The Rise of the Creative Class

and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life

Richard Florida

June 2002, 350 pages, Basic Books, 387 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10016-8810, Creative Class.

Richard Florida's new book, The Rise of the Creative Class, examines many popular topics and trends under the umbrella of a new economic class that defines its members by their creativity and ability to think. This "creative class" includes not only artists, engineers, and architects, but also lawyers, teachers and others who are increasingly called on to make connections between disparate pieces of information and create new ideas rather than follow strictly-defined procedures. Florida argues that this influential group of people is dramatically changing our workplace, our leisure activities, and what we expect from our communities.

Florida, the Heinz Professor of Regional Management at Carnegie Mellon University, does not write in a detached or academic manner. Although well documented, the tone of the book is informal and conversational. He looks at the influence this new class is having on the work place in shaping dress codes, expanding flexible schedules, and exploding traditional career paths. Using colorful anecdotes and case studies, Florida explains all of these trends as evidence of the growing power of the worker who can contribute more than manual or menial labor.

As far as that goes, there's nothing new there. Shifts in patterns of work life have been well chronicled in the past decade, although it might be news to some that we're not working more hours now. It just feels like we are because of all the multi-tasking inherent in creative jobs and their concomitant lifestyles. Florida looks beyond the work environment and sees other trends attributable to the demands of this particular type of consumer. He describes their demand for a more "experiential" life — one that is more interactive, more engaging, more involved.

Florida describes members of the creative class as people who don't want to watch, they want to do — and they are often willing to spend a good deal of money in their pursuit of satisfying experiences. Florida accounts for at least some of the new emphasis on experience as a shift from a “work now/play later when I retire” mindset to a merging of work and life that no longer makes a distinction between the two. As a result, members of the creative class are as demanding of their leisure activities as they are of their professional lives. While Florida readily admits that the data he found on leisure activities was not comprehensive, his findings are provocative for arts practitioners trying to understand current and future audience patterns.

The section of the book that is receiving the most attention is his ranking of cities by several conventional and a few unconventional factors. Florida predicts bright futures for the San Francisco Bay area, Austin, and Seattle but sees little hope for Detroit and his home of Pittsburgh. His “Creativity Index” is an amalgamation of indices that can affect a city's ranking — creative class, technology, innovation, and diversity. But Florida also looked at a “gay index” and a “bohemian index” and found that they correlated very strongly with the technology index. Looking at his analysis, one could easily come to the conclusion, as the Washington Monthly did, that cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race. And his index certainly suggests some interesting new itineraries for corporate representatives scouting new headquarter locations. Florida doesn't go that far, but he does say that the most successful places are the ones that combine “all three T's” — tolerance, talent, and technology.

The book is extremely relevant to those of us who work in the arts because Florida forcefully makes an argument that many of us have pondered privately but never articulated so clearly: Creative people seek out other creative people and are inspired by each other. An environment that nurtures its artists and cultural organizations and that maintains a vibrant and authentic “street culture” is more appealing to a creative worker than all the neat subdivisions, “big box” retailers, corporate tax incentives, and traffic improvements normally used to lure industry. He writes that “the bottom line is that cities need a people climate even more than they need a business climate. This means supporting creativity across the board — in all its various facets and dimensions — and building a community that is attractive to creative people, not just high tech companies.” Perhaps more than the standard economic impact arguments, this argument has tremendous implications for arts advocates in their ongoing discussions with public officials and regional planners.

Kate Cochran, Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley