Fall of the Creative Class?

Richard Florida’s 2002 Rise of the Creative Class was a manifesto for urban hipness. As Joseph Bottum sums up the book, Florida argued that “cities thrive when these creative types are allowed to build the creative economy. Their tolerance for alternative lifestyles and their acceptance of unconventional housing broke down the rigidity that had almost killed urban life in the collapse of manufacturing. As he looked at Boston, New York, and San Francisco, he saw a creative economy that fed upon itself to fill the gaps at the city center, establishing the funky restaurants, interesting office space, and bohemian apartments that drew yet more young creatives to the city and encouraged new investment. The old built environment of these cities was being transformed into a reused architecture that made their urban centers flourish.”

“Is” quickly turned to “ought”: “The description of what was happening in his chosen cities quickly issued in a recommendation for every other city, from Bangor to San Diego: Get hip.”

Florida is having second thoughts, as he observes the effects of the creative surge into the city. Now he sees a New Urban Crisis. He writes, “a host of new urban challenges—from rising inequality to increasingly unaffordable housing and more—started to come to the fore. Seemingly overnight, the much-hoped-for urban revival has turned into a new kind of urban crisis.”

Meanwhile, Bottum notes, “the past decade has seen a concomitant move of the old pathologies of the cities to new settings in the suburbs. Drugs and gangs now terrorize the outsides of the great cities rather than the insides.”

The experiment in creative urbanism backfired, mainly helping those who didn’t much need it: “The rise of the creative class in such cities as New York, Washington, and San Francisco did produce economic growth—but mostly just for those who were already wealthy. The poor, and especially the working class poor, were right out of luck. They were priced out of the city and driven out to the suburbs, where they created the kind of urban problems known only to the cities. The modern city is the greatest economic engine the world has ever known, but these days it seems to run only for the aid of those who need its benefits least.”


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