his ideas about what he called “the biggest economic shift in modern human history” at a Sept.19 lecture in Hammerschmidt Chapel.

Professor Florida is best known for his book “The Rise of the Creative Class.” A revised version of the book, originally released in 2002, has just been published.

His appearance was part theatrical performance and part classroom lecture, with a twist of urban evangelism.

Florida, clad in a sleek suit and black glasses, talked about the experiences that shaped his theories about the creative class, and his time as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the late 1980s.

He said that Pittsburgh, the former “Steel City,” was an example of a place that had nearly collapsed after de-industrialization. “Pittsburgh was almost as desolate as Detroit,” he explained.

But while that city built a whole new industry in high tech fields, the people and companies that sprouted there would move to other places.

Florida cited this as an inspiration for the idea that a job or career isn’t enough to keep a person or a company in a particular place. He cited the three T’s — “technology, talent and tolerance.”

One of Florida’s assertions is that people want to live in diverse, vibrant cities with arts and culture. He courted controversy by ranking cities on a “gay index,” to illustrate the point that cities welcoming of LGBT people often had stronger economies and more innovation.

Florida joked that he was criticized for pushing his “gay agenda” but said diversity was a key factor in his findings.

“To be creative, you must be enmeshed in a creative community.”

And according to Florida’s theory, being creative, and being part of the “creative class,” is a key to success. That class includes any “knowledge work” and captures a wide range of industries, from the STEM sciences to arts and culture.

Florida said while unemployment during the most recent recession hit double digits in many job sectors, the “creative class” held up well.

“Unemployment didn’t even hit 5 percent,” he said.

Florida told the audience that he believes the places we decide to live in are as important, if not more important, that the choices we make for our careers and for our life partners.

He wrote about this idea in his book, “Who’s Your City?”

“It’s not just quality of life,” Florida said. “It’s quality of place that was enabling people to thrive.”

Florida is considered a key figure in the New Urbanist movement, which highlights the benefits of living in cities and advocates for walkable, dense living areas.

But he’s not without his critics.

Joel Kotkin, a geography professor and author, has criticized Florida’s ideas, and believes that Florida’s suggestions for Rust Belt cities are superficial ideas; he called Florida’s creative class theory “pernicious.”

In 2012, writer Frank Bures penned “The Fall of the Creative Class,” an article for Minneapolis-based Thirty Two Magazine.

In the article, Bures explored the story of several people (including himself) who moved to a city (Madison, Wisc.) based on its ranking on Florida’s Creative Class index — and had less-than-stellar experiences.

Florida recognized his critics during the lecture, but had a surprising response.

“I love my critics,” he said. “I learn from my critics.”

An earlier post on Richard Florida’s work can be found here.