The Creativity Fix
Creativity is the new black. An increasingly fashionable
urban-development script has it that an historically distinctive creative
economy powered by raw human talent, as cool as it is competitive is
displacing sclerotic, organization-era capitalism. The prime movers in this new
new economy are members of the so-called Creative Class, a mobile elite whose
finicky lifestyle preferences increasingly shape the geographies of economic
growth. We are told that cities like corporations have become embroiled
in an endless war for talent, as flows of creative individuals have
become the fundamental vectors of innovation-rich growth. And lo, there is man
in black at the centre of this burgeoning creativity fad Richard Florida,
who makes frequent recourse to sartorial signifiers in his best-selling primers
on the creative economy. As an architect and popularizer of the creative class
thesis, Florida has been feted around the world as a cool-cities guru. His germinal
texts on the creativity thesis serve, simultaneously, as cliff notes for Creative
Economics 101, as how-to manuals for anxious city leaders and opportunistic policymakers,
and as lifestyle guides for the rising class of creatives.1 While Floridas
catchy notions concerning the creative city and its favoured inhabitants have
certainly benefited from some savvy promotion, their evident allure and alleged
salience have little to do with the intrinsic explanatory power of the model
of creative growth my theory2 or indeed the inventiveness
of the associated marketing push. Rather, the creative-cities thesis has travelled
so far so fast because as a seductive urban development script-cum-vision,
complete with prescriptively defined policy practices and positions it
has been artfully crafted for todays neoliberalized political-economic
The creativity script encodes an engaging economic imaginary, based
on a set of principles that combine cultural libertarianism and contemporary
urban-design motifs with neoliberal economic imperatives. Undeniably, there are
liberal and even progressive themes running through the creativity script notably,
its explicit embrace of social diversity, arts, and culture, together with its
articulation of a positive economic role for (central) cities. But these pinkish
elements are folded into a development vision that is profoundly market orientated
(creative cities, assets, and actors, always in competition) and individualistic
(creative subjects as hedonistic free agents). So while the creativity thesis
has generated attention, and controversy in some conservative circles, for highlighting
the positive contribution of gays and lesbians to the life of cities, here these
contributions are ultimately valued for their economic functionality, or as mere
indicators of a favourable competitive climate. Likewise, art and culture are
discursively commodified, as productive assets and positive externalities of
creative capitalism, while streetlife and authenticity are also located within
the circuits of (accelerating) interurban competition. For all its social-liberal
compensations, the creativity script works with grain of the contemporary realpolitik.
It offers a feel-good but fiscally undemanding development vision, consistent
with a post-entitlement, intensively competitive urban realm. It facilitates
revamped forms of civic boosterism (flogging cultural assets), alongside the
gratification of middle-class consumption desires and the lubrication both of
flexible labour markets and gentrifying housing markets. The creativity script
also subtly relegitimizes regressive social redistributions within the city:
the designated overclass of creatives are held to have earned their superior
position in the creative city, by virtue of raw talent and creative capital,
validated through the market, and it is they who must be catered to in what amounts
to a post-progressive urban policy. The lumpen classes of service and manual
workers, on the other hand, are so positioned in the new socioeconomic structure
by virtue of their creative deficits, and they play little or no positive role
in Floridas account of the creative economy. They must be content with
lectures on creative bootstrapping and in lieu of their own creative awakening the
benefit of downward-trickling positive externalities like the opportunity to
wait tables for the creative bohemians.
The discourses and practices of creative-cities policymaking are barely disruptive
of the prevailing order of neoliberal urbanism, based inter alia on polarizing
labour and housing markets, property- and market-led development, retrenched
public services and social programming, and accelerating intercity competition
for jobs, investment, and assets.3 The creative cities thesis represents a soft policy
fix for this neoliberal urban conjuncture, making the case for modest and discretionary
public spending on creative assets, while raising a favoured bundle of middle-class
lifestyles based on self-indulgent forms of overwork, expressive play,
and conspicuous consumption to the status of an urban-development objective.
