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.
Today, Creative Class doctrine has become so deeply engrained in the culture that few question it. Why, without any solid evidence, did a whole generation of policy makers swallow the creative Kool-Aid so enthusiastically? One reason is that when Florida’s first book came out, few experts bothered debunking it, because it didn’t seem worth debunking. “In the academic and urban planning world,” says Peck, “people are slightly embarrassed about the Florida stuff.” Most economists and public policy scholars just didn’t take it seriously.
Looking back, it was strangely liberating to have realized that the Creative Class was a myth. It was fun for a while and, unfounded as it was, a few good things may even have come out of it. Some cities built bike paths. Others poured money into their arts communities. I’m all for biking and the arts, as was everyone I spoke to for this story. In fact, they were at pains to point out that they were not opposed to the things Florida was advocating. “To be against this,” said Jamie Peck, “is like being against motherhood and apple pie. You’re against creativity? You’re against gays and lesbians?
You’re against parks and bike paths?” Michele Hoyman echoed the sentiment. “There are a whole variety of reasons to have arts as a centerpiece of your city. One is to make it a tourist destination. Another is if you want to revitalize a neighborhood. Retail is fine as a revitalization strategy, but it doesn’t have a very good multiplier effect. It’s not going to save a city that’s completely dying.”
“Even as an arts advocate,” said Mel Gray, “I want to do it for the right reasons.” The right reason, we can now say, is that these things are good in themselves. They have intrinsic value. They make the place we live more interesting, livelier, healthier and more humane. They make it better.
They do not make it more profitable.