Commentary

Do “Creative” Cities Compete in the UK?

A new paper by the Institute for Public Policy Research looks at the evidence and finds that the U.K. experience contradicts the trendy idea (popularized by Richard Florida) that cities looking for the key to success should cultivate their “creative class.” Here’s the abstract:

Richard Florida’s well-known ‘creative class’ theory suggests that diverse, tolerant and cool cities will outperform other places. Cities with more ethnic minorities, gay people and counter-culturalists will attract high-skilled professionals: the presence of this ‘creative class’ ensures cities get the best jobs and most dynamic companies. Much of Florida’s research concentrates on American cities. Does it work in the UK? This paper examines Florida’s ideas, focusing on the evidence in British cities. It finds little evidence of a ‘creative class’, and little evidence that ‘creative’ cities do better. Businesses look for skilled workers when making location decisions, but skilled people also move to where the jobs are. Buzz attracts young people to city centres for a short time, after which most move out to suburbs. The paper concludes that the creative class model is a poor predictor of UK city performance. There is other, stronger evidence that diversity and creativity are linked to economic growth in cities, not least through rebranding and boosting tourism. Decisionmakers should focus on the basics: creativity is the icing, not the cake.

For more on Florida’s theory, see here, here, here, and here.

Leonard Gilroy is Senior Managing Director of the Pension Integrity Project at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. The Pension Integrity Project assists policymakers and other stakeholders in designing, analyzing and implementing public sector pension reforms.