Urban leaders, a key audience for the creativity shtick, are likewise urged to
do what it takes to transform their cities into talent magnets, having
been made acutely aware of the risk if they do not adequately tend to
the needs of the young and restless that they will be demoted
to the rust belt of the shiny, creative economy. Discursively downloading both
risk and responsibility, the creative-city concept is predicated on, presumes
and (re)produces the dominant market order. So is revealed the funky side of
neoliberal urban-development politics.
Creative subjects are celebrated for their hypermobility and for their strictly
circumscribed, individualistic commitments to place. These economic hipsters
thrive in buzzing 24/7 neighbourhoods, where they can satisfy their craving for heart-throbbingly
real experiences,4 but at the drop of a hat may chose to relocate to an
even more happening place. It follows that anything short of public pandering
to the needs and desires of the restless creatives is practically guaranteed
to secure their automatic flight.5 The creativity discourse amounts
to a paean to the international talent market and its favoured agents, to which
cities and regions must be performatively deferential. In this retread of the
orthodox globalization script, the argument for decisive local action featherbedding
the creative supply side is presented as no less than a new urban imperative.
Cities must attract the new creative class with hip neighbourhoods,
an arts scene and a gay-friendly atmosphere or theyll go the way
of Detroit.6 Which way, then, to the creative city?
The creativity catechism...
Routinely overstated and hyperbolic, Floridas essential argument is that
human creativity has become the engine of twenty-first century economic development,
such that the competitiveness of nations and cities is increasingly rooted in
the capacity to attract, retain, and nurture talented individuals the
newly dominant factor of production. For Florida, human creativity is the defining
feature of economic life [...] [It] has come to be valued and systems
have evolved to encourage and harness it because new technologies, new
industries, new wealth and all other good economic things flow from it.7
What this account lacks in causal analysis it makes up for in alliterative chutzpah.
Success in the new, creative economy is down to three Ts technology,
talent, and tolerance. Technological capacity is a precondition for creative
growth, but on its own is insufficient. The gist, though, is that cities with
a shot at the creative big time must have a strong cluster of high-tech companies
and a good university. The lifeblood of the system is the flow of talented individuals,
the second T, this restless-but-critical factor of production having become the
carrier of creative potential. Productive capacity is therefore located not in
institutional matrices or production systems, but in the heads and hearts of
creative individuals. Yet a citys development strategies will add up to
naught in the absence of the third T, tolerance, where open, dynamic, and heterodox
local cultures represent the supply-side foundations upon which creative meccas
are built. As Florida informed the readers of Salon magazine:
[I]n every economic measure, Detroit and Pittsburgh should be trouncing
Austin. These are places that had probably two of the greatest technological
powerhouses of their time they were the Silicon Valleys of their day.
Detroit in automotive, Pittsburgh in steel and chemicals [...] What happened,
however, was that both places fell victim to institutional and cultural sclerosis.
They got trapped in the organizational age; they thought we really live in a
patriarchal, white, corporate society and that the key to success was to strap
on your tie, go to work 9 to 5, and behave yourself. There was no room for people
with new ideas ... [In contrast, what] Austin did was they really hustled. In
the 1980s and 1990s they said, We want to grab some of these high-tech
companies, so they did that. [Then] they said, Were going to
make this a fun place to live [...] They created a lifestyle mentality,
where Pittsburgh and Detroit were still trapped in that Protestant-ethic/bohemian-ethic
split, where people were saying, You cant have fun! or What
do you mean play in a rock band? Cut your hair and go to work, son. Thats
whats important. Well, Austin was saying, No, no, no, youre
a creative. You want to play in a rock band at night and do semiconductor work
in the day? Cmon! And if you want to come in at 10 the next morning and
youre a little hung over or youre smoking dope, thats cool. [...]
Austin saw this from day one.8
Florida uses this kind of sophomoric sociology to make the argument that, riding
the new wave of urban economic development, the creatives have inherited the
earth, and it is they who now make the rules. The logical, if stark, conclusion
is that the Creative Class has become the dominant class in society.9
Florida softens the edges of this millennial pronouncement with his own form
of new-age atmospherics: he frequently declares that every human being has the
capacity to be creative, just as every city has a shot at becoming a creative
The economics of creativity are more utilitarian: from the perspective of corporations
and cities (the difference hardly seems to matter in this instance), talented
workers are a scarce resource, yet they are both highly mobile and discerning
in their tastes; therefore, they must be given what they want or they will not
come/stay; without them, there is only creative disinvestment and economic decline.
