The Three T’s

I’ve now had an opportunity to read Professor Richard Florida’s fascinating and very readable new book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” I would recommend it.

I’ve now had an opportunity to read Professor Richard Florida’s fascinating and very readable new book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.” I would recommend it.
Professor Florida is no gay activist; he is a hard-headed expert on economic development. His basic thesis is that—in today’s world—cities that wish to flourish and attract new jobs must make themselves attractive to the emerging “creative class” that is today driving economic prosperity. That is because workers no longer relocate to cities where the employers are—instead, employers increasingly relocate to cities with a skilled, plentiful and creative workforce. The book has a wealth of data on the characteristics of the creative class, and the nature of those cities its members find attractive. In short, Professor Florida says that there are “three T’s” necessary for a robust economy: technology, talent and tolerance. And he notes that one of the “markers” for a community’s tolerance is the presence of a large, visible gay community.
Creative class people, straight or gay, according to Dr. Florida, want to live in places that are broadly accepting of difference. The way gays are treated, the vitality of the local arts community, the authenticity of neighborhood life, the presence of other creative folks—all are indicators they look for. (Fancy sports stadiums and generic malls aren’t.) Accordingly, cities like San Francisco, Boston, and Austin, Texas, rank high in their percentages of creative class residents. Southern cities generally rank poorly.
Among the copious tables in the book, Indianapolis shows up as a middle-ranked city. We aren’t bad, but we sure aren’t near the top.
If one accepts Dr. Florida’s conclusions—and I think he makes a very persuasive case—what could Indianapolis do to attract more of the creative class?  The Mayor’s cultural initiative, an effort to bolster the place of the arts in our city, is certainly a good start. Passage of the pending ordinance to grant employment benefits to the domestic partners of city employees would be a positive signal. Sufficient funding for the various local technology initiatives would be prudent. “Growing” IUPUI and other local universities is critical—Florida devotes considerable discussion to the importance of such institutions to the creation of a hospitable environment. We can and should take these, and related, steps.
It’s what Florida doesn’t discuss, however, that may doom Indianapolis to permanent backwater status, and that is political culture. Tolerance? This is a state where legislators sue the University in an effort to suppress a play that suggests Jesus might have been gay; where City-County Councilors who are themselves closeted gays or who have gay children are afraid to vote for partner benefits. Authenticity? This is a city that doesn’t understand why the Faux Village of West Clay isn’t attractive. Education? We starve it all—K through 12 and after.
If we had more of the creative class, the culture would change. But we need to change the culture to get more of the creative class.
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?