Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Decade later: Did economist's call for a creative class help Tampa Bay's economy?

Among the most pervasive, and arguably pernicious, notions of the past decade has been that the "creative class" of the skilled, educated and hip would remake and revive American cities. … Well, oops.

Urban development expert Joel Kotkin in a March 20 essay in the Daily Beast

Everyone who actually studies the subject — save Kotkin — agrees that cities and density spur economic growth. … Denser places with bigger cities are, to put it simply, richer.

Urban economist Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, in a March 21 response to Kotkin in the Daily Beast

Ten years ago this month, urban economist Richard Florida introduced Tampa Bay to his idea that cities able to attract and grow concentrations of technology workers, artists, gays and other skilled innovators will enjoy higher levels of economic development.

Florida called these groups the "creative class" and promised that the more of them places like Tampa Bay could lure, the more that high-end companies hungry for bright, young workers would follow with good paying jobs.

Parts of Tampa Bay's leadership embraced this notion. They pushed hard to make at least some of Florida's concepts materialize.

Florida's mantra even helped area organizations like Emerge Tampa, Creative Tampa Bay, Philanthropic Young Tampa Bay, 83 Degrees and Awesome Tampa Bay to blossom — aided by the local drive of folks like Deanne Roberts, Karen Raihill, Peter Kageyama and T. Hampton Dohrman, among many others too numerous to list.

And Florida's claim of the benefits of more densely populated cities provided a creative class kick in the pants to current and former Tampa Mayors Bob Buckhorn and Pam Iorio to woo more people to move downtown. The same goes for St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and predecessor Rick Baker. Each pushed a creative arts and museum agenda to help anchor the city's waterfront economy, even if other parts of the city still face an uphill economic climb.

Florida's influence could be seen in last week's event called "Tampa Bay's Curious Quest to Be Cool.'' The gathering, sponsored by 83 Degrees, drew a crowd of 150 young professionals, mostly from Hills­borough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.

The message? As 83degrees media.com reports, the coolest thing about Tampa Bay may be that the region is still coming together — and that promises abundant opportunity. "The fact that we're talking about our growth is, at the heart, what makes this an interesting place to be," said speaker Kageyama, a Florida emissary here and an adviser to St. Petersburg's mayor.

But 10 years have passed since the Florida show debuted in Tampa at a speech in front of an audience of regional business and political leaders. What did his prescriptions to spur economic success really deliver that would not have occurred on its own?

That topic is hotly debated in two essays that recently appeared in the Daily Beast, an online news magazine. A March 20 essay by Joel Kotkin, a growth expert and a professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., lampooned Florida's creative class idea for failing to revive urban centers or share any creative class gains with the larger and less skilled metro populations.

Writes Kotkin: "One group certain to be flustered by this new perspective will be many of the cities who have signed up and spent hard cash over the years to follow Florida's prescription of focusing on those things — encouraging the arts and entertainment, building bike paths, welcoming minorities and gays — that would attract young college-educated workers."

Florida fired back the following day in a Daily Beast response, calling Kotkin "America's leading cheerleader for American sprawl" and acknowledging that cities with the highest density of creatives (think New York or San Francisco) are also those with the greatest income inequality. That's not an indictment of the creative class, Florida argues. It's proof that higher wages do occur where talent concentrates — and that help for those less educated or skilled remains a long-term, national challenge.

So where does the Tampa Bay area fit in this debate between dueling heavyweights of America's growth?

With a nod to economist Florida, this is a metropolitan region still trying to make its downtowns in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater more dense with young people and more cool with universities, artistic variety, condo and apartment living, tech businesses, and an emerging entrepreneurial network for business startups.

But this is also a metro area expanding briskly on its edges, something Kotkin would endorse, as more people move here and seek less congestion and newer and more affordable housing options.

Now all we need is a viable mass transit system to knit it all together.

That's something even Florida and Kotkin could agree on.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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