In the context of a persistent shortfall in the supply of talent, cities must
learn what corporations have before them been forced to learn, that if they do
not take steps to establish the right people climate for creative
workers, if they are not appropriately welcoming, they will wither and
die.10 There are roles for government in this development vision, but they
are safely located on the supply side of the creative economy: establishing the
right kind of urban ambience becomes the key to harnessing creativity.
Paradoxically, Florida seeks to celebrate certain qualities of place, like
buzz and cosmopolitanism, while at the same time recirculating pernicious neoliberal
narratives of external competitive threat/vulnerability to flight.
The core of the challenge is what Ive come to see as the new global
competition for talent, a phenomenon that promises to radically reshape the world
in the coming decades. No longer will economic might amass in countries according
to their natural resources, manufacturing excellence, military dominance, or
even scientific and technological prowess. Today, the terms of competition revolve
around a central axis: a nations ability to mobilize, attract, and retain
human creative talent [...] The global talent pool and the high-end, high-margin
creative industries that used to be the sole province of the US and the crucial
source of its prosperity have begun to disperse around the globe. A host of countries Ireland,
Finland, Canada, Sweden, Australia, and New Zealand among them are investing
in higher education, producing creative people, and churning out cutting-edge
products, from cellular phones to computer software to blockbuster movies."11
It follows that no-one, and nowhere, is safe from this new competitive
threat. Even powerful economies can fall prey to new forms of creative competition,
which (along with the hyperbole) is said to be heating up.12
Help is, however, at hand, since Floridas self-appointed role is not simply
to disclose the new economic order. He is also a purveyor, conveniently, of winning
urban strategies. Right along with the identification of policy imperatives comes
a suite of new policy solutions, all designed to give the creatives what they
want, while securing the position of cities within the evolving creative division
of labour. Figuring out what the creatives want, and where they want to be, was
a primary task of Floridas opening salvo in the creativity debate, The
rise of the creative class, 2002. This bestselling book probed the locational
proclivities of the creative class using a combination of pop-culture anecdotes,
focus groups with young, restless, and talented people, excruciating insights
into Floridas own creative lifestyle, and supposedly suggestive spatial
correlations, for instance between gays and growth. The results sparsely
documented from a social-scientific perspective, but nevertheless emphatically
stated indicated that the creative class yearn, above all, to validate
their identities. Creatives seek out neighbourhoods amply endowed with
the kind of amenities that allow them to maintain an experientially intensive
work-life balance. They are drawn to plug and play communities, where
social entry barriers are low, where heterogeneity is actively embraced, where
loose ties prevail, where there is plenty of scope for creative commingling.
These are communities that creatives can move into and put together a life or
at least a facsimile of a life in a week.13 Such diagnostically-critical
conditions are signalled by conspicuous presence of gays and lesbians, designated
here both as the canaries of the creative economy and as harbingers
of redevelopment and gentrification in distressed urban neighbourhoods.14
Other more concrete indicators of urban edginess include authentic historical
buildings, converted lofts, walkable streets, plenty of coffee shops, art and
live-music spaces, indigenous street culture, and a range of other typical features
of gentrifying, mixed-use, inner-urban neighbourhoods.
These environments serve as creative incubators. Homo creativus thrives
on weak attachments and noncommittal relationships, most often mediated through
the market. These atomized actors seem to lack families and non-market support
systems, revelling instead in long hours of work and individualistic competition.
