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Abstract

Richard Florida contends that the key determinant of the economic growth of cities is the presence of concentrations of what he terms the ‘creative class’–‘[those] who use creativity as a key factor in … [their] work …’– and that places should aim to attract these workers by endowing themselves with the 3Ts of technology, talent and tolerance. Despite courting serious criticisms from both the Left and Right, Florida’s arguments continue to resonate with civic leaders and a popular audience. Building on work that questions the theoretical robustness of the concept, this review focuses on the construction of identity and ontology in Florida’s work. Tracing the genealogy of the ‘creativity’ debates, the article seeks to explore the implications of this work on ideas about cities and urban policy. I argue that the creative class thesis successfully streamlined a number of disparate and emergent discourses (on the knowledge economy, cultural and creative industries, industrial clustering, flexible labour, etc.) into a platform upon which such processes could be seen as constitutive, and therefore provide a rhetorical ‘solution’ to a complex set of problems. The concept also works in terms of a personal buy-in, in that people are willing to subscribe to this world view and place themselves within this schema. Florida’s texts are sophisticated polemic mobilisations of identity, which package and market a particular view of the individual and society. Ultimately, however, the concept accounts for human creativity and the dynamics of place in shallow ways that ignore geographical context, reinforce and almost glorify the growing inequalities between rich poor, and ultimately co-opt creativity into the status quo of neoliberal capitalism.