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Urban development and the politics of a creative class: evidence from a study of artists

Ann Markusen

Environment and Planning A, 2006, vol. 38, issue 10, 1921-1940

Abstract: In this paper I critique the notion of ‘the creative class’ and the fuzzy causal logic about its relationship to urban growth. I argue that in the creative class, occupations that exhibit distinctive spatial and political proclivities are bunched together, purely on the basis of educational attainment, and with little demonstrable relationship to creativity. I use a case study of artists, one element of the purported creative class, to probe this phenomenon, demonstrating that the formation, location, urban impact, and politics of this occupation are much more complex and distinctive than has been suggested previously. The spatial distribution of artists is a function of semiautonomous personal migration decisions, local nurturing of artists in dedicated spaces and organizations, and the locus of artist-employing firms. Artists have very high rates of self-employment, boosting regional growth by providing import-substituting consumption activities for residents and through direct export of their work. Their contribution to attracting high-tech activity is ambiguous—causality may work in the opposite direction. Artists play multiple roles in an urban economy—some progressive, some problematic. I argue that artists as a group make important, positive contributions to the diversity and vitality of cities, and their agendas cannot be conflated with neoliberal urban political regimes. I show the potential for artists as a political force to lead in social and urban transformation and the implausibility of their common cause with other members of Florida’s ‘creative class’, such as scientists, engineers, managers, and lawyers.

Date: 2006
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