This twenty-first century version of economic man may have a better social life,
but he is still economic man. As a member of the creative class, Florida understands
that there is no corporation or other large institution that will take
care of us that we are truly on our own.15 The edgy urban neighbourhood
facilitates and enables this productive lifestyle, allowing the creatives to
plug into the new economy and play as hard as they like. The defining characteristics
of this new urban überclass are all framed in competitive terms. They are,
one might say, neoliberals dressed in black. It takes no effort at all
to translate the founding principles of the creative doctrine into just such
Since it is the creatives who are the primary decision-makers in Floridas
account, then it is ultimately their choices writ large that shape
the spatial division of creative labour, the creative urban hierarchy, and the
parameters of the interurban talent war. And, when it comes down to it,
creative people choose regions, Florida explains, They think
of Silicon Valley versus Cambridge, Stockholm versus Vancouver, or Sydney versus
Copenhagen. The fact that many regions around the world are cultivating the attributes
necessary to become creative centres makes this competition even fiercer.16
Just like the wave of entrepreneurial urban strategies that preceded it, this
form of creative interurban competition is both self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating:
establishing open, plug-and-play communities that are welcoming of restive creative
types becomes tantamount to both enabling and subsidizing the very forms
of mobility that were the source of competitive anxiety in the first place. But
since there is (again) only one game in town, cities had better make sure they
are ready to participate, to do what is necessary, or they will certainly lose
out. This is a variant on the do it, or else style of neoliberal
urban policymaking, in which favoured strategies are translated into economic
imperatives, a new-age variant of smokestack chasing.17 Again, cities must be
reflexively responsive to a hypercompetitive external environment, comprising liberalized flows
of capital, public investment, consumer dollars... and now talent workers:
Lasting competitive advantage today will not simply amass in those countries
and regions that can generate the most creative, innovative, or entrepreneurial
output. The places that will be most able to absorb new energies will be those
that are both open to diversity and also capable of internalizing the externalities
that the creative economy gives rise to [...] The most successful places will
require a socially adaptive capability that will enable them to pioneer
new fields and innovative industries.18
The role for government, in this context, is to invest in the creative supply
side, Floridas chameleon-like position being to sanction discretionary,
pink-tinged interventions at the local scale, while demanding that big government
get out of the way. Where I share common ground with some Republicans and
libertarians [is] that old-style government programs have become a huge impediment
to leveraging the creative age and allowing it to emerge, Florida explains,
the more limited function of the State being to set up the parameters in
which market-based actions take place.19 Priming the creative pump therefore
becomes a task for urban leaders; the way forward is with grassroots
initiatives and community-oriented efforts. Step forward the
street-level activists of the creative age.
... and its converts
The response to the creative cities thesis amongst urban policymaking communities
around the world has bordered on the ecstatic. Floridas ideas have been
picked up by mayors, regional development agencies, policy entrepreneurs, advisors,
and consultants across the United States, Europe, Australasia, and parts of Asia,
both in wannabe locations at the bottom of his creative league tables (which
are now available in numerous countries) and in established centres like London,
Toronto, and Melbourne. This fast policy success story may be attributable
less to the revolutionary or transformative nature of the Florida thesis itself,
more to its character as a minimally disruptive soft neoliberal fix.
The story is, in many ways, a familiar one, though the cast of characters has
changed. National governments just have to get out of the way for the creative
economy to flourish; effective urban responses call for bold leadership and vision,
but some kind of response is essential for any city that wants to stay in the
game; self-managing and hyperactive creatives, as bearers of creative market
forces, will look after the rest, so earning their status as privileged urban
In this neoliberalized urban terrain, a receptive and wide audience has effectively
been pre-constituted for the kinds of market-reinforcing, property- and promotion-based,
growth-oriented, and gentrification-friendly policies that have been repackaged
under the creativity rubric. The creative cities policy fix can be deployed to
accessorize extant, market-based urban development agendas, with the minimum
of interference to established interests and constituencies. At root, it simply
adds a livability-lifestyle component to the established urban competiveness
stance. The typical mayor is likely to see few downsides to making the city safe
for the creative class. Establishment power elites have little to fear from conspicuous
urban consumption, gen-x marketing campaigns, key-worker attraction strategies,
and gentrification-with-public-art. A creativity strategy is easily bolted on
to business-as-usual urban-development policies, while providing additional ideological
cover for market-driven or state-assisted programs of gentrification. Inner-city
embourgeoisement, in the creativity script, is represented as a necessary prerequisite
for economic development: hey presto, thorny political problem becomes
Creative cities policies, of course, would hardly be spreading like wildfire
if they represented a revolutionary challenge to the neoliberal status quo. In
fact, they are being stamped out cookie-cutter style across the urban landscape,
spanning a quite remarkable range of settings20 having become policies of choice,
in particular, for those left-leaning mayors who have learned to live with, if
not love, the market order. Nominally bespoke creativity strategies can be purchased
from consultants in practically any mid-sized city these days, or they can be
lifted off the shelf from countless websites and urban regeneration conferences.
