Commentary

Hunting Hipsters

Richard Florida is the new darling of the urban planning community. In the few things I’ve read so far some of his ideas seem to make senseââ?¬â??such as urging cities to rethink their infatuations with convention centers and stadiums. Others ideas, like fighting sprawl and encouraging lots of local government spending are less encouraging. Then there are ideas that are sensible (such as promoting tolerance), but just shouldn’t be the purview of government. Certainly a local government can foster tolerance by allowing the democracy of the market to operate freelyââ?¬â??without council members squashing or supporting ideas based on their personal tastes or who contributes to their campaigns. Of course, a legal system that treats everyone equally is also something a government can provide. But ultimately tolerance comes from the people themselvesââ?¬â??it cannot be produced in city council meetings. Florida is also obsessed with hunting hipsters. He thinks the “Creative Class” can rescue stagnating cities and turn them into SoHo or Brooklyn Heights. Writers who profile Florida cannot go long without dropping words like “eclectic” and “funky.” Here’s an example from Phoenix: Florida’s book describes how the whole picture needs to include an attractive job market, since creative folks don’t stay with one company forever; interesting scenes for an eclectic lifestyle; funky hangouts like bookstores and cafes for social interaction; diversity of every kind, which signifies that a place is exciting and tolerant; authenticity, which encompasses historic buildings, cool neighborhoods, and great local music; and an identity, because people want to be proud of saying they live in a certain city. Apart from the uncomfortable vision of city council members codifying their vision of “hip” into law, there’s also the point that even hipsters need the not-so-hip. After all, The documentary filmmaker needs a transcription service, tape transfer service and interview space. These services may not be especially hip, but they’re essential to the hipster. Florida’s also obviously very media savvy. He knows journalists love lists: A big reason Florida has caused such a stir in cities around the country is because of all the rankings in his book. After all, nobody wants to get a bad report card. His Creative Index measures an area’s creative strength and potential, and is determined by a mix of factors: the percentage of Creative Class members in a city’s work force, the High-Tech Index, the Innovation Index and the Diversity Index. With a score of 909, Phoenix ranked 19th among major U.S. regions, and 22nd overall. The High-Tech Index is a pretty straightforward measure of the concentration and size of a region’s tech economy; Phoenix ranked eighth. But it also came in 46th on the Innovation Index, which measures the number of patents per capita. Most controversial is the Diversity Index, also dubbed the Gay Index, which measures the concentration of gays in a region. Florida argues that the Creative Class sees a community with a sizable gay population as a diverse, tolerant place, and therefore a desirable place to live — the kind of place that would inspire creativity. Phoenix ranked 21st.

Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.