Book review: The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited

This review was published in the July 16th edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited

By Richard Florida

Basic Books


Back in May and at the 11th hour, city politicians put pressure on the public school board to renovate and relocate their headquarters to the former Cannon Knitting Mills in the downtown core. The school board said thanks but not thanks. So the building sits vacant and the search for a savior continues.

At around the same time, a Toronto company inked a $61.75 million deal to buy the former Lang Tannery in downtown Kitchener.

This deal was eight years in the making. In 2004, the City of Kitchener introduced a special 10-year property tax levy. The 1.25 per cent tax hike was expected to generate $110 million for an economic development investment fund earmarked specifically for postsecondary education and knowledge industries.

The city drew $30 million from the fund to help build the University of Waterloo’s $147 million school of pharmacy across from the former leather tannery. Another $6.5 million brought Wilfrid Laurier’s faculty of social work a few blocks over. A new transit hub will be also going in nearby to bring regional light-rail, Via Rail, GO Transit and buses under one roof.

Impressed by the renewal happening downtown, a developer asked about buying the former tannery in 2007.  The mayor cut his vacation short to close the sale and the city and region gave the developer just shy of $900,000 to help cover environmental clean-up costs.

The developer in turn transformed the factory into the Tannery District. The 350,000 square foot district covers two city blocks and is 95 per cent leased to dozens of companies and start-ups from technology, digital media and life sciences industries. Tenants include Google, education software company Desire2Learn and Communitech, the association representing Waterloo Region technology companies.

In our knowledge-based and innovation-driven economy, these are companies you want setting up shop in your city. And you want the people working in those companies to call your community home.

Richard Florida, the Director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, first christened these workers the Creative Class in 2002.

These highly skilled and sought after people work in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment. They create the new ideas, new technology and new creative content that drive productivity and prosperity. There’s also a broader group of creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields who are well compensated to solve complex problems.

On the 10th anniversary of the Rise of the Creative Class, Florida has revisited and revised what quickly became the playbook for urban renewal in many communities. His predictions and prognostications have proven true while his critics seem to have missed the mark.

The Creative Class has fared far better in weathering the economic storm compared to the Service and Working Classes. The same holds true for communities that have recruited and retained a critical mass of creative workers.

“These places are prospering, distinguished by a new model of economic development that takes shape around the 3Ts – technology, talent and tolerance. The most successful and prosperous metros excel at all three,” says Florida, citing U.S. cities like Boston, Ann Arbor, Boulder, and Ithaca where the Creative Class accounts for more than 40 per cent of the workforce.

Florida adds to the economic development mix a fourth T in territorial assets. Quality of place matters to the Creative Class. When deciding where to live and work, they ask what’s there, who’s there and what’s going on?

“Successful places do not provide just one thing; they provide a range of quality of place options for different kinds of people at different stages in their lives. Great cities are not monoliths, they are federations of neighbourhoods.”

Building a creative community is an organic process, says Florida. He argues that public boondoggles like stadiums, casinos, convention centres and entertainment districts don’t work. It’s the small things that matter most to the Creative Class. “Real economic development is people orientated and community-based. It’s a matter of providing the right conditions, planting the right seeds and then letting things take their course.

“The bottom line is that cities need a people climate as much as, and perhaps even more than, they need a business climate.” Cities like Hamilton need a smart and focused strategy for attracting and retaining charter members of the Creative Class and building our own homegrown talent. Get that right and the companies, developers and investment firms will follow. And, as Florida spells out, that’s how buildings like the Cannon Knitting Mills are reborn, cities are revitalized and the creativity inherent within us all is fully realized. 

The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity

By Richard Florida

Random House Canada


Welcome to Hamilton, forever a city of the future.

The keynote speaker at last week’s economic summit made the crack and got a laugh from the convention centre crowd.  But the joke’s on us if we don’t get our act together in a real hurry on a handful of billion-dollar community-building initiatives.

The 2015 Pan Am Games aren’t just a super-sized construction project. It’s a chance to change a well-worn conversation that’s long past its expiration date. At long last, we can quit talking about how Hamilton is poised for greatness. How Hamilton’s renaissance, rebirth and renewal is on the horizon and around the corner. How the city’s a diamond in the rough, Canada’s best kept secret and the next best place to set up shop and put down roots.

With the infrastructure investments and economic spinoffs of the Pan Am Games, we can stop talking, start doing and finally deliver on some of that potential we’ve been promising for far too long. While we’ve had a false start with the stadium, here’s hoping we learn from the experience, get our act together and start singing from the same song sheet.

We’ll get a second chance to get it right with rapid transit, another gift-wrapped community-building project for Hamilton. Rapid transit will make it easier and faster to get around the city and bring people and jobs closer together. Rapid transit will also trigger more commercial and residential development, higher property values and increased tax revenues up and down the transit lines.

Best of all, rapid transit will strengthen Hamilton’s economic ties to Greater Toronto. And that will be a very good thing for our community. This is our best shot at making Hamilton the shipping and receiving department for one of the world’s leading megaregions.

We’re lucky to be part of a region that stretches from Montreal and Ottawa, through Greater Toronto and over to Kitchener-Waterloo. Taken together, this region is home to more than 22 million people and one of the largest in the world.

Megaregions are the new suburbs, says author Richard Florida. And in the aftermath of the Great Recession and in the resetting of life as we know it, Florida says these regions are turbocharged job-creating and wealth-generating hotbeds for innovation and entrepreneurship.

 “These megaregions, not nations, really power the global economy,” says Florida, best-selling author of The Rise of the Creative Class and director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

The world’s 40 largest megaregions already account for two-thirds of all global economic activity and 85 per cent of the world’s technological innovation. Megaregions house 85 per cent of all corporate headquarters in Canada and the United States.  These megaregions are also talent magnets, attracting the best and brightest who want great jobs, strong social networks and a great gridlock-free life outside of work.

And it’s rapid transit that will be the glue that binds megaregions together.  “High speed rail holds the promise of connecting declining places to thriving ones, greatly expanding the economic options and opportunities available to residents,” says Florida. “Instead of stumbling along inefficiently as functionally distinct centres, they can become part of a much larger area of interconnected supply and demand, production and consumption.

 “Think of it as shrinking distance, borrowing proximity and building scale. It may be the single best way the federal government can help rebuild once-great industrial corridors of the Great Lakes, which have lost much of their previous economic function and where distances are currently too great to commute from one city to the next.”

Along with major investments in rapid transit, Florida predicts a host of changes in how we’ll work and live following the Great Recession, the Great Reset and the emergence of “the new normal”. We’ll be driving a whole lot less. More of us will choose to be renters rather than homeowners. The suburbs will get redeveloped into denser, mixed-use communities.  And the majority of us will either be part of the creative class or working in the service economy, which already accounts for the majority of jobs.

Making those jobs more innovative, productive and higher paying will be one of our biggest challenges and greatest opportunities.   

“The service economy offers a tremendous potential for tapping the creative contributions of frontline workers and turning them into improved productivity,” says Florida. “Once we recognize service work as a source of innovation and productivity improvement, we can begin to raise wages in sync with the productivity gains these workers generate.”

Time to stop talking and start doing Hamilton. The future is now and it’s not about to wait for us to get our act together.