Remember Richard Florida, economic development expert and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class”? He has served as guru to lots of cities that were losing population, first to the suburbs, then the exurbs, leaving an economically depressed urban core.
His theory that urban revival depends on cities attracting a young, well-educated, “creative class” of hipsters gained some currency in Roanoke over the last few years, inspiring a surge of downtown living.
Being hip, though, doesn’t necessarily translate into general prosperity. Joel Kotkin writes in a sobering assessment in The Daily Beast Wednesday, “Florida himself, in his role as an editor at The Atlantic, admitted last month what his critics, including myself, have said for a decade: that the benefits of appealing to the creative class accrue largely to its members — and do little to make anyone else any better off.”
One criticism is that when high-skilled, knowledge-based professionals move in, any wage increases that blue-collar and service workers might see is eaten up by higher housing costs.
Kotkin notes: “Perhaps the best that can be said about the creative-class idea is that it follows a real, if overhyped, phenomenon: the movement of young, largely single, childless and sometimes gay people into urban neighborhoods.” In most places, though,the divide between haves and have-nots just grows wider.
Cities, particularly in the Rust Belt, that depend on enclaves of “the creatives” to remake their economies can forget about it. Kotkin writes, “Investments in ‘cool’ districts may well appeal to some young professionals, particularly before they get married and have children. But overall, as Florida himself now admits, it has done little overall for the urban middle class, much less the working class or the poor.”
The cities that he and others look to are much bigger than Roanoke, of course. I’m not sure how much a parallel can be drawn between what’s happening in my hometown of St. Louis, say, and here. But some of the observations ring true.
I can’t quite believe, though, that a valley where a giant neon star has iconic status will ever be too hip to be real.