Mr. Kotkin and Mr. Florida

MLewyn's picture

Joel Kotkin tried to take down Richard Florida today, arguing that trusting the "creative class of the skilled, educated and remake American cities" is "pernicious." Mr. Florida can speak for himself, but I do have a few thoughts about the article.

1.  Can Both Ideas Be True?

On the one hand, Kotkin says that  "the benefits of appealing to the creative class accrue largely to his members- and do little to make anyone else any better off ... the wage increases that blue-collar and lower-skilled workers see disappear when their higher housing costs are taken into account." On the other hand, he complains that appealing to the creative class has "been less than successful in many of the old rust belt cities".  For example, he writes that subsidizing the arts in Michigan "didn't exactly work."

So let me get this straight: on the one hand, the creative class is bad, bad, bad because it drives up housing costs.  On the other hand, it is bad, bad, bad that Buffalo and Utica aren't getting the creative class.  How can both propositions be true?  Shouldn't he be celebrating Buffalo and Utica as role models for exporting their middle and upper classes?

2.  Failed and Impractical Remedies

Kotkin quotes a Cleveland blogger for the proposition that Rust Belt cities should "emphasize their intrinsic advantages, such as affordable housing, a deep historic legacy tied to a concentration of specific skills as well as a strategic location."  He also notes that "less dense, more affordable cities" have grown.  But Cleveland and Buffalo have been de-densifying, and have had low housing costs for decades.  What has it gotten them except more decline and more decay?

He also points out that "the fastest job growth has taken place in regions ... whose economies are based not on 'creative' industries but on less fashionable pursuits such as oil and gas, agriculture and manufacturing." In particular, three of his four examples (Houston, Dallas, and Oklahoma City) are in oil-dominated Texas and Oklahoma.  But unless large amounts of oil are discovered in Ohio or upstate New York, I don't really see how Cleveland or Buffalo can duplicate the success of those places.

3.  An Argument About Nothing?

Both Kotkin and Florida (or more precisely, both Kotkin and Kotkin's interpretation of Florida) write as if cities can control what sort of businesses move there- whether they become the sort of "hip" cities that some praise or the brawny industrial cities that Kotkin glorifies. 

But I wonder.  Both in the United States and Europe, government seems at a loss as to how to bring employment back to pre-2008 levels.  And if a nation can't figure out how to do that, what makes us think that a city or state government would- let alone try to micromanage what type of jobs they get?



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