One of the striking cultural shifts brought about by the Creative Class is a blending of work and leisure. Cities contribute to both. Regarding work, cities boost people’s creativity. They run into more people and different kinds of people than if they were in rural areas. They are constantly seeing new ideas and products coming from competitors. Within their own circles, they can contribute to others projects while also building on what others have done or are working on. At some level, there is a significant amount of serendipity involved in the process – you never know what exact situation, conversation, or idea will spark a burst of creative energy and innovation.
At the same time, cities provide many outlets for leisure. Excellent cuisine, museums, music venues, parks, club associations, bars, and much more abound in cities. The bigger and more diverse a city, the more abundant these amenities. This means that cities can cater to a wide variety of people and interests in a way that small towns in Kansas or Arkansas or Maine cannot.
Florida makes an important point about street life and night life – and how cities cannot attract creative folks simply by funding big ticket items like a symphony, art museum, or stadium. Many creative people don’t work on traditional 9 – 5 schedules. They might start their day in the late morning, go to the gym for lunch, start working in the late afternoon, break for dinner, and then work at a feverish pitch until 10 or 11 at night. Then they want to go out and do something fun. Not many symphonies or plays are operating between 11 PM and 3 AM.
But besides the varied and unpredictable (and often late night) schedule of creative folks, another reason they are less drawn to a symphony or opera concert is because of the time commitment involved. Even creative people don’t want to spend their entire evening going to a multi-hour symphony concert or opera performance every night of the week. While these big cultural amenities are nice, they are not anyone’s primary go-to recreation. Many people choose TV and Netflix as their major leisure outlet, and creative people certainly do as well. But creative people are far more likely to want to participate in cultural activities, not simply watch them passively.
They want to mix it up with the local jazz or blues musicians at the bar. They want to talk with the local artist or street vendor or coffee shop owner. They want to be able to stop in at one place and be able to stay for five minutes or five hours depending on what they find there. And, like the city itself, a good street scene is full of diversity and stimulation. You see many kinds of people and hear many different ideas. Creative people want easy access to this so they can participate on their own schedule and move easily back to work as inspiration or opportunity strike. You can find things happening at one or two or three in the morning in NYC or LA or Austin. You can’t in most other places, even in large suburbs.
Creative work is different from earlier kinds of blue collar work. In the past, large manufacturing firms would seek out places to set up shop with strong geographic features like access to waterways, access to resources, and relatively low cost of land. They would then draw or recruit people to come to work in their factories or in their office parks. Many city and town officials work off of this model and try to attract large employers to their area to revitalize their economy. Florida argues that this is a mistake and fails to understand how the economy is changing and where it is heading.
Increasingly large employers move to places full of talent and human capital, not vice versa. City councils make grave errors when they try to boost their area by waving tax breaks or subsidies in front of large corporations to get them to establish new operations in their town. Not only are these arrangements almost always a bad deal (as in really expensive job creation programs), but they don’t usually contribute to long-term economic development or vibrancy. In fact, they can make the economy of a city or region more fragile by tying so much of its well-being to a single large employer. An employer who is subject to market forces and could easily downsize or relocate as market conditions change.
In fact, this was exactly the problem rust belt cities faced. Detroit became a really big company town for auto manufacturers. Though it was successful and wealthy in the heyday of Ford and General Motors, the city’s economy was not diversified or dynamic. There was very little Creative Class culture there. As a result, the city was unable to adapt to changing economic circumstances (and downright terrible governance made things even worse). Detroit is an extreme example, but there are many other similar stories on smaller scales across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Missouri.
Keep in mind the distinction between suburbs that are connected with a major metro area and suburbs that are disconnected from a major metro area. Although Florida seems to think that most of the “super creative core” lives in the denser parts of major urban areas, he acknowledges that huge numbers of creative people prefer and live in suburbs around the urban parts of cities. Florida is not anti-suburbs - they have an important role to play in the broader life of large metropolitan areas. What’s important, though, is making sure suburbs are well integrated with cities. If they aren’t, you risk stagnation of city centers like Detroit or stagnation in the suburbs which are seeing increasing rates of crime and poverty across the U. S.
The major question community leaders should answer when seeking to revitalize or improve their local economy is, “how do we nurture, attract, tap into, and reward creativity and creative people?” This is the question Florida says modern society needs to come to grips with in order to encourage economic growth and to address issues of poverty, stagnation, and decline. I explore the opportunities and challenges of answering this question in my third essay about The Rise of the Creative Class.