Many of mankind’s greatest achievements are products of the urban cauldron. That the density, heterogeneity and social environment of cities leads to more rapid innovation and idea sharing should not surprise many, but it’s worthwhile to examine and understand the mechanics of the relationship between cities and their cultural products.
Richard Florida’s Creative Class thesis has garnered much attention since he introduced it in 2002 with The Rise of the Creative Class. That book’s main point—cities that manage to attract members of the ‘creative class’ benefit economically and socially in comparison with cities that don’t—seems to dovetail nicely with the notion that cities are innovation hubs.
The relationship between the two ideas, however, may not be entirely harmonious. While the coffeehouses of early 20th century Vienna may have produced the likes of Arthur Schnitzler and Karl Kraus, those literary talents didn’t necessarily equate directly with Vienna’s economic vitality. Likewise, the music scenes that emerged from New York and Cleveland in the 1970’s came out of urban decay, and didn’t necessarily effect a change in those conditions.
The Creative Class, on the other hand, is expected to translate that same intelligence into economic activity. When civic leaders develop incentives to attract this demographic, their goal is generally not art for art’s sake—not that it should be. Municipal government should not be charged with giving a city an arts scene, but it’s reasonable to charge city leadership with creating economic activity. That, in short, is what the Creative Class program means for mayors and city councils.
So far, so good. City leadership can take a laissez-faire approach to the arts and a hands-on approach to the local economy. The trick, though, is not to stifle the former by attending to the latter. A city can attract plenty of creative types who will start companies and go out to eat four times a week, but the incentives employed to attract those groups might inadvertently extinguish the scenes that don’t pay and don’t spend. If it becomes too difficult to live cheaply in a city, the will to tinker or experiment on a minimal income might dwindle or vanish. The two aforementioned groups need not be mutually exclusive, however, and as planners and elected officials articulate their vision for a given city, they should remain conscious of what both creative classes have to offer and encourage each to exist in that city.
This article was published before on Where