Reading Florida in Florida

A week or so ago I finished one of the books I brought along, The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited by Richard Florida. This is the follow up to his book The Rise of the Creative Class which I read 10 years ago. The original book was quite controversial and in this new edition Florida addresses that controversy. That makes this book even more readable than the first.

I think this is an important book for artists to read and I will probably make it a required text for my class.


The basic premise is that a new class (and if you don’t like the word “class” use “group” or something like that) has emerged that must be understood in order for the economy to advance and especially to understand how cities will thrive, or not. That class is the Creative Class. And artists are an essential element in this.

Florida says, “What I call the Super-Creative Core of the Creative Class includes scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers and architects, as well as the thought leadership of modern society: non-fiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts and other opinion makers.” (BF mine)

They key thing here, for this blog, is that Florida recognizes and includes artists as a necessary part of the economic picture. Art is not a frill or a luxury, but a necessary component of the climate of successful cities nowadays. Note that Florida does not come from the point of being an arts promoter a priori.

When I find myself in front of audiences primarily interested in arts, culture or diversity issues, I always begin with an apology: I am not a student of those subjects, I say, I only have a cursory understanding of them. The reason I came to arts, culture, and diversity issues (rather late in my career) is because I found them to be fundamental to the process of economic growth.

So the arts are fundamental, but just to be clear, Florida does not see them as the “keys” to economic development. Those are the “3T’s”: technology, talent, and tolerance. The future successful urban areas, as he sees it, will be strong in those areas. But one of the things that helps draw “talent” is a thriving arts community. He recommends extending “the definition of innovation beyond R&D to include investment in the arts, in culture and in every other form of creativity.” I think that’s because he sees “creativity” as holistic, so you can’t just pick and choose which form of creativity to foster.

He is advocating that we get realistic about what actually leads to economic health, warning about “cities that are trapped by their pasts.” Here’s an example:

At a time when genuine political will seems difficult to muster for virtually anything, city after city across the country can generate the political capital to underwrite hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in professional sports stadiums. The ostensible economic goal of these facilities is one to which they are sublimely irrelevant. Recent studies show that, far from producing wealth, stadiums actually reduce local incomes. Ponder for a moment, the opportunity costs of these facilities. Imagine what could have been accomplished if those hundreds of millions of dollars had been spent on something genuinely productive, like university research, or on more finely grained neighborhood improvements and lifestyle amenities that can actually attract and retain talented people. Not once during any of my focus groups and interviews did a member of the Creative Class mention professional sports teams as playing even a marginal role in their choice of where to live and work. (BF mine) (Note: I’m not a sports basher..GO BLAZERS! GO DUCKS!)

So this book makes the case for artists that they are important essential contributors, not just that “art is good for you” in some abstract feel good way, or that people who go to arts events spend money elsewhere on their night out. Florida and his team (see the website:; lotsa good little posts almost every day, scroll down) are deep in research. They back up their findings with data (which you can easily skim through if you aren’t interested in the details). Florida makes it clear that he believes that he is only reporting what the data shows, that this is what seems to be working, not that he was looking for a justification for emphasizing creativity. “We’ve…been able to identify…key Creative Class groups [that] add most to regional development. Three of these groups—technology, business professionals, and arts and cultural workers—add considerably to regional economic output and wages.” (BF mine)

In his Conclusion, Florida proposes the Creative Compact that would be “dedicated to the creatification of everyone.”  His research shows that the Creative Class is doing fine economically (The unemployment rate for the Creative Class from 1971-2009 never gets above 4% until 2008. The average is about 3%.), the Working Class is doing kind of OK, and the Service Class is woefully undervalued. The way to increase the value of all workers is to find and increase the creative aspects of what they do not just for their sake, but realistically for the health of the economy for all of us. To be clear, he is not trying to glorify a Creative elite, but to help us understand how important it is to find the creative capital in everyone.

The outline for this is:

–       Invest in Developing the Full Human Potential and Creative Capabilities of Every Single

        Human Being

–       Make Openness and Diversity and Inclusion a Central Part of the Economic Agenda

–       Build an Education System That Spurs, Not Squelches, Creativity

Florida mentions Ken Robinson, so here’s a recommended quick video:

–       Build a Social Safety Net for the Creative Economy

–       Strengthen Cities; Promote Density, Clustering, and Concentration

The details of the above list make a lot of sense to me. But I’m not going to go into those details here.

This is a book for art students so that they have a deep answer to the question, “You’re majoring in art??? What are you going to do with that?” Now they can say, “Be a meaningful contributor to the health of the economy.”

(“You’re majoring in art??? What are you going to do with that?” actually means, “Hey I know that there are people who have made successful lives in the arts, but you couldn’t possibly be one of them.”)

Also, I believe that artists (and everyone else) nowadays should have a good general education and this book is a comfortable intro to ideas having to do with economics.

Some miscellaneous details from the book that I want to mention but won’t fit into the above

“Long-term jobs and reasonably stable careers with firms are relatively recent phenomena, associated with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of modern unions and management.” [See Daniel Pink’s Free Agent Nation, available on Amazon.]

“The manufacturing jobs that pay best today look a lot more like knowledge work than traditional factory work.”

“Creative work cannot be regimented, like rote work in the old factory or office. Because a lot of it goes on in people’s heads, you literally cannot see it happening…” [See Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, available on Amazon. You might like this one, especially since he says, “The MFA is the new MBA.”]

“Even though immigrants make up just 12 percent of the US population, they generate more than 25 percent of its global patents and account for nearly one-half (47 percent) of its science and engineering workers with PhDs.”

“Whereas companies that get financial incentives—and sports teams for that matter—can pull up and leave at virtually a moment’s notice when even more attractive inducement materializes somewhere else, investments in broad amenities like urban parks last for generations while benefitting a broad swath of the population.”

“…roughly one-third of the estimated 20,000 homeless people in Santa Clara County (the heart of Silicon Valley) had full-time jobs.”

“…rich voters trend Republican, rich states trend Democratic.”


Here’s a good long (an hour or so) very entertaining recent talk by Florida which presents a lot of his ideas very well (sorry I don’t know how to embed this one):

There is an introduction lasting just over 20 minutes that you might want to fast forward through.







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