Saturday, December 2, 2006

Creative rationalization

Joel Kotkin in Cities on a Hill:

The urban silliness quotient hit a new high this week with the Times’ breathless story on Sunday about cities competing with “hipness” to attract the young. The peg for this oft-repeated tale of surging urbanism was a self-serving release by the Atlanta Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce that crowed about how in the last census their city ranked first in attracting 25- to 34-year-old educated people.

If this shtick sounds familiar, it should be. It’s the same “creative class” mantra that has mesmerized city policy makers from coast to coast. The key factor in “creative class” theory, concocted by academic Richard Florida, is that if you are hip, cool and “tolerant,” at least to people with the right liberal social views, your city will flourish.

Reporters, urban developers, gay activists and arts foundations naturally love this idea. Sometime they use it to push their agenda — not necessarily with Dr. Florida’s endorsement — for such things as new publicly financed arts venues, subsidized lofts, restaurants, clubs and street festivals.

Yet depressingly few have considered the evidence about whether the theory actually works. Many of the cities that have long been at the top of the “creative class” list of “cool cities” — San Francisco and Boston, for example — have over the past five years had among the most sluggish rates of economic growth.

Other municipalities that have swallowed the creative class kool aid, such as those embracing Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm’s “cool cities” initiative in that beleaguered state, have fared even worse. Another disaster spot is Baltimore, where mayor (and newly elected Maryland governor), Martin O’Malley’s efforts to create coolness have left the city ranked among the absolutely worst places to Live in America. Meanwhile, New Orleans, perhaps America’s hippest city, has emerged as the ultimate poster child of urban dysfunction.

Nor does it appear that these centers of hipness have done all that well in attracting and retaining young people, particularly since the collapse of the dot com bubble in 2000. Instead, people in their 20s and 30s, according to the census’ American Community Survey, appear to be heading to the places that have been creating jobs, such as Orlando, Houston, Dallas and, to a surprising extent, Southern California, including Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

This is the dirty little secret about “talent”: it revolves mostly around the economy.
See also The Curse of the Creative Class by Stephen Malanga in the City Journal.

But the real dirty little secret of the Creative Cities dogma is not so much that political direction and bureaucratic administration of tax expropriations for the purpose of arts, culture and tolerance does not bear the fruit of economic prosperity that its institutional sponsors promise, a proposition that ought to be self-evident in any case, but that the failure of Creative Cities does not even matter. If what worked was the criterion by which decisions are made for us, cities would be doing "less of what they've been doing, not more." What matters instead is that Creative Cities provides council with a terse, unscrutinized, sound-bitish code to an uncritical media for rationalizing the maintenance and expansion of its control over the municipal distribution of resources to a select constituency whom it benefits and who in turn provides council with the small electorate that democratically justifies its powers. If Creative Cities is ever finally discredited, it will be replaced by another unexpository short-circuiting of critical constraints on municipal powers.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Another disaster spot is Baltimore, where mayor (and newly elected Maryland governor), Martin O’Malley’s efforts to create coolness have left the city ranked among the absolutely worst places to Live in America."

This is a typically stupid detail within this facile analysis. The gentrification I saw in Baltimore creates a lot of friction between poor and wealthy. The poor have been there for generations already.

Likewise, creative people make smart ideas, which do destroy pointlessness. In my opinion, people should be replaced by well-written signs and neat machines.

So job growth bumbers aren't nearly qualitative enough for me to buy any of this argument at face value. Just like Walmarts turn 1 full time high paying job into 3 low paying part time job. That's a crap way to measure anything.

So parking garage attendants are replaced by high-tech robots. Sucks in the short term, but eventually the whole economy gets better for everybody. Obviously things take a while to restructure, and some of that is non-local. You can't have winners without losers. You can't create car mechanics without firing all the buggy whip manufacturers. Sorry for all the progress.

However, the biggest problem with this argument isn't that it isn't nearly factual enough, it's that the facts actually disconnect from the comment that were made. Really creative cities are the true economic powerhouses as we head into the service economy era.

Beyond that, it's a moronic mistake to compare the USA against Canada. Canada's creative cities are booming by any measure, whereas the uncreative ones are truly not. While the Canadian dollar is holding or increasing against world currencies, the US economy is tanking.

It's evident that "creative cities" can be superachieving too, at least in the Canadian context.

Fenris Badwulf said...

anonymous: Your intellegent use of character assassination convinced me before I even looked at the facts that you are right. I admire your mastery of the New Left Logic. The use of ancedotal evidence to confront statistics is breath taking. While these methods are considered inferior by the collected wisdom of dead white male philosphers, surely our living non-white non-heteronormative fine artists side with you, especially around the time of Federal Arts Funding season.

We need more people like you, anonymous. Emotions and not logic should be the yardstick for reason.

Other than the fact that the facts show that this creative cities methodology does not work, you are right. I can only hope that people with your stellar reasoning methodology contine to have disproportionate influence in government.

Now that the laws of magnetism have been repealed thanks to employment equity, it is no longer to be expected that a force resisting the ability-less and emotionally driven bourgeois arts and crafts ruling elite will form. Stalin is dead, and your Trotskyite philosophy can continue to grow and sing and recite poetry in our public spaces.

Your lack of abilty marks you as a member of our socialist elite. Have you ever been to MyBlahg? They are smart, like you.

I love you,
Fenris Badwulf

picasshole said...

After attending UWO for a Fine Art degree, I can assure you money does not buy creativity.

Mitch said...

Creative??? In spending tax dollars in ever increasing increments. Sorry, what use is a "creative city" when it's government taxes and regulates so much that it is too expensive to live there. Toronto comes to mind. The only way I could move back and keep the same standard of living I have in not-so-creative Hampton Roads would be to triple my wages - not gonna happen.

Thucydides said...

Anonymous is proof that History is dead as an academic subject.

A reading of history demonstrates that the "creative" cities in history were, in fact, the economic and political powerhouses first and formost, and art and culture followed the growth of economic and political power.

Art is reflective of the underlying culture, a artistic Disneyland created and supported by the political class will only be able to turn out socialist realist propaganda. If we are really blessed, we may see a Leni Riefenstahl or Sergi Eisenstein emerge, but the odds are pretty slim.