These are almost ideal products for the fast-policy distribution systems that
have evolved in the past two decades: both the rationale and the design parameters
of the policy are essentially portable just make sure that each plan contains
at least a dash of local cultural authenticity, while nodding to
the right grassroots constituencies in each city.
To take just one of dozens of (very) similar examples: Michigans recently
enacted Cool Cities program, derived directly from the creativity playbook, retasks
state funds to the goal of localized gentrification, hipster-style, in the hope
that this will attract the creative class. Beneath the rhetoric of avant-garde
economic development, this entails the public subsidy of various kinds of creative collective
goods and infrastructure projects, focused exclusively on locations with demonstrated development
potential (a.k.a. happening, gentrifying neighbourhoods). Making
Michigans cities attractive to the creative class has entailed a youth-oriented
marketing program; extensive learning from other cities and from creative citizens
themselves (given that government cannot create cool);
and a bundle of mostly repackaged policies aimed at the rehabilitation of historic
buildings (specifically, theatres, galleries, mixed-use housing), farmers markets,
streetscaping and public art, physical infrastructure development, façade
improvements, outdoor recreation facilities, greenspace, parks, pavilions, and,
if necessary, demolition.21
Posing in fashionable shades to launch the program, Michigans Governor,
Jennifer Granholm, insisted that it was essential that this struggling, auto-industry
state catch the next wave of economic development. Michigan has been experiencing
an exodus of young, highly educated people in recent years, as large
numbers of talented workers have fled the state in search of employment.22
According to the creativity script, the way to alleviate Michigans economic
decline is to reverse this critical flow of talent, since in the new knowledge
economy jobs follow workers, not the other way around. Curiously, even though
Michigans creative class decamped in search of employment, we
are expected to believe that they will be attracted back by enhanced urban
environments, and then the states economy will revive:
Given the right mix of services and amenities, this group will vote
with their feet and relocate to vibrant, walkable, mixed-use communities.
Attracted by a talented, diverse workforce, business will follow.23
The target demographic for the Cool Cities program is defined as college-educated
young professionals in core fields like science and engineering, art and design,
entertainment, computing, and the media, whose defining characteristics include
a preference for lifestyle, distinctive purchasing patterns (reflecting
individuality and self-statement), and above all, mobility:
[T]odays young professional workforce is more interested in working
as a means of experiencing and enjoying their lifestyle than their counterparts
in decades past. This group is increasingly mobile, and in order to attract and
retain them, cities have to change their paradigm of physical and social development.
The city itself has to be attractive, not only to business, but also to the workforce.24
But will young Michiganders, who left the state in search of better career opportunities
(apparently having had their fill of the lifestyle options of Flint, Kalamazoo,
and Saginaw), really be tempted back by the policy-induced trendification
of their old neighbourhoods? Even if the goal of making Michigan the coolest state
in the nation is a realistic one, it sits rather awkwardly with the sobering
realities of structural economic decline and public-sector downsizing in a state
hardly renowned as a hipster haven.25 Michigan has one of the highest unemployment
rates in the nation, the auto industry has entered a(nother) major phase of restructuring,
and the rate of job loss in the state has been characterized by local commentators
as staggering.26 The citys economic trajectory has been described
by David Littman, chief economist at Comerica Bank, as a graveyard spiral.27
Inhospitable territory for creative cities strategies? Apparently not. In some
respects, the level of enthusiasm for creativity makeovers may be inversely proportional
to the scale of the economic challenge confronting local policymakers. Even in
the rustbelt capitals, the creativity cult has been recruiting new members. CreateDetroit,
an offshoot of the states Cool Cities program established in 2003, characteristically
self-describes as a grassroots organization, despite sponsorship
from the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Governors Office, the
City of Detroit, Wayne State University, Detroit Renaissance, the Detroit Economic
Growth Corporation, and corporations like Apple and SBC. CreateDetroit has been
striving to turn around the flagging fortunes of Motown by making it a destination
city for the creative class. Detroit was ranked 39th out of 49 major cities
in Floridas original creativity index, but as the creative
economist himself has pointed out, this means that the city has more creative potential than
almost anywhere in the nation (see Klein 2004b).28 CreateDetroit is pursuing
similar strategies to a range of other (newly designated) creative bottomfeeders,
like Memphis and Tampa Bay, who were similarly spurred to action by their lowly
rankings in Floridas widely publicized league tables.29 These include periodic
events that splice the arts and urban development; lobbying for creative investment;
creatively themed marketing and promotion activities; and hobnobbing initiatives
like Connect Four, where artists, writers, designers and media types
can meet, mingle, hunt, gather, network, and play.
