Sustainability of Richard Florida’s Creative Class and the “saviour demographic” again

Kat Von D with her tattoos covered by a temporary tattoo concealer by Sephora

I just read a piece by Frank Bures that outlines all the reasons that Richard Florida is just plain wrong about his ideas of the profitability that comes with creating a “Creative Class” heaven of a city.  I’d posted a couple of blogs about Portland in relation to Florida’s ideas in the past but neither of those mentioned the research that Bures’ piece brings up showing how wrong Florida’s idea are.

A few select quotes from the piece:

What was miss­ing, how­ever, was any actual proof that the pres­ence of artists, gays and les­bians or immi­grants was caus­ing eco­nomic growth, rather than eco­nomic growth caus­ing the pres­ence of artists, gays and les­bians or immi­grants. Some more recent work has tried to get to the bot­tom of these ques­tions, and the find­ings don’t bode well for Florida’s the­ory. In a four-year, $6 mil­lion study of thir­teen cities across Europe called “Accom­mo­dat­ing Cre­ative Knowl­edge,” that was pub­lished in 2011, researchers found one of Florida’s cen­tral ideas—the migra­tion of cre­ative work­ers to places that are tol­er­ant, open and diverse—was sim­ply not happening.


Per­haps one of the most damn­ing stud­ies was in some ways the sim­plest. In 2009 Michele Hoy­man and Chris Far­icy pub­lished a study using Florida’s own data from 1990 to 2004, in which they tried to find a link between the pres­ence of the cre­ative class work­ers and any kind of eco­nomic  growth. “The results were pretty strik­ing,” said Far­icy, who now teaches polit­i­cal sci­ence at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­sity. “The mea­sure­ment of the cre­ative class that Florida uses in his book does not cor­re­late with any known mea­sure of eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment. Basi­cally, we were able to show that the emperor has no clothes.” Their study also ques­tioned whether the migra­tion of the cre­ative class was hap­pen­ing. “Florida said that cre­ative class presence—bohemians, gays, artists—will draw what we used to call yup­pies in,” says Hoy­man. “We did not find that.”

Mehndi (temporary tattoo) design in use for centuries by South Asians

and especially:

I asked Florida if he had done one of these to test his the­ory, but he said he was “not aware of any Granger causal­ity tests.”

But the test has, in fact, been done by Mel Gray, who teaches eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of St. Thomas, and the results cast doubt on the idea that a flour­ish­ing artis­tic envi­ron­ment will cause eco­nomic growth. “It’s impor­tant to get some evi­dence one way or another,” Gray told me. “I spent a sab­bat­i­cal in North Car­olina, and both Raleigh and Durham have estab­lished these Offices of Cre­ativ­ity, and they’re all doing this with­out a huge amount, if any, evi­dence that it makes that big a dif­fer­ence. We’d like to clear the air here, if we can. The test was really designed to see if we could fig­ure out what causes what. Was it growth that caused the arts, or the arts that caused the eco­nomic expan­sion?” Gray did the test with data from a hand­ful of metro areas, but the results were incon­clu­sive and didn’t show a clear effect one way or the other. So he decided to do it again with a big­ger dataset for a more robust con­clu­sion. This time he assem­bled data for fif­teen cities span­ning thirty seven years—from 1969 to 2006—and ran the num­bers again, a project which he just fin­ished this spring. “To my knowl­edge,” Gray says, “this is the only extended time series analy­sis that’s been car­ried out on this.” Over those thirty seven years, Gray found that spend­ing on the arts caused eco­nomic growth in four of the fif­teen metro areas: New York City, Atlanta, Dal­las, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. In New York, the growth impact was short term, dis­si­pat­ing after four years. In Atlanta, it was longer term, appear­ing only after eight years. In both Dal­las and the Twin Cities, the effect was short and long term. In the other eleven cites, arts spend­ing had no clear effect on growth. “It really depends on poten­tial fac­tors unique to each city,” said Gray. “I’m tempted to acknowl­edge that we’ve been suc­cess­ful in the Twin Cities with our strong arts com­mu­nity. But I don’t think you can just recre­ate that by chang­ing bud­get allo­ca­tions in another city. There’s more to it than that. Fos­ter­ing the cre­ative envi­ron­ment may pay off. But there are so many other fac­tors that it’s not clear there is a guar­an­teed payoff.”

Again, as part of the theme for my post about Sports economics and the “savior demographic” it seems that Florida is giving far too much credit for a phenomenon which has no causative connection with profitability.  Other critiques of Florida’s work may be found in my Portland is where young people go to retire: The Curse of the Creative Class post.

The changing culture, or rather, the ability of the changing culture to effect economic change seems to have been greatly exaggerated.  With the increased purchasing power of the ‘older’ demographics, and given the fact that filling concert halls (or sports stadiums) will never bring enough ticket revenue to cover operating expenses, this obsession with youth culture could very well bankrupt larger performance oriented organizations.


3 thoughts on “Sustainability of Richard Florida’s Creative Class and the “saviour demographic” again

    1. Thanks for asking–if you’ve noticed the past three blogs posted by Greg Sandow he’s posted an image of people with tattoos that he’d taken as some sort of commentary about the “changing” culture (mostly as related to younger generations). These are simply my response to his usage of these images as a unidimensional signifier of how culture has changed. I think it’s ironic that a product line has emerged specifically to conceal tattoos in the Von D example and that one of the immigrant populations with significant buying power (as an average) is a group (South Asians) which have as a part of its cultural and religious heritage used temporary tattoos to signify specific religious or cultural events. I was almost tempted to use an image of a tattoo sported by a holocaust internment camp survivor to highlight the very negative connotations that some US populations have to tattooing but thought better of it!


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