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April 09, 2008

Richard Florida

Class/Politics

« Historic Cities Programme | Main | Quote of the Week »

A new, very thoughtful and provocative Brookings paper by Ruy Teixeira and Alan Abramowitz on the "The Decline of the White Working Class and the Rise of a Mass Upper Middle Class," here.

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Whitney Gunderson

This weekend, I would like to discuss this more. I am trying to convince a few friends of mine that more work needs to be done on creative class issues in the Midwest. I would like to run a few ideas through the blog to refine them before putting them on paper. Stay tuned, all comments are appreciated.

Michael Wells

I've just finished a book called "The Middle Class Millionaire". It analyzes people with a self-earned net worth of $1 to $10 million. Interesting similarities and differences with the creative class.

In one place it talks about 2005 -- Katrina, record oil prices, etc. Economists were predicting a slowdown, but it didn't happen. A group of Citigroup analysts studied why and this was their conclusion "... since the top 10% of US households collected 43% of annual income in 2004 and controlled 57% of household wealth, the spending behavior of the vast majority of Americans--the other 90%--no longer matters very much."

The maps in the Geographic Inequality post above point to the same issues.

For a liberal democracy, this is chilling. The political repercussions could be destructive, already have been in fact. But the social consequences of what the Citigroup report's author called a "plutonomy" is a repudiation of what America has stood for, and reversal of the growing economic equality of the last half of the 20th century. Left unchecked, the growing wealth gaps and increases in numbers living in poverty are a time bomb.

This is the aspect of Richard's work that gets the least attention. From the last chapters of Rise, he talks about the need to adapt the creative economy to include the service and working classes in its prosperity.

hayden fisher

Great piece!

In reply to the comments above, we unfortunately will never eliminate poverty. We should continue to promote programs like Habitat, Meals and Catholic outreach programs among others to ensure a safety net for those who have not made it, largely because of mental illness and addiction challenges that so often are not overcome. BUT we must ensure opportunity and access to capital by the talented; access to capital should be the cornerstone of economic development efforts. So much more progress could be made, and very swiftly, if more of the people with the talent, drive and hunger to make a difference for themselves and the marketplace had easier access to capital. The lending infrastructure currently in place needs to be completely overhauled.

Another overlooked phenomenon. The special interests' tight grip on government is being loosened by the ability of candidates to raise significant money from small individual donors via the internet. We're watching a TRULY REMARKABLE shift in political power right now and genuine REJUVENATION of democracy in this country. The next five years will be SPECIAL.

...just some random thoughts and comments, great piece!

Whitney Gunderson

As promised by this weekend, here are a couple observations that I think are signs of a growing creative mantra in the Midwest. I am planning on presenting these observations and more along with a few professional cites to professors and graduate students in a Midwestern university (in much the same way they are presented in this blog - by email and PDF). The people I will be presenting these ideas to are personal contacts and seem to be supportive of the creative class thesis, but do not see it as encompassing, especially in the Midwest.

Their views are well-founded - they come from years of witnessing the brain drain phenomenon first hand and watching family farms being gobbled up by corporate farming interests. While brain drain and farm decline are sad, nonetheless, they are often outrightly denied, as people feel helpless watching them and do not know what to do about it. The people who feel the saddest and most helpless are probably academics, who are intelligent enough to see the divided dichotomies between all the good ideas and solutions on paper and the bad ideas and problems that actually exist in a community, which often times cannot be fixed or changed. I do not blame them for being a little skeptical.

Observation #1

Recently, I was paging through a social nightlife guide specifically aimed at people who are 25 to 34 years old. I usually pick it up from a local grocery store and page through it quickly - it’s not heavy reading material. An advertisement on the flipside of the front page was promoting a recently constructed real estate development. The homes and condos being sold in the development were near the center of a mid-sized urban city in the Midwest and were priced from $100k to $250k. The ad had a big picture of a young and good looking shirtless guy with a nice tan and bulging biceps. He was sitting at a granite kitchen counter, seductively looking into the camera and eating a bowl of cereal, presumably in the morning. The ad's caption was "Won't you be my neighbor?" My first thought? Florida's RIGHT! Compared to D.C., and the Bay Area, $100k is cheap for a one bedroom condo. This real estate company is hoping to increase property values by attracting gays - and the people who look for the presence of a gay population to feel safe - all in the "conservative" Midwest. Am I missing anything here?

Observation #2

Richard C. Longworth, author of "Caught In The Middle," laments a declining Midwest. Overly dramatic and pessimistic, he claims that towns in the Midwest are “dying” and “cannot be saved.” One reason Longworth claims that many Midwest towns often have “no hope” and are "gone forever" are that buildings that once housed small factories stand empty in towns all over the Midwest, especially in Ohio, where the once mighty factory towns of Dayton and Columbus have many vacant buildings. Longworth calls these buildings “relics” built around the turn of the 20th century. Longworth claims many communities are becoming bedroom towns as people live there only because of cheap housing and endure extreme commutes. All this sounds bad enough, but to me, it sounds like some of these places, with old vacant buildings and cheap space and with access to at least one large urban area could be the groundwork for a Jane Jacobs revolution. Am I too optimistic here? With an aging boomer population getting ready to retire, more of this space might come up for sale in the near future. If new ideas take old space, there is plenty of it in the Midwest. Why did cheap space work in San Francisco in the 1960s, but not in Ohio in 2008? The new Brookings Institution paper on the decline of the white working class by Teixeira and Abramowitz is a start at explaining this - but actually seems to promote the white working class by proving that its members are forward looking in all areas but politics, but that that could change.

One more thing. Longworth derides the Midwest and its political and business leaders. Furthermore, he claims there is no hope for much of the Midwest, except for where he lives, Chicago, and claims it is all because of this nasty disease, [as Longworth would write] called “globalization.” So far, all reviews I have read of Longworth’s work, “Caught In The Middle” have been positive. On the other hand, Richard Florida gets slammed for coming up with a positive creativity thesis and for promoting progressive action in places big and small, all over the rapidly globalizing world. Some wacko actually did claim that Florida was trying to end civilization – hard to believe. I don’t understand why Florida gets so much crap when other people have not done anything to actually increase our knowledge and understanding. Someone needs to slam this Longworth guy like the conservatives slam Florida. Any other ideas?


hayden fisher

Whitney, one of my favorite quotes (though I might misquote it here...late night): Albert Einstein-- Great ideas/thinkers have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds, ie, think nothing of the 'critics' of Richard.

Observation #2-- cheap real estate, classic architecture, tax credit ready development, available infrastructure-- the ingredients are there, and the kind of places desperate enough to "buy-in". There's a good chance a creative class movement could take hold. A creative mind would embrace the opportunity to find a new use for authentic old structures from which a community draws its past character.

Observation #1-- sex sells generally, you need more information about the marketing plan to understand what they're pushing...but, of course, the promoters could stumble into this something.

Good luck! Maintain the optimism, nothing will happen without it!!

Whitney Gunderson

Thanks for the comments. Sex does sell, but sex selling houses is a new concept to me. According to this home builder's website, "Addressing the needs of a unique segment of the Midwest's rapidly growing communities, Triton Homes is one of the nation's fastest growing homebuilders. Triton Homes was founded in 2002 by architect Joel Goodman to address the 'brain drain' that has become all too common in many Midwest states." Check it out at www.tritonhomesusa.com.

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