The Guru of Creativity
Pushing the Limits Interview with Richard Florida.
If America’s “greatest economic challenge since the dawn of the industrial revolution” is the “global competition for talent,” as best-selling author and social theorist Richard Florida suggests, what does Florida think of the global competition for resources? In his books The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class, Florida argues there’s a link between a region’s ability to attract and cultivate creative people and its ultimate economic success. But this coveted Creative Class also demands green places to live, says Florida, so sustainability and creativity may go hand in hand—along with the abandonment of the ex-urban structure.
Could you tell us what is the New Economy and the Creative Class?
We’re shifting to an economy where value is created through creativity. We have this group of people who are paid to use their creativity, and we have a bunch of other people who toil in manufacturing and service jobs; who use elements of their creativity but are not principally paid for that. The real challenge of our time is to extend the structures of the creative economy to include everyone. Creativity doesn’t know and doesn’t care about any of the social categories we’ve imposed on ourselves. It really comes in all kinds of people. So the key is to be an open, tolerant and diverse society where people can express themselves. Once they can express themselves, part of that expression will be an expression of creativity, which is the stuff of which economic value is created.
What is the impact of the New Economy and Creative Class on the sustainability of our urban regions?
Talented people who are participating in the creative economy and have a choice in where to live are selecting places that are greener and more sustainable. Being in a greener, more naturally oriented kind of community with better open space, parks and cleaner air and water must be something people really desire. Creative people will go to places that are more open, more tolerant and more sustainable.
Your writing often focuses on attracting more creative people to urban areas. Do you think there should be a limit to the growth of these areas?
I’m fine with thinking about limits, but I actually think probably, the thing holding back density is too many regulations to begin with. So I would very much like to see some relaxation of building codes and zoning restrictions which inhibit density.
One of the things my research and the research of my student Brian Knutzen shows is that density is strongly associated with innovation, high-tech industry and success in the creative economy. So I think the key to building more economically effective, more innovative and more sustainable regions has to be increased density.
I think that what we’re getting to over time is an understanding of which environments work best for people. People with higher incomes are demanding properties closer to the centre—trading their large houses for condominiums and apartments. And certainly young people have a very strong preference for urban locations and actually less dependence on the automobile. We know for sure that long commutes are one of the things which most significantly damage your subjective well-being or happiness.
I think that this ex-urban or suburban special structure that we inherited from the 1950s and ’60s is beginning to reach its limits. More tightly compacted, more dense special structures and regions, regions that really care about increasing density and creating human-centred environments—over time, they’re going to be more attractive to people. Over time, they’re going to pay off in more innovation.
Can you think of examples of urban areas that demonstrate some of the characteristics you suggest would bring innovation and creativity to the urban atmosphere?