Got Creativity?

If there was ever a word or phrase that falls within the definition of a “Buzz Word” then that phrase would be “Creative Class”. First coined by Richard Florida in his book “The Rise Of The Creative Class,” the idea has swept the nation like a proverbial swarm of locusts over a corn field. While not without its critics, the idea that the creative class will have a significant impact on the American economy in the 21st Century has been widely accepted.

For those who have not been caught up in the hoopla, the creative class refers to the segment of the economy that engages in work that is creative in nature and ranges from artists and musicians to engineers and computer programmers. The members of this group tend to be extremely mobile and they tend to congregate around other creative types. By Florida’s estimates the number of people engaged in creative class work numbers somewhere in the 40 million range (within the United States).

The idea introduced by Florida is that this group of economy driving personalities has the ability to shift the location of information age capital, ideas and the people who generate them, wherever they decide to reside. Therefore, these people will first choose a place to live and then find a job. That is, they choose a place that fits their lifestyle choice and the jobs will follow. Because these Creatives can relocate to new states or cities and take there mental capital with them, the creative class has become the object of desire for every municipal official and state economic development organization. Nearly every official at every level of government who is even the least bit progressive has indicated the necessity of attracting, retaining and fostering the growth of the creative class and the creative economy in their states and cities. Michigan and Detroit are no exception. From Detroit Renaissance’s Creative Corridor initiative to the State of Michigan’s Cool Cities program the City and State have fully embraced Florida’s theories. But can Michigan and Detroit succeed in attracting and retaining this much desired class of Americans?

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As the home to the largest exodus of college educated youth in the nation the instinctive response to this question is, “Of course not.” When so many people are fleeing the State like rabbits in the headlights is it really possible to keep Creatives here? I believe the answer is yes.

The City and the State must continue to implement polices and encourage programs and legislation that foster the type of environment that is so desire to many in the creative class (i.e. walkable urban spaces) but there are other reasons for them to come. The very idea of the creative class necessarily relies upon the premise that the members of that class are, well, creative. Creativity, true creativity thrives off of a blank canvas. The ability of the creative mind to take a blank slate and make it a point of focus for emotions, ideas and other creative forces to manifest themselves without the influence or distraction of existing boundaries or norms or standards of what ought to be is the true power of the creative. Real creativity seeks to find that blank canvas and create something new, something genuinely original that reflects their contribution. Detroit is that canvas.

Ask any of the hundreds of people who have moved into the Greater Downtown Detroit area over the past decade or so why they chose Detroit and one of the most common answers you will hear is that Detroit provides them an opportunity to make a difference, to impact their environment, essentially, the ability to create something out of nothing. Detroit, unlike New York, Chicago, or San Francisco is a place where a creative individual can not only transform the surface of a canvas or the grooves of a record, but where individual efforts can transform the quality of their environment and the content of the social dialogue. In Detroit, a creative has the power to impact an entire music scene or change the direction of the car industry through new unique designs, or develop a whole new method of urban design and development.

Detroit has always been home to creatives. Engineers and artists that created the automobile, architects that designed the most impressive collection of 1920’s and 30’s architecture in the nation, musicians that have changed entire genres of music. Detroit has always been a breeding place of true creativity. The opportunity Detroit’s open canvas provides those who desire a unique and inspiring environment where they can push the boundaries of the conventional, is limitless. Whether a true creative is out to change the world or something inside themselves, Detroit is uniquely positioned to enable that change.

Will Detroit attract the creative class? Without a doubt. However, the leaders of the Metropolitan Detroit area must encourage the development of the type of environment that Creatives want to participate in and be open to novel ideas about how things can be done to improve our region. It is certain that the major changes needed to see a real turn around in our area will require the type of unique and creative ideas that this class is known for producing. When they come, and they will, the only question that will remain is whether Richard Florida was right. Will those much covented creatives provide the solution to our economic woes? We will see.

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~ by rmkasak on February 15, 2009.

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