Creative cities: do they grow more rapidly?

Richard Florida, a Carnegie Mellon professor, has been arguing that cities must become trendy places to compete in the new economy. His book The Rise of the Creative Class has been a big hit. In his view a city should try to attract gays, bohemians, and ethnic minorities, all to lure creative workers. Those workers will in turn start innovative, fast-growing companies. To get entrepreneurial residents, Florida claims that cities should spend heavily on cultural amenities and adopt a progressive social stance.

This sounds intriguing but unfortunately it does not fit the facts. Read this devastating review. Here is one excerpt:

“The professor’s creative index—a composite of his other indexes—lists San Francisco, Austin, Houston, and San Diego among the top ten [creative cities]. His bottom ten include New Orleans, Las Vegas, Memphis, and Oklahoma City, which he says are “stuck in paradigms of old economic development” and are losing their “economic dynamism” to his winners. So you’d expect his winners to be big job producers. Yet since 1993, cities that score the best on Florida’s analysis have actually grown no faster than the overall U.S. jobs economy, increasing their employment base by only slightly more than 17 percent. Florida’s indexes, in fact, are such poor predictors of economic performance that his top cities haven’t even outperformed his bottom ones. Led by big percentage gains in Las Vegas (the fastest-growing local economy in the nation) as well as in Oklahoma City and Memphis, Florida’s ten least creative cities turn out to be jobs powerhouses, adding more than 19 percent to their job totals since 1993—faster growth even than the national economy.”

Nor do these same “creative cities” generate more small-size firms or attract more professionals. Read the whole critique, it is an object lesson in debunking pseudoscience. It also turns out that Detroit, a favorite city of mine, has been remarkably entrepreneurial of late.

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