Let’s be original: the “Creative Class” reset

It seems we’ve been snookered.

Richard Florida of “The Rise of the Creative Class” fame, is now back-pedaling hard on his theory that places could be saved by being more tolerant (coupled with technology and talent). Just focus on the gay geeks and all your troubles will go away was his tune, and DaytonCreate was born, money invested and the process begun.

It’s time to ask for a refund.

Now Richard says places like Austin and Boulder will make it- and places like Dayton won’t. Here are some excerpts from an excellent article from “The American Prospect”

All along, his detractors have been chipping away. Geographer Jamie Peck penned the most exhaustive broadside, Struggling with the Creative Class, in 2005. Conservatives have questioned Florida’s elevation of gay-friendliness as an economic driver and noted that, by some measures, yuppie idylls like San Francisco and Boston have lagged behind unhip, low-tax bastions like Houston and Charlotte, North Carolina. Liberal critics have noted that his creative hubs suffer high inequality, and argued that other cities should develop their own human capital — including that of the low-income minorities who have little place in Florida’s universe — instead of chasing a finite number of laptop professionals.

In a standard version of this critique, Amy Liu of the Brookings Institution — with which Florida was once affiliated — praises him for debunking “smoke-stack chasing” as economic development but says he has replaced that with another flawed “attraction” strategy. “The problem is that he omits a whole group of cities and parts of the country that would never be magnets for talent,” she says. “Most of the places that really need economic development are cities that must grow skills and talent from within.”

…it’s another thing for Florida now to be declaring, from his high-profile perch, that many of these same cities are not part of the country’s strategy for future growth simply because their prospects as creative magnets are too daunting….

“It’s funny that the roots [of his argument] were in Pittsburgh — which is now lauded as the only [city] that believed in itself enough to reinvent itself.”

via The Ruse of the Creative Class | The American Prospect.

The idea of an economy based purely on knowledge workers is only relevant if you have a population of people capable of being knowledge workers. This is the part that Florida ignored. What do you do with the elevator attendants in the information age?

And here is the key: The idea of luring business by marketing or with incentives is absolute bunk. Advertising that Dayton is a great place to live and work- doesn’t work unless people believe it. The idea of buying business with incentives is also pointless- since other places have bigger checkbooks- just ask NCR. Until Dayton starts to believe in itself- there will be no reinvention- and the way that happens is from within. We need to attack our own problems of too many fiefdoms, and refocus on delivering first-class living experiences. If you need an example- I point to Kettering with good schools and great athletic and arts programs for its residents. I point to the works of Five Rivers Metroparks and their bike paths, parks and programs.

If you want this city of your dreams- it’s time to start making the best use of what we have here. Richard Florida was never the answer.

Here’s our Dayton Grassroots Daily Show with the “told you so” edition


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16 Comments on "Let’s be original: the “Creative Class” reset"

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Jeff of Louisville
Jeff of Louisville

Gay geeks.  Sweet.  Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?
BTW, this discussion is three months old, and was held over at Dayton Most Metro:
Feel free to comment there.  I questioned this in the context of comparing Dayton and Louisville.  Louisville is BY FAR more the kind of place Florida is talking about, with that bohemian buzz, but it doesnt show up like that in the numbers.  I blogged on this disconnect here:

Drexel Dave Sparks
Drexel Dave Sparks
Will Brooks
Will Brooks

Richard Florida is selling snake oil. Drexel Dave hit the nail on the head. Creative class is an offshoot of a healthy city.

Jeff of Louisville
Jeff of Louisville

Which might be why Louisville is more happening, it’s more economically diversified and still has unionized industrial work, believe it or not (two Ford plants and big GE complex).  Drexel Dave also said we’ve been wiped out by free trade and we know thats’ not going to change.
I read Florida’s stuff a long time ago so didn’t attend the lectures here. The big controversy around him at first was that he made that correlation between gay-supportive or accepting places and talent attraction, using lesbians and gays as a sort of indicator species.  Florida said being a place attractive to lesbians and gays was a good thing.  This was anathama to the political right, hence the initial controversy around his work.  Florida then picked up a good critique from the left, that he offered nothing to displaced industrial and pink collar workers.  This is akin the Drexel Daves critique.
For me I see this local DaytonCreate effort as not hard econ development.  It is more about building human capital or community organizing (this would be that UpDayton component).  Two of the efforts, that film festival and C-Space, are quality of life / cultural initiatives, to make things more interesting locally.  This is not too radical as there already examples of this.  A good one is Lexis-Nexis sponsorship and volunteer support of the  CityFolk Festival downtown.  The Film Dayton thing could develop into something as there are local filmmakers and a film school at WSU.  Film is an arts thing.
This DaytonCreate thing as a hard econ dev, increasing business and jobs, is not what this was about, as far as I can tell.  Because it wasn’t doesn’t mean that some of these efforts are not worthwhile.  The question is if they can survive or be sustainable, which goes back to Will Brooks’ comment about a healthy city or regional economy being able to sustain this stuff.  There is also a cultural bias against this type of activity since it’s sort of “artistic” and this is a pragmatic factory town and engineering center, where things that are “artistic” and “creative” are suspect, considered fluff.

Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips

Besides being a jerk, I was banned from DaytonMostMediocre.Commedy because of my heretical exposure of Bill Pout and T. Grasper’s idol–Richard Florida. I’m reveling in the retractions and damage control of Dayton’s “Creative Class”.

So I’m still a jerk, but I’m also right.


You guys have it figured out pretty well. Interesting that the genius who pushed NAFTA through Congress is the same guy calling supporters of the public option “f—ing retards,” Rahm Emanuel.  Ross Perot was right but where does that get us? Nowhere now.
Jeff and David and Greg are all hitting at the point that Dayton needs to really let go of its inhibitions.  Who in Dayton’s position would turn away anyone?  Open the floodgates to all people who want to associate freely together.  From opium dens to gay marriage, push it all through and see who starts showing up and renovating homes.  Can’t be much worse than where we are now.
Last idea, start sniping India for jobs.  Youngstown had an amazing week on the jobs front recently.  All sorts of expansions and transfers into that area.

I guess I’m late to the party, but what the heck: If you are familiar with Richard Florida, much of his engaging essay in the new Atlantic, “How the Crash Will Reshape America,” will not surprise you—those in cities lucky enough to be populated by the creative class will only be mildly discomfitted by the recession, while those Rust Belt unfortunates are basically doomed. […] My reaction to this is similar to Arnold Kling’s: “I don’t think that the arts are all that important. To me, creative innovation that matters is somebody in a lab at MIT coming up with a more efficient battery or solar cell. It is somebody at Stanford coming up with a way to make computers smarter or cancer more preventable. I just can’t get excited about some frou-frou fashion designers and the magazines that feature their creations.” […] Florida argues that the Sun Belt building boom, frighteningly efficient and innovative and “highly metabolic” as it was during the bubble, was built on a kind of lie, but I wonder if the same isn’t true of the dubious innovation coming from the media and fashion industries favored by the creative class. It all seems vulnerable to a more rigorous accounting of what is truly socially necessary. The Craven Creative Class Every mid-sized city in the middle of America is gonna be a high tech hub: Creative Class boosters don’t acknowledge that the knowledge economy can be offshored, too, in most cases much easier. This possibility is borne out in projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS projections for the top 30 “job growth” jobs of the next 10 years consist primarily of jobs that do not require a college education–do not require, that is, “creativity” as defined by Florida and his creative thesis (unless you count having a “creative” wait staff as something that a bonified “creative type” might desire to have in his or her neighborhood). And yet, to listen to the Creative Class pitch, making Lexington a high-tech hub (along with the other 378 or so cities doing the same thing here… Read more »
Bill Pote

A successful city/region is one that has a strong economic/job base AND strong quality of life aspects – which include physical setting (beautiful public spaces, recreational facilities, etc.), culture (visual arts, theater, dance, music, etc.) and community (volunteer & networking opportunities, closely-knit neighborhoods, etc.).  You can’t have one and not the other.  So yes, without jobs then all of the quality of life stuff is indeed just fluff and is in fact unsustainable.  However, without strong quality of life components then the jobs won’t be sustainable because people with the means won’t want to live here, businesses will then struggle at attracting talent, and eventually they too will relocate.  There is a connection.
The same can be said of what direction we should be going in terms of the types of jobs we should be going after.  High-Tech or Manufacturing – why shouldn’t we focus on both?  I think it is a mistake to say that we’re no longer going to be a manufacturing town, especially when you look at the infrastructure and talent pool we STILL have here today.  But that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t still be looking to build on things like aerospace technology and other “high-tech” fields.  Yes, we can and should do both.
Quality of life or jobs.  High tech or manufacturing.  To say that we must focus on one OR the other is saying that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.  It is a valid debate when it comes to who should be focusing on what – especially in this town where we seem to have dozens of organizations trying to achieve similar things.  But the bottom line is that we should be figuring out the best way to allocate our resources so that we can achieve forward momentum in ALL OF THE ABOVE.


