UPDATE 4/29: Richard Florida’s Blog picked this up HERE. Might be some interesting conversations over there.

Book Review: Cities and the Creative Class
Bruce Reyes-Chow, 2007

Introduction and Rational
Richard Florida, Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University has attempted over the years to define the cultural and economic realities of who he has coined, the “Creative Class.”  Also known as the “Cultural Creatives” and/or “Bobos” this is a segment of society that I am focusing on as part of my Doctor of Ministry Program, specifically around the mainline church response to this group as well as the impact on pastoral leadership.

A follow-up to his first book, The Rise of the Creative Class which details the economic impact of this group Cities and the Creative Class takes a closer look at the relationship between the Creative Class and their economic and social impact on urban enclaves.  He names San Francisco, along with other cities such as Seattle, Boston, Chicago and Minneapolis, as major cultural centers where this particular culture has produced great economic and cultural growth.

His focus on the urban Creative Class culture in general and San Francisco specially is particularly compelling because about 90% of the congregation I serve would fit into the Creative Class culture.

Who are the Creative Class
One critique of this book is that there are some assumptions about the reader, mainly that they understand clearly who makes up the Creative Class and have mostly likely read The Rise of the Creative Class.  Still, he does offer some help in the area by defining his “3 T’s” of Economic Growth” (37) as Technology, Talent and Tolerance.  Creative centers have high concentrations of people who express greater level of competence and instances of these three areas.  In regard to these area he says,

Creativity and the members of the Creative Class take root in places that possess all three of these critical factors.  Each is a necessary, but by itself insufficient condition.  To attract creative people, generate innovation and stimulate economic development, a place must have all three.  I define tolerance as openness, inclusiveness and diversity of all ethnicities, races and walks of life.  Talent is defined as those with a bachelor’s degree and above.  And technology is a function of both innovation and high technology concentrations in a region. (37)

While there are clearly cultural issues that are open to critique regarding this particular community, I believe that one of the reasons mainline urban churches have lost a meaningful connection with this segment of the population is that we have not acknowledged that we have failed to maintain the same level of creativity and innovation that this community requires and experiences as their cultural norm.

Book Summary
The book is divided into three main subject areas: Talent, Tolerance and Place.  Each areas uses research to illustrate the differences between major urban areas as well as some suburban and rural settings.  Each chapter is focused on trying to determine why each of the cities, named as Cultural Centers, were or are economically successful.

Part I, the Talent portion of the book compares various studies to determine the rankings of cities in regard to technology, environment, regional issues, etc.  Basically he draws some conclusion as to why more talented people are drawn to particular areas,

In other words, talent does not simply show up in a region; rather, certain regional factors appear to play a role in creating an environment or habitat that can produce, attract, and retain talent or human capitol. (109)

Part II, the Tolerance portion of the book – and my favorite – focuses on the idea that the Creative Class is attracted to environments that have a high level of tolerance.

Our theory is that a connection exists between a metropolitan area’s level of tolerance for a range of people, its ethnic and social diversity, and its success in attracting talented people, including high-technology workers.  People in technology businesses are drawn to places known for diversity of thought and open-mindedness . . . (130)

Of note in this section, as well as throughout the book, is that Florida considers the gay population, or lack thereof, a major determiner of an areas level of creativity and tolerance.

Part III, the Place section, Florida takes on university settings and New York, post 9/11.  He challenges universities not to lean on the natural draw of the intellectually advanced and talented, but to also understand than the setting and culture are also important to drawing those who are both creative and talented.  When he write about New York City in general and Lower Manhattan in particular he affirms the city’s focus on building a cultural “node” in the midst of a creative city.

Lastly he posits some of the concerns of the urbanization of the Creative Class, namely that economic inequality is a major concern. In this regard, San Francisco is his main example of economic inequality.  He also lists other issues that the urban creative class must confront (172): Housing affordability, Uneven regional development, Sprawl and ecological decay, Mounting stress and anxiety and Political polarization.

Translating to Church
After reading this book for about the fourth time, it has become painfully obvious that there are clear correlations between Florida’s explanation of urban economic success and the possibilities for mainline congregational physical and spiritual vitality.  I believe that in the end mainline urban congregations see themselves as possessing all characteristics of urban Creative Centers.  But, I also believe there is often a large chasm between how a congregation sees itself and the realities of who they are.  More specifically, this book brings to light three areas where there may be a difference between self-perception and reality.

Tolerance and Diversity: In this case, I suspect that most congregations at any location on the political/theological spectrum claim to hold tolerance and diversity as important.  More often than not however, this is not lived out beyond tokenism or superficial markers of diversity.  Florida argues, and I would agree, tolerance must be more than numbers, it must also be a way of life.  Just as universities will fail to attract the Creative Class because they pay diversity superficial lip service, highly concentrated areas of the Creative Class will not simply tolerate difference, but will truly appreciate what diversity brings to the larger community.  The church needs to take on the approach as well if we hope, not just attract this particular group of people, but to actually live into the idea that tolerance and diversity matter.

Creativity and Innovation:Unlike tolerance and diversity, I am not sure that all congregations value creativity and innovation.  Again, however we should, that is if we take one of our core values of the church reformed, always reforming seriously.  I suspect that this is one more difficult characteristic for an established church to do after developing great history and traditions.  Still, without these attributes, liberal or conservative, we will remain mired in a particular time and context without even knowing it and will again, fail to live into who we claim to be.

Introspection and Evaluation: Florida models one aspect of this culture that is often underappreciated, this group engages in critical self-reflection.  I think this is an intrinsic aspect of the Creative Class’ ability to innovate and appreciate diverse worldviews, that is no one is complete or isolated, so by default we are in the process of discovering who we are to become.  If that is not the church, not sure what is?  Unfortunately however, this way of being too often produces reactions of defensiveness and resistance rather than self-reflection and transformation

And while I would severely critique mainline churches regarding these three areas, I firmly believe that because we hold these three areas up as ideals – which not all communities do – we have the greatest potential being transformed into communities that are not just succeeding, but thriving.

Lastly, if I had the research chops to do something like this, I think this book could easily be done in the form of something like “City Churches and the Creative Class” and I would suspect that we would find very similar characteristics in healthy and thriving urban congregations.  This book, in terms of my particular project will provide the documentation and analysis to support my theory that mainline churches are equipped to, and if freed to, will attract this unique cultural community.

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