Florida and Creativity

I feel an obligation to blog something about CMU professor Richard Florida and his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, given the publicity around his theory of a "creative class" and what that "means" to emerging cities--such as Pittsburgh.

I haven't read the book, and I have no particular desire to, although it may become an obligatory read--sort of like Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities back in the late 1980s. Florida's thesis apparently is that there is a "creative class" that is chiefly responsible for the creative and innovative economic activity that we especially value today.

As someone who teaches copyright and patent law for a living, I'm all for creativity. I'm skeptical of the thesis, however. First, I'm skeptical of big structural theories that explain everything. Second, I'm skeptical of theories that assume that there are some people in this country (or anywhere) who are "creative" (or "innovative")--and that most other people are not. My intuition is the reverse. Given the right environment and resources, almost everyone is "creative" and "innovative" in a way that society should (and does) value. The hard work, then, isn't finding and supporting the "creators" or the "creative class," but building contexts and environments that support the creativity and innovation that's waiting to happen. (For more on this theme, look up a recent book edited by Keith Sawyer, titled Creativity and Development.)

Third, I'm skeptical because I'm inclined to credit a recent comment on the book at Amazon.com by Douglas Rae, one of my long-ago political science professors and a person with unimpeachable credentials on many topics, including urban (re)development and social history. Professor Rae calls Richard Florida's theory "imaginary history" and "astonishingly uninformed about American history."


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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at]gmail.com. Mike also blogs at Madisonian.net, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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