The idea behind CreateDetroit, a founding member explained, is
to create a long-range plan, focused on making the Detroit region a magnet for
new economy talent. The stakes are high. Those regions that do not flourish in
the new creative economy will fail, according to Carnegie Mellon University professor
Richard Florida.30 A formative early step for CreateDetroit was to invest
in one of the professors two-day regional transformation workshops,
photographs from which adorn the groups web site. Following a well-established
methodology, the event featured a range of local performance artists, plenty
of feel-good provincial pride (along with I am Detroit t-shirts), and
a 350-person audience heavily titled towards the arts and cultural communities,
together with local policymakers and advocates. Floridas polished performance
was greeted with enthusiasm, and there was widespread support for his populist
rendering of pro-people economic development. His energetically delivered
message, that Detroit was losing out in the balance of trade in creativity, focused
attention on the out-migration of talented individuals, while validating
a distinctive set of arts-intensive investments in the city. An irreparable failure
of the computer system (and its backup) unfortunately marred the audience-participation
segment of the workshop, in which attendees were invited to vote on their citys
creative strengths and weakness prior to revelations of the actual data perhaps
calling attention to some of Detroits deficits on the first T of technology.
But most of the participants, especially those in the (previously-neglected)
arts and cultural communities, seem to have left invigorated by Floridas call
to arms to take themselves seriously as an economic force.31
The purpose of the event, Florida insisted, was not for me
and my team to come to Detroit and prescribe fixes. What will help Detroit is
for swelling grassroots efforts like CreateDetroit to say, This is where
we want to be in the future. This is what we plan to do to get there.32
However, some noted that, for all his talk of reach[ing] down and harnessing
that energy, Florida failed to offer the hungry audience a single
concrete suggestion.33 Others were left wondering whether the creative
backwash, should it ever reach the shores of Lake Michigan, would really lift
all boats. Buzz aside, most recognized that this was in many respects a canned
presentation, and that Floridas troupe would soon be pulling up their
tent stakes, and mov[ing] on to their next destination.34
Florida had the air of a motivational speaker, claiming that Detroit has
more raw potential than any other city in the nation. He gave a brief synopsis
of his concept of what makes a city livable, vibrant place but other than
the obligatory White Stripes and Eminem references, the speech could have been
delivered in Anyville, USA.35
In a sense, of course, the speech had been delivered in Anyville, a generic
location for which it was carefully crafted. Scores of cities have heard, and
often responded to, the same basic message, with each being urged to value and
valorize whatever creative assets they might have to hand. (So, the creativity
tonic for Milwaukee is ginned up with a dash of Liberace and the Violent Femmes,
while Baltimores makeover references Billie Holiday and Frank Zappa what
creative-city consultants now routinely decant as the audio identities of
place.) According to Dr. Floridas prescription, practically any city can
respond to the creativity treatment, at least as long as their civic leaders get
On the face of it at least, Detroits hip hop mayor, Kwame Kilpatrick,
still under 40 and the proud wearer of a diamond ear stud, gets it. The Mayor
offered a fulsome introduction to Florida when he came to Detroit. (On this occasion,
the Mayor chose not to mention his opposition to same-sex marriage, which would
not earn him high marks on the Tolerance scorecard.) While the realistic prospects
of a creativity-fuelled economic turnaround in Detroit may be remote, the city
can hardly be faulted for its willingness to give anything a try. Its population
has fallen by half since the mid-1950s; its unemployment rate is twice the states
average and getting on for three times the national average; 72 percent of the
citys public school children receive free school meals (up from 61 percent
in 2001); and white flight has become bright fright, with families and
people earning more than $50 000 a year leading the way out of town.37
For the citys government, sustained population loss, coupled with a declining
tax base, has been fueling an unprecedented and unresolved fiscal crisis: Mayor
Kilpatricks administration hovers on the brink of receivership, having
cut bus services, closed the city zoo and 34 schools, and laid off one in ten
of the municipal workforce. The City has also been considering closing non-essential
