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Flight of the Creative Class
Alex Steffen, 30 Oct 03

The "Creative Class" is to our current day what skilled mechanists were to the early Industrial Era - a mobile and much-sought class of people whose skills are vital for a region's economic success. Richard Florida - in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class - has shown not only that cities with large numbers of "creatives" (artists, programmers, engineers, media types, etc.) are more prosperous, but also that cities can work to attract them. This, in turn, has triggered something of a cottage industry of groups trying to promote their hometowns' creative advantages.

Thus far the work has tended to focus on the US. Cities in the developing world, though, need creatives and the economic booms they bring even more. But these poorer cities face distinct disadvantages in attracting mobile young people. Not only are salaries much higher in the developed world - hence the "brain drain" from places like India and Brazil - but the kind of tolerant social cosmopolitanism that is most attractive to creatives is not the strong point of most developing world cities.

That said, obviously cities like Rio, Mumbai and Shanghai have a lot to offer, including bustling neighborhoods, lower costs of living, and cultural or technological industries that are growing to rival their American counterparts. With cellphones, broadband and WiFi spreading like kudzu, it's ever more possible to live anywhere and be fully connected.

Developing world cities may have another ace up their sleeves: repressive policies here in America. As civil liberties erode, industry-driven restrictions on technological development (like Digital Rights Management, or DRM) grow, and the country veers right-ward, the US is beginning to look less attractive to a large number of creatives (especially those who immigrated here from another country in the first place). Indeed, Florida himself worries that the politics of this administration will drive out the Creative Class. Such flight might end up having a cascade effect. The futurism outfit Global Business Network sees this as a real possibility in its latest global scenario book, History in Motion:

"Laws forcing the use of DRM technologies also had the side-effect of stopping American open source software development. ... By 2007, many in the U.S. had had enough. America saw a steady emigration of talent, and not just in the software realm. Scientists and engineers frustrated at restrictions on their work, technologists finding innovation pathways closed off, and young, educated liberals increasingly frightened of the hard right political environment all sought relief by moving out. What had started as a trickle in the early '00s became, by late in the decade, a flood.

"These American expatriates settled in a variety of locations: Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Johannesburg... Many writers compared these emigrants to the American expats in Paris in the 1920s, a new "Lost Generation." Attracted by the vibrant cultures of these world cities, the expats came to believe themselves to be a small part of a larger global movement — or, more accurately, swarm of movements. By late in the decade, these networks of young, technologically-savvy world citizens (American expat or otherwise) had started to reshape much of the way the developed world worked and lived. The philosophies behind open source — encourage innovation, acknowledge good ideas, allow everyone access, give stuff away — started to infect other aspects of personal, social, and business lives."

It's futurism. Who knows? But still it seems that a developing world version of Florida's theories, oriented toward retaining and luring back local talent and capturing the attention of global expats, is an essential and missing part of the tool chest.

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For a non-US take on some of these issues check out:

"Across Britain, thousands of young Independents are working from bedrooms, workshops and run-down offices in some of the fastest growing sectors of the British economy: cultural industries such as design, fashion, multimedia and Internet services. The authors set out the current state of cultural industries and recommend new approaches to education, business support, finance and arts policy to help provide these new cultural entrepreneurs with a firmer base to build upon."

Posted by: Zaid Hassan on 6 Dec 03



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