Bill the troubling assumption underlying what you’ve said is that there’s some “we” that should decide on a direction and we should all just hop on board. I don’t think committees of busy-bodies or government of any sort is cut out for the venture capital role in which you seem to be casting them.

We should just lower the barriers to entry and withold judgement on what sort of business is right for Dayton.

Donald Phillips
Donald Phillips

What’s more troubling (read: amusing) is that Dayton’s self-appointed urban vanguardists embraced Richard Fourflusher with milinarian zeal. They close their minds to any critiques (not only my assinine comments) and are once again looking for another savior to appear through a rupture in the heavens–after it takes a couple hundred thousand dollars, first.



…be not only competitive- but, top of the heap. Core competencies in this region used to be making things. With everyday that the “economic development” geniuses talk about aerospace and green jobs- without talking about manufacturing…

The thing that should be really troubling to you about aerospace hubs and economic development is that the accepted formula among the technocrats is to ship manufacturing to low-wage clusters in Mexico / Asia and only retain the top end of the value chain in Europe / North America.  In fact, clusters with a much more established track record of building aircraft than Dayton have been following this formula (accelerated by the recent recession).  This is a locally optimal strategy for a firm (and it seems clusters too).  There’s no use denying it, so any solution for Dayton that does not address this problem is no solution at all (sorry Drexel Dave, hiding behind trade agreements is not a solution, it just delays the inevitable and screws your neighbor in the process).
Implementing a successful contrarian strategy against simple-minded wage arbitrage requires real creativity and hard work.  My guess is that folks who rely on public grants for their income and spend their days in committee meetings are probably not up to that challenge, but maybe there’s a thoughtful reader out there who could share some links to prove me wrong…

Jeff of Louisville
Jeff of Louisville

 …is to ship manufacturing to low-wage clusters in Mexico / Asia and only retain the top end of the value chain in Europe / North America. 

Actually this is a bit of what’s going on with the defense sector here.  It’s not really about aerospace manufacturing in Dayton.   The newest aerospace thing in the region is GE…which is locating an R&D activity here, not a manufacturing facility.  Not so say there won’t be some spin-off. 
Bill Pote is correct about the manufacturing aspect.  Once you get beyond the high-viz closures of mass industrial operations like Delphi and GM this area still has a substantial manufacturing sector, but more akin to the German mittlestand .   Yes, there is a specialization in precision machining, but what’s wrong with that?   Nothing to say manufacutring can’t happen here .  In fact there seems to be a trend of in-shoring, as per the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Manufacturers find reasons to bring production back to U.S.

General Electric is moving some of its appliance manufacturing out of China.

Is it going to the next cheap-labor developing country on the map?

Not quite.
GE’s plan to move production of a heat-pump water heater from China to Appliance Park in Louisville and Ford’s strategy to export cars from its Louisville Assembly Plant to Europe are examples of an encouraging trend for manufacturing in the United States.
“On-shoring,” “back-shoring,” and “re-shoring” are all buzzwords for a U.S. manufacturing industry hopeful for change after decades of being weakened by cheaper labor overseas.




Actually this is a bit of what’s going on with the defense sector here.  It’s not really about aerospace manufacturing in Dayton.

You’re right, that GE project and the trade talks with the Israelis (peddling widgets manufactured in Haifa to WPAFB) are great examples of following the consensus aerospace cluster formula.
On ‘back-shoring’, the Boeing 787 development is another good example of out-sourcing over-reach, foreign sub-assembly integration and (one line of) final assembly was pulled back in a bit and consolidated in a low-wage location in this country.

Yes, there is a specialization in precision machining, but what’s wrong with that?   Nothing to say manufacutring can’t happen here .

I agree, Dayton has lots of the right pieces still here and a useful vacuum from things that left; plenty of opportunity given the right conditions.



difference is Japanese leadership and non-UAW or IUE workers

I don’t know if non-union is the key.  Those GE and Ford manufacturing efforts Jeff linked are unionized, but the union in both cases had to get real:

Louisville Assembly will be the first plant in Ford’s experiment to build vehicles in the United States for export, company officials say. Acceptance by the UAW of lower wages for new workers was crucial, Ford officials say, to the decision to spare the plant and others in North America from closing in recent years.How many jobs on-shoring will bring back remains unclear.

Seems more like ‘union willing to deal’ is the key.