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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Florida Heads North

It appears that Richard Florida, author of the well-known book Rise of the Creative Class, is heading for Toronto. Word has it he'll be teaching at the Rotman School of Management and potentially involved with the MaRS Centre, an innovative research facility near the University of Toronto.

This is thrilling news especially to anyone like myself who believes this great city is on the edge of an explosion of progress, but not quite there yet. And I find it pretty telling that Florida is quoted as having said just this - that the city is "very close" to achieving great things - and that a spokesperson for a local cultural promotion outfit is quoted as implying that we're pretty much already there (note the difference in tone and attitude).

Apparent non sequitur: I couldn't help but notice, during a short stay in the Glasgow area (Busby by day, Glasgow by night), the impressive focus on the arts and the creative communities in that great city. Glasgow's one of those places that pretty much lives up to the stereotypes you may have of it: a long history of surprising prosperity and tremendous hardship; a gritty place, a place that lost its economic role to an extent in the process of deindustrialization, a place that doesn't have cachet (perhaps never did) but is doing wonderful things to attempt rejuvenation, starting with culture. (Heroic baggage handlers tackling terrorists might be only so-so PR in the short run, but probably good for long-term visibility, but I digress once again.) What immediately struck me, though, was the over-literal take on the concept of culture and the arts. The most vibrant "creative" community was creative in the literal sense of poetry, painting, and performance. The broader knowledge industries seemed conspicuously absent save for the usual satellite operations of large telecommunications companies and the like.

At the risk of sounding like a complete arts illiterate, I'd suggest that places like Glasgow, and to some extent Toronto, have more than their share of "creative" as literally defined. But as I'm sure an economic geographer type in the Florida vein would argue, a vibrant arts community is a necessary but not sufficient condition to attract the type of full-fledged creative cluster that drives economic, not just cultural, growth; one that leads to fuller and better employment, higher productivity, and the kind of tax base and philanthropic growth that can actually finance further public works (though, if we are to believe Florida, not sports stadiums or the opera) that will attract more of the valuable knowledge workers that drive economies.

The Glasgow example leads me to believe that Florida's 2002 book was a little too enamored of the concept of "nightlife" (cough, Glasgow's got plenty of that) as something that attracts the right people, who apply their talents to making economies modern and productive. The whole "piercings and weird hours stereotype" is, largely, just that... of course people who are *part* of the creative cluster will be diverse, but it isn't piercings, weird hours, or music festivals that just got Research in Motion a deal in China.

In any case, Toronto has attracted a major asset in Prof. Florida, and we should count ourselves lucky for the spark he is sure to provide. His more recent book, of course, is titled Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent, in some parts warning U.S. decisionmakers that many of the smartest young grads, and some old dogs to boot, are thinking of leaving the country to work in places their values will be respected. Moreover, he doesn't feel the educational system has its priorities in place. Somewhat autobiographical?

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