Frank Bures describes the Fall of the Creative Class:
Jamie Peck is a geography professor who has been one of the foremost critics of Richard Florida’s Creative Class theory. He now teaches at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, but at the time Florida’s book was published in 2002, he was also living in Madison. “The reason I wrote about this,” Peck told me on the phone, “is because Madison’s mayor started to embrace it. I lived on the east side of town, probably as near to this lifestyle as possible, and it was bullshit that this was actually what was driving Madison’s economy. What was driving Madison was public sector spending through the university, not the dynamic Florida was describing.”
In his initial critique, Peck said The Rise of the Creative Class was filled with “self-indulgent forms of amateur microsociology and crass celebrations of hipster embourgeoisement.” That’s another way of saying that Florida was just describing the “hipsterization” of wealthy cities and concluding that this was what was causing those cities to be wealthy. As some critics have pointed out, that’s a little like saying that the high number of hot dog vendors in New York City is what’s causing the presence of so many investment bankers. So if you want banking, just sell hot dogs. “You can manipulate your arguments about correlation when things happen in the same place,” says Peck.
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.
“They move to places where they can find jobs,” wrote author Sako Musterd, “and if they cannot find a job there, the only reason to move is for study or for personal social network reasons, such as the presence of friends, family, partners, or because they return to the place where they have been born or have grown up.” But even if they had been pouring into places because of “soft” factors like coffee shops and art galleries, according to Stefan Krätke, author of a 2010 German study, it probably wouldn’t have made any difference, economically. Krätke broke Florida’s Creative Class (which includes accountants, realtors, bankers and politicians) into five separate groups and found that only the “scientifically and technologically creative” workers had an impact on regional GDP. Krätke wrote “that Florida’s conception does not match the state of findings of regional innovation research and that his way of relating talent and technology might be regarded as a remarkable exercise in simplification.”
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.”