What is the creative class?

The “creative class” is a concept developed by Richard Florida that proposes a new way of understanding the engines driving wealth creation. Florida charts a shift in North America away from manufacturing economies focused on mass production to “post-industrial” economies where the new drivers of economic development are creative professionals, specifically a “super-creative core” (including artists and designers) and “creative professionals” (including managers and lawyers).

According to Florida, the creative class chooses to locate themselves in cities with cultural amenities and favourable environments including diverse populations. It follows that urban policy should invest in attracting creative professionals, with the assumption that creative industries and broader economic growth will follow. Communities that have embraced Florida’s approach have seen public resources channelled toward cultural consumption and a reduced emphasis on economic redistribution or the development of local wealth. For example, resources may be spent on art galleries and museums designed by world-famous architects while public housing and other basic services experience tightened budgets.

Florida’s critics respond that creative economies still rely on inputs from manufacturing industries in the Global South premised on low-wage, precarious work. Furthermore, creative class policies are often accompanied by rising inequality, as a wide range of low-paid and precarious service work is needed to meet creative professionals’ consumption practices. Others point to the process of gentrification that tends to accompany creative-class policies, whereby public funding is funnelled into producing safe and welcoming spaces for a more affluent class.

According to the Toronto-based activist group Creative Class Struggle’s mission statement:

“‘Creative class’ policies are designed to build money-making cities rather than secure livelihoods for real people. These policies celebrate a society based on inequality, in which a select group of glorified professionals is supported by an invisible army of low-wage service workers. Seduced by the promise of prosperity and growth, governments around the world are reorienting their economies along these ‘creative’ class lines without consulting immigrants, women, people of colour, low-wage workers, and others directly affected by their decisions. Divisive ‘creative class’ policies, implemented in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, serve only to increase the vulnerability of the vulnerable and further empower the powerful.”

For more information, see creativeclassstruggle.wordpress.com.

Emily Eaton is an associate professor of geography at the University of Regina specializing in political economy and ecology.

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