Author: U.S. shifting to be a creative economy

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 12:58 a.m.
"Creativity is the great leveler, the great equalizer," Richard Florida, author of the book "The Rise of the Creative Class," told a crowd of about 150 on the University of Florida campus Wednesday night.
Florida's book is based around the premise that the United States is now shifting from an industrial economy to a creative economy, just as it shifted from an agricultural to an industrial economy a century ago. By creativity, Florida refers to anyone who creates or thinks for a living - from artists and musicians to computer programmers and doctors.
And Florida says creativity, because it has the possibility to exist in every person, eventually will be the driving force in the world economy.
Florida is the Heinz professor of Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University, where he also heads the Software Industry Center.
The author said that he has spoken with many people about why they move to the places they do, and he said they all give similar answers.
"They tell me 'when we move to a city, we look for a place that has energy,' " he said.
That "energy," he explained, is excitement, ambience, life. He said people want to see joggers along the road.
They want to see people playing Frisbee and street hockey. He said people want "street-level culture" that makes them feel at home, and he said creativity, not business, is the key to bringing people into a certain place and making them want to stay there.
Peg Hall, a Gainesville resident in the audience, said she had read Florida's book and thought he was on the right track.
"I thought it was terrible writing," Hall said, "but some really great ideas."
Florida acknowledged that even some of his closest friends tell him his book is the best sleep aid they have found in ages, but Florida said that even if the book isn't a compelling read, it's the message that's important.
"The places that grow are creative across the board," he said.
Pegeen Hanrahan, Gainesville's mayor-elect, attended the speech and said she agreed with Florida's philosophies.
"I thought it was outstanding," Hanrahan said of Florida's speech.
She said one point Florida made about racial segregation inhibiting creativity struck home because of the concern over the divide between east and west Gainesville.
Though Florida was well-received by the crowd Wednesday night, his theories are not without criticism.
In City Journal magazine, author Steven Malanga said Florida's book would be more aptly titled "The Curse of the Creative Class."
In his article, Malanga discredits Florida's methods for judging a city's growth potential.
He provides figures that show job growth being lowest in Florida's most creative cities and highest in Florida's least creative cities.
"A look at even the most simple economic indicators, in fact, shows that, far from being economic powerhouses, many of Florida's favored cities are chronic underperformers," Malanga writes.
Florida was brought to speak by UF, Santa Fe Community College and several arts organizations in Gainesville.
Alice Wallace can be reached at (352) 338-3109.

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