Creative Class Act

Richard Florida knows exactly what's wrong with Phoenix

As demonstrated by her various projects in the community, one thing Dach understands about the desires of the Creative Class is that it's not enough simply to have a good job. You need "Quality of Place."

Florida's book describes how the whole picture needs to include an attractive job market, since creative folks don't stay with one company forever; interesting scenes for an eclectic lifestyle; funky hangouts like bookstores and cafes for social interaction; diversity of every kind, which signifies that a place is exciting and tolerant; authenticity, which encompasses historic buildings, cool neighborhoods, and great local music; and an identity, because people want to be proud of saying they live in a certain city.

In other places around the country, from Cincinnati to Albuquerque, Rise of the Creative Classhas sparked public conversations about how Florida's ideas can be applied to each city's individual set of strengths and weaknesses. Earlier this year, 100 representatives of the Creative Class, including Florida and Mary Jo Waits, got together to draft the Memphis Manifesto, "the definitive blueprint for communities competing for creatives and seeking to retain their own." And in Tampa, Florida, the mayor even appointed a manager of creative industries to oversee economic development and culture.

Dach thinks Phoenix has a lot of potential, but she points to north Scottsdale as an example of how local planners are still taking an old-fashioned approach. The city of Scottsdale is "giving huge grants to Lowe's, The Great Indoors, Starbucks -- and that's going to be the death of a community. It was the death of Mill [Avenue in Tempe]. Why would you want to go to a Gap on Mill when you could go to an air-conditioned mall right near your home?"

Local business owners are some of the most creative people around, says Dach, because their survival depends on it. These are the people who can give the city its character. And these are the people whom she says the city should be helping. "If Phoenix [leaders] could get behind saying, I'm not going to give $2 million to The Great Indoors. I'm going to give $2 million to 10 local independent businesses,' what a great city this would be."


A big reason Florida has caused such a stir in cities around the country is because of all the rankings in his book. After all, nobody wants to get a bad report card.

His Creative Index measures an area's creative strength and potential, and is determined by a mix of factors: the percentage of Creative Class members in a city's work force, the High-Tech Index, the Innovation Index and the Diversity Index. With a score of 909, Phoenix ranked 19th among major U.S. regions, and 22nd overall.

The High-Tech Index is a pretty straightforward measure of the concentration and size of a region's tech economy; Phoenix ranked eighth. But it also came in 46th on the Innovation Index, which measures the number of patents per capita.

Most controversial is the Diversity Index, also dubbed the Gay Index, which measures the concentration of gays in a region. Florida argues that the Creative Class sees a community with a sizable gay population as a diverse, tolerant place, and therefore a desirable place to live -- the kind of place that would inspire creativity. Phoenix ranked 21st.

ASU's Mary Jo Waits says that when Florida's book came out, the Gay Index got a lot of skeptical reactions because it was misinterpreted. "People took it out of context. He had to tell them to actually read the book," she says.

Now, says Waits, "Most of the detractors of Florida are really the Midwesterners who cringe when he talks about how creative communities have a large proportion of the gay population."

Florida also measured the number of artists, musicians, dancers, photographers and actors in cities with his Bohemian Index, and found that it predicts high-tech industry concentration as well as population and employment growth. Phoenix is ranked 23rd among the top 49 regions.

"Richard's book has assigned a new value to some old concepts," says Carol Colletta, host and producer of the "Smart City" radio show and, earlier this year, along with Florida and Waits, one of the organizers of the Memphis Manifesto, the first official national gathering of the Creative Class.

"The popularity of his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, and his appeal as a speaker have moved civic and political leaders to reconsider their decisions in light of a new set of criteria. They are now asking, How will this promote diversity? Will this appeal to young people? Will this magnify what is authentic about our city?' Richard has put these issues on the agenda of America's cities, and I applaud him for it. Anyone who cares about cities should," Colletta says.

But now that the ideas are out there, some people think it's time to take a deeper look at what can be done to put them into play.

"The challenge for cities is to go beyond head nodding' to the professor's words and get to the substance of what it really means," says Colletta. "This is the dirty work on cities, the grind-it-out stuff that can take years to achieve. All of us who have worked on changing a civic mindset and bringing a different future into reality know how frustrating the work can be. It seems like it's one step forward, and two steps back. But when you begin to see results, it's all worth it."

E-mail michele.laudig@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8497.

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