Travel writer and former Portlander Frank Bures has published an essay attacking that half-forgotten economic development shibboleth, the "creative class." The term was shorthand for theories of the pop economist Richard Florida, whose books espoused the importance of the MacBook-in-the-coffee shop set to society's greater well-being.
"Today," Bures writes, "Creative Class doctrine has become so deeply engrained in the culture that few question it."
Why, without any solid evidence, did a whole generation of policy makers swallow the creative Kool-Aid so enthusiastically? One reason is that when Florida’s first book came out, few experts bothered debunking it, because it didn’t seem worth debunking. “In the academic and urban planning world,” says [Florida critic Jamie] Peck, “people are slightly embarrassed about the Florida stuff.” Most economists and public policy scholars just didn’t take it seriously.
Bures' essay amusingly relates some experiences he and his wife had after moving from Portland to another "creative" city, Madison, Wisconsin:
For a time, my wife had a soulless job with a boss who sat behind her, staring at the back of her head. I found work in a dusty tomb of a bookstore, doing data entry with coworkers who complained about their neurological disorders, or who told me about the magical creatures they saw on their way home, and who kept websites depicting themselves as minotaurs.Emphasis added. Read Bures' essay here (via Longreads).
I’m not sure what exactly I expected, but within a year or two it was clear that something wasn’t right. If Madison was such a Creative Class hotbed overflowing with independent, post-industrial workers like myself, we should have fit in. Yet our presence didn’t seem to matter to anyone, creatively or otherwise. And anyway, Madison’s economy was humming along with unemployment around four percent, while back in fun, creative Portland, it was more than twice that, at eight and a half percent. This was not how the world according to Florida was supposed to work.