Reading & Writing

Miguel Witte - Book review, written 2009:
Richard Florida: The rise of the creative class

Amazon Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class

Suppose you had only the following two career choices: either being a mechanic with a longterm job and a good income guaranteed, or working as a hairdresser with a low income and no job stability, which one would you choose? This is the question Richard Florida puts to his students and the majority decided to choose the hairdresser job. Why? This is because working as a mechanic is boring and dirty, whereas as a hairdresser one works in a clean environment, every client is different, many are interesting and, most importantly, one can perform creatively.

Creativity is the keyword of the book, it puts creativity as the main category in order to explain economic growth and the origin of a new class, namely the Creative Class. Probably many professionals are unaware of it but they belong to this new class of creative professionals which is not restricted to designers or artists but includes all jobs where some kind of creative performing is required. Being a laywer, a doctor, a teacher, a manager, an engineer or working in high tech jobs frequently requieres developing new ways of thinking and new approaches when it comes to designing new products or services and these skilled professionals build the Creative Class, with now some 38.3 million workers, roughly 30 percent of the entire U.S. workforce. The Creative Class in the United States is larger than the traditional Working Class with only 33 million workers, whereas 55 million Americans work in the service industry.

What is the frame of mind of the people who belong to the Creative Class? Certainly money is not their priority for job satisfaction, there are other factors like working on challenging tasks and working with skilled colleagues. What do these people do in their free time? They donīt particularly like very much going to opera performances in the cityīs concert hall or going to the local museum in order to see modern or classical master paintings. They enjoy more an urban, dynamic and entertaining environment with street art, music venues, small theaters and galleries which are accessible day and night.

A programmer for example has been working for days on a project and decides to relax for a while on a given day at ten a clock in the morning or at two a clock in the afternoon. He just leaves his house and enjoys an urban center with lots of amenities, interesting people, recharching his batteries while sipping a coffee in a cool cafe, having a nice chat or getting inspired while attending a live jazz performance in a music pub. Going to the opera would have required booking a ticket for weeks in advance. How could he know that he would like to take some time off precisely this Thursday evening or that Tuesday morning?

It has been argued that in times of the internet place doesnīt matter, everybody can work from everywhere online over the internet. According to the Creative Class approach this is no longer true. Place is a key factor for creative professionals in order to decide where to work. Places and cities which are boring arenīt attractive, whereas a city which has lots to offer, where people from all walks of life come together are likely to be chosen as a place to live by a creative professional. That is the reason why companies which need to find talented and skilled people relocate or move to cities and areas with a diverse and inspiring environment.

The sociological shift towards a Creative Class and their preferences provides important hints to urban developers. Instead of investing in gigantic shopping malls, large MOMAs and huge sport stadiums they should focus on creating a diverse environment, restoring the historic buildings, investing in the local music and art scene and thus create a genuine and authentic place. Those are the places where creative professionals like to live and those are the places where companies will choose to establish their headquarters because there are the professionals they look for.

Tolerance is another keyword for cities and companies. Being creative in any way means being open to new and different ways of thinking and being. A tolerant and diverse city, or a company makes people of all kinds feel that they can fit in. The author of the book, Richard Florida, Professor of Economics at Carnegie Mellon University, has set up different indexes to proove his theory: the creativity index, the bohemian index, the gay index. Cities which score high on those indexes are performing well economically, in those places companies have the talent of creative workers living in likeable places which are tolerant ond open.

In order to attract creative people, generate innovation and stimulate economic growth a city must comply with three important factors: Technology, Talent and Tolerance. Creative people usually have a bachelors degree (=Talent) or above and are atracted to High Tech firms (=Technology) in cities which are diverse, multicultural and tolerant (=Tolerance). Richard Florida gives two examples for his theory. The positive example is Austin, where the city managed to attract high tech firms like IBM, Intel and Motorola. They invested as well in talent by largely expanding the university of Texas. Finally Austin has boosted up its local music scene, has created a Film and Music Festival. The city is known as a tolerant, open place where many different types of people can fit in. The negative example is Pittsburgh where the city has failed to make the necessary cultural and attitudinal changes.

It is the merit of this book to put the category of creativity in the center of economic progress. Creativity is the underlying driving force of economic progress. This viewpoint enables Florida to analyse and explain large part of modern society, lifestyle options, and succesful and unsuccesful urban economic development in a convincing way. Reading the book is like going through an accurate description of large part of modern society. It is enriching to read and proovess its ideas and thesises with lots of statistical and research data drawn from interviews, case studies and also from personal experiencies. It is a very insightful book that I enjoyed reading.

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