departments, including note unfortunate inconsistencies the
Department of Culture, Art & Tourism, and turning off street lights. Its
paralyzing three-year deficit amounts to just under one quarter of annual general
fund revenues, while the first round of serious cuts has been said to threaten a
vicious cycle for a city already on the edge.38
Compared to the usual package of corporate tax breaks and big-box development
subsidies, cool-cities policies certainly look like a break with the past. While
there may be novelty in urban policymakers sharing the stage with fashion designers
and hip-hop artists, none of this makes the causal relationships between buzz
and economic growth any more real. But none of this will prevent cities, with
few other realistic options, from trying. Recall, however, how entrepreneurial
urban strategies proliferated during the 1980s and 1990s, facilitated by competitive
leverage and the weak emulation of winning formulas, quickly stacking
the odds against even the most enthusiastic of converts.39 Coming on the heels
of this experience, the creativity fix also seduces local actors with the no-less
false promise that any and every city can win in the battle for talent.
Under such circumstances, the first-mover advantages for a few quickly descend
into zero- or negative-sum games: more players pursue the same mobile resources,
the price of success rises, the chances of positive outcomes fall.
In cities like Detroit, the odds look daunting. This said, there remains plenty
of enthusiasm amongst the activists at CreateDetroit for what they are calling Plan
B [...] [making] sure the talent comes here.40 Plan A was automobile manufacturing.
The Cool Cities program may indeed be an economic development strategy
that puts creative people first,41 but in cities like Detroit
these look like perversely indulgent priorities. Should the Motor City really
be investing its dwindling tax revenues in a market-following means of underwriting
middle-class house prices and consumption desires, with distributional consequences
that seem certain to be socially and spatially regressive? Entrenched problems
like structural unemployment, residential inequality, working poverty, and racialized
exclusion are barely even addressed by this form of cappuccino urban politics.
According to urban historian, Matt Lassiter, the Rust Belt capital of Detroit
has basically adopted the Sunbelt strategy of Atlanta and Los Angeles: ignore
social problems of segregation and poverty, and instead try to transform the
image rather than the reality of the central city.42 Creativity strategies
have been crafted to co-exist with these problems, not to solve them.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the creative capitals exhibit higher
rates of socioeconomic inequality than other cities, as has been belatedly acknowledged
by Florida himself.43 This awkward correlation is quite consistent, of course,
with the argument that creativity strategies are predicated upon, and constitutively
realized in the context of, uneven modes of urban growth and neoliberal politics.
In this light, the creativity fix begins to look less like a solution to, and
more like a symptom of, Detroits problems.
Conclusion: creativity redux
Beneath the creative rhetoric, Florida presents a familiar urban-economic development
story: construct new urban governance networks around growth-oriented goals,
compete aggressively for mobile economic resources and government funds, respond
in formulaic ways to external threats, talk up the prospects of success, and,
whatever you do, dont buck the market. The emphasis on the mobilization
of elite policy communities around growth-first urban policy objectives is nothing
new, but whereas the entrepreneurial cities chased jobs, the creative cities
pursue talent workers; the entrepreneurial cities craved investment, now the
creative cities yearn for buzz; while entrepreneurial cities boasted of their
postfordist flexibility, the creative cities trade on the cultural distinction
of cool. Notwithstanding some conventional neoliberal frames of reference,
the creativity fix is also a distinctive development vision, tailored to appeal
to left-tilting mayors, with its easily digestible cocktail of cultural liberalism
and economic rationality. Moreover, it is very much a mobilizing discourse,
which actively reconstitutes external competitive threats in novel terms,
while pointedly defining new responses, together with new roles for an
enlarged network of urban policy protagonists and beneficiaries. It establishes
a fresh set of models of urban development, distilling the essence
of their success into a series of portable policy routines and mobile rationalities.
It nudges urban leaders to contemplate new forms of fiscally modest, supply-side
investment, mostly targeted at economically secure residents of neighbourhoods
in which property prices are already on the up.
