The series of books by Professor Richard Florida about the allure of creative cities to creative types is very thought provoking (I own and enjoy all of them) and this interview with him from Fast Company is also.
“What was the impetus for you to write The Rise of the Creative Class?
“I’d been a professor and been interested in cities all my life. Since I was a little boy growing up in New Jersey, watching Newark decline. I saw the racial riots–they really troubled me. I was interested in why this city where my dad worked in a factory; the factory closed; the neighborhood we lived in went up in flames; there were tanks, armor vehicles on the street and the National Guard. I think that had a big impact on me.
“When I was looking at college I gravitated toward urban planning and cities. And I worked in this field as a pretty conventional urban planner: economic development, understanding why cities grow, looking at investment flows, business location decisions, the use of tax incentives to move companies. About this time I began to see a shift, not only in the landscape of business, but in what people want in their cities.
“I was talking to my students at Carnegie Mellon. And they kept telling me, “It’s not just that we’re picking a job; we’re picking a place to live.” It became clear to me that the whole field of economic development and urban planning had tilted away from reality. I was seeing these trends happening and I said, “I have to write this book.” What people want from a city and what is driving a city economy is very different than what I had learned. I wrote it because I was trying to talk honestly and candidly about these changes I was seeing in society, that people were telling me about, that I was seeing in the data. It didn’t seem like my field was really up to talking about it.
“Why do you think the book was so successful and resonated with the business world?
“I was surprised and what people told me afterward was, “I read the book and it sort of explained me and explained my city.” So I think it touched people in a very personal way–that’s very odd for me, because I am writing as an academic: looking at the trends, using data, and the book is dense, filled with tables and charts. People also resonated with it because it helped them explain, not only their own personal lives, but the challenges their cities were facing.
“Now the environment is so much better. But back then many cities were much more constipated, they didn’t reach out to artists, they were not really welcome to ethnically diverse groups of people or the gay and lesbian population. And those people really felt their cities didn’t really recognize their talents and capabilities and they were kind of an invisible Leadership in their cities. They were building business, they were creating companies, they were building nonprofits, and they were trying to making their neighborhoods better. One man said, “As artists and creative people, what you did is give us a seat at the table.”
“What does it mean to be part of the creative class today?
“I really believe we have to put the word Class back on the table. I really believe the rise of a class that works with its mind and its creativity provides a lot of power to understand the social changes and social challenges we are going through. I offer this as a lens through which to not only view the potential growth of our economy, but the potential divide. And what really worries me is that the divides I pointed to in Rise of the Creative Class and the divides I pointed to as potentially occurring have become much more significant. And those divides are fundamentally class divides in our society–I wrote about them in subsequent books, such as Flight of the Creative Class.”