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April 10, 2007

Richard Florida

Rural Creativity

« Flamenco Index | Main | Divided America »

Rural_creatives_2 I'm frequently asked how non-urban areas and especially rural communities will fare in the creative economy. Now thanks to the fantastic work of Dave McGranahan and Tim Wojan, there's an answer (hat tip: Bill Bishop).

"In 2000 (as in 1990), about 260 or 11 percent of nonmetro counties ranked as creative-class counties. Regional differences are more pronounced than with metro creative-class counties; New England and the mountain areas of the West have higher shares of  rural creative-class-counties than the Midwest and South. Consistent with the thesis that quality-of-life considerations strongly motivate the creative class, counties high in natural amenities are most likely to be creative-class magnets. Pitkin County, Colorado (which contains Aspen), for example, had the largest creative-class proportion of all nonmetro counties in both 1990 and 2000. Counties dominated by colleges and universities also ranked high in creative-class proportions. Tompkins County, New York, for example, has Cornell University. Jefferson County, Iowa, a Midwestern creative-class magnet, is home to Maharishi International University. As a draw for Transcendental Meditation adherents, the county has attracted many urban professionals who have started or work for more than 100 software development and professional service firms located there. Most of the nonmetro creative-class counties in low natural-amenity areas have colleges or universities. Mountain landscapes and universities are not required to attract the creative class to rural areas. Llano County does not contain a large college or university but is in the Texas Hill Country near Austin and borders on two large lakes. Robust growth in the number of artists in the county during the 1990s is representative of “artistic havens” emerging in select rural counties. Cook County, Minnesota, is a hiking and canoeing area, but it also has the oldest active artist  colony in Minnesota. With a playhouse and a music association, it is where “culture merges with woods and water.”

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I love the work McGranahan and Wojan are doing. This research leads me to a number of questions:

Is there a relationship between land use management practices and creative non-metro areas? Do these regions have active development of the entrepreneurs involved with outdoor rec cluster? Are the rec and place-based creative class enterprises developed together, or is this passive development?

What are the current and longitudinal community-level processes which have resulted in these regions performing so well to this point?

How and by what means are these high-performing regions connected to larger metro areas? What is their relationship to more outlying non-metros? (A question of development practice scale)

The National Center for Small Communities prepared a guidebook (Dec 2003) called "Grass Roots Rural Entrepreneurship: Best Practices for Small Communities". Fairfield, Iowa is profiled, providing some insight into some of the dynamics influencing that region's development. Perhaps Sohodojo folks can provide more insight.


I'm french and born in the country, in the East of France. I find it interesting and very clever to say that creative people like to live in natural places, but you can forget this : this is a return, because those who were born and rosen in the country had to leave it in order to "become" creative. The flight changed. country-city-country. Now with 2' years old, I can't see myself living in the country, because I still have to build my life in the city. The return will be at 35-40 years old.

Michael Wells

Here's an e-mail correspondance with McGranahan:

From me: I came across your work through Richard Florida's website. I live in Oregon and was surprised by a couple of things on your map. The metro areas all made sense, as did the Coast counties, in terms of what's there. However, Klamath County in the South and Union County in the Northeast don't usually pop into people's minds as creative centers. Wallowa County, next to Union, has the artist's colony of Joseph, but wasn't shown. Do you have any more information on these places?

His answer: Thanks for your note. I looked into it a bit. Outside of Multnomah County, Wallowa had the highest share of artists,
performers, etc. (Florida's "bohemians") in Oregon according to the 2000
Census. However, artists, etc. make up a small proportion of the
creative class measure and, in general, more rural types of counties
tend to have less creative class. Wallowa fell just short of the
creative class threshold in 2000, according to the Census data, but it
was in the top 5 percent among counties that lacked an urban place and
were not adjacent to a metropolitan area in 1990. Most of the other
high counties are physically high, in the Colorado mountains.

Klamath and Union counties have very few artists. They are more urban,
yet lie only slightly above the creative class threshold. Perhaps the article should have gone into the relationship between
urbanization and the creative class measure.

My response: OK, I think I get it. La Grande in Union has Eastern Oregon University, and Klamath Falls has the Oregon Institute of Technology and a community college, making them both college towns -- although that's not how I think of them. They also have the regional hospitals and are county seats, giving them medical and legal professionals. Both cities dominate their counties in terms of population.

SO, what does this all mean? That the things that define urban creative class cities also define rural counties? That the census data is too restrictive? That Rousselot is right, and local people moving back will bring creative class to country towns -- maybe in France, but in America rural attitudes can make it hard for outsiders to fit in -- or come back. I don't know, but it's probably a central issue around healing the rural/urban and red/blue divide in America.


Michael,thank you for sharing this exchange with McGranahan. I'd like to share my thoughts in answer to the questions you have posed.

I believe the the things that define the urban creative class also define the rural creative class. The difference lies in the issue of scale. Smaller regions lack the depth of creative occupation differentiation of urban areas. For example, rural regions may have universities by lack R&D capacity and the subsequent network density between public/private players. However, the rural community college system may be producing the workforce needed for the region, yet lack the capacity for spin-off enterprise development, thereby mitigating the potential economic impact of a comparable urban system. (My thought is the lack high functioning/high org capacity of development NGO's and fragmentation of rural development efforts in public/private realm is a key difference in lagging rural creative economies- as compared to urban, that is)

As far as the census data goes- I'm not certain if it is too restrictive, but I do feel that it doesn't capture the complexity of human lives. In other words, it's a great place to start, but it doesn't represent the multitude roles/interests of human endeavors, many of which contribute to a region's creative economy.

On Rousselot- I can speak only from my own experience, and I disagree with his statement that people have to leave the countryside in order to become creative. First of all, I hold to the thought that we are all inherently creative. Having been born and raised in a rural region, I recognize that living so close to nature has provided innumerable benefits to my own creative development.

I don't believe that people coming back, or moving to rural regions, will be solely responsible for furthering rural creative economies. As a very wise man once said about my state, "Rural Maine is always looking back to the past, and not in a good way." The key point being that creativity is antithetical to this aversion to change. The creative impulses which lead to innovation are not valued (at least in my region). Without the culture valuing and developing the social entrepreneurial framework for harnessing the region's creativity for economic gain, some rural regions will continue to lag economically. This requires, among other things, leadership. This leadership can be nurtured from within and/or imported.

You are quite correct in recognizing the rural/urban divide issue as being central to regional development. Both urban and rural citizens tend to default to abject cultural stereotypes. No, rural people are not some stereotypical rendering of the American Gothic. Nor are urban people all elitists, latte-loving consumers who want to maintain the pristine wilderness as long as there is someone to pump their gas. The one who effectively negotiates this process will be deserving of a Nobel Peace Prize. Authentic dialogue is a good starting place.

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