The seductiveness of creativity strategies must be understood in terms of their
basic complementarity with prevailing neoliberal development fixes, their compatibility
with discretionary, selective, and symbolic supply-side policymaking, and their
conformity with the attendant array of development interests. Creativity strategies
presume, work with, and subtly remake the neoliberalized terrain of urban politics,
placing commodified assets like the arts and street culture into the sphere of
interurban competition, enabling the formation of new local political channels
and constituencies, and constituting new objects and subjects of urban governance.
Creativity strategies work upon, indeed celebrate, mobile and adaptive creative
subjects, making the case for public investment in their preferred urban milieu,
while shifting the primary focus of proactive governance towards the needs of
a techno-bohemian slice of the middle-class. Taking the flexible/insecure/unequal
economy as given, these post-progressive urban strategies lionize a creative
elite while offering the residualized majority the meager consolation of crumbs
from the creative table. They enforce soft-disciplinary modes of creative governmentality
based on mandatory individualism, relentless innovation, and 24/7 productivity.
Say what you will about the fuzzy causality in Floridas model, its central
message has certainly struck a chord. But as Detroit writer Carey Wallace, among
others, has begun to wonder, does the creativity craze represent a new
truth, or something people want very much to believe?44
This article was previously published in Fronesis issue 24 (2007) and
on the net, on www.eurozine.com.
1. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class (2002), Cities
and the creative class (2005), The flight of the creative class (2005).
2. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 20.
3. Jamie Peck and Adam Tickell, Neoliberalizing space, i Antipode,
vol. 34, no. 3 2002, p. 380-404.
4. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 166.
5. Florida, The flight of the creative class.
6. Chris Dreher, Be creative - or die, Salon 6 June 2002,
7. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 21.
8. Quoted in Dreher (2002), p. 4-5.
9. Richard Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. ix.
10. Ibid., p. 13.
11. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 3-4.
12. Ibid., p. 7.
13. Florida, The rise of the creative class, Washington Monthly May
2002, p. 20.
14. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 131.
15. Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 115.
16. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 10.
17. See Peck and Tickell, p. 380-404.
18. Florida, The flight of the creative class, p. 243-244.
19. Quoted in Bill Steigerwald, Q&A: Florida sees a different
role for government, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 11 April 2004,
20. Jamie Peck, Struggling with the creative class, International
Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 29, no. 4 2005, p. 740-770.
21. See Cool Cities Initiative, Michigans cool cities initiative (2004).
22. Ibid., p. 3.
23. Ibid., p. 4.
24. Ibid., p. 13.
25. Ibid., p. 3.
26. Louis Aguilar, Michigan loses jobs. Rate worst in nation, Detroit
News, 20 January 2005, p. A 1.
27. Quoted in Jodi Wilgoren, Shrinking, Detroit faces fiscal nightmare, New
York Times 2 February 2005, p. A 12.
28. See Sarah Klein, Hipster economics, Metro Times 25 February
29. See Peck, Cities and the creative class.
30. Hans Erickson, Create Detroit: Who needs it? We do!, The Detroiter November
2003, p. 1.
31. Nick Sousanis, Rise and shine Detroit, The Detroiter March
2004, p. 4.
32. Quoted in Carey Wallace, Does civic creativity pay, Metro
Times 25 February 2004, p. 2.
33. Sarah Klein, Creation station, Metro Times 10 March 2004,
34. Sousanis, p. 3.
35. Klein, Creation station, p. 5.
36. Florida, The rise of the creative class, p. 302-303.
37. Wilgoren, p. A12.
38. Marisol Bello, Detroit is bracing for a lean new year, Detroit
Free Press 30 December 2005, p. A1.
39. David Harvey, From managerialism to entrepreneurialism: The transformation
in urban governance in late capitalism, Geografiska annaler B 71,
40. Klein, Hipster economics, p. 5.
41. State of Michigan, Office of the Governor, Michigan cool cities initial
report (2003), p. 3.
42. Quoted in Ari Paul, 32 flavors of cool: Making over Michigan, Next
American City 7 (2005), p. 19.
43. Florida, Cities and the creative class.
44. Wallace, p. 1.