“Great cities are creative and innovative across the board,” he writes, nodding to San Francisco’s psychedelic music scene of the 1960s, Seattle’s alternative music scene, and the diverse arts scenes of New York
and London. “In fact, my research shows empirically that artistic and cultural creativity acts alongside the high-tech industry and business and finance to power economic growth.”
Florida also draws on his experience as a former professor at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, when he saw graduates fleeing to cities like Austin and Seattle, drawn not just by jobs but also their robust cultural scenes
. Lycos, then a prominent web company, relocated to Boston from Pittsburgh, where it had a better chance of retaining talented workers in a city with more going for it. Florida joined the boards of Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum
and Mattress Factory in the late 1990s, betting that beefing up the city’s cultural institutions would help keep its talented graduates in situ
“It’s almost become trite,” he acknowledged. “Artists sometimes blanch because they’ve become overly commodified. It’s not what I intended, but it’s part of the reality: Everyone wants to hire artists, to put art on the wall, to have an art walk.”
The flip side of artist-led gentrification, according to the standard narrative, is rising rents that drive artists out of their own neighborhoods. But Florida’s in-depth examination of gentrification turns up little evidence of mass displacement. While he acknowledges that the high cost of real estate in cities like New York, London, and San Francisco have made it harder for young and struggling artists to live in central locations, he notes that the concentration of creative professionals in those cities is as high as ever.
New York, he writes, had, as of 2013, 8.4 million people, or roughly 2.6% of the country’s population, but 8.6% of its creative jobs, including 28% of the nation’s fashion designers and 14% of its television and film producers and directors, “by far the nation’s preeminent creative center.” These cities “are at least as artistically creative as they ever were, and…even more technologically innovative” than they were 20 years ago, he writes, and arguably more economically strong and stable than ever.
Instead, he says, the people hit hardest by gentrification aren’t so much artists and middle-class professionals pushed out by bankers, but rather the poorest people with the fewest options.
One study found the richest 10 percent of U.S. households were the most likely to move to dense urban neighborhoods between 2000 and 2014, while the poorest 10 percent were the most likely to leave cities over the same period. Another study of Philadelphia neighborhoods over a similar time frame found a similar effect, with those who did leave gentrifying neighborhoods (“the least advantaged and most economically vulnerable”) ending up in higher-poverty neighborhoods marked by higher crime rates and worse schools, and often with higher rent burdens. By contrast, those in the middle- or working-class tended to benefit slightly from gentrification, cashing out on rising property prices to buy into other “decent” neighborhoods in the city or the suburbs.
Artists are more likely to fall into that latter category of those reap gentrification’s benefits. As Florida points out, they typically have more social capital and human capital to fall back on than low-wage workers, or those without the education or resources to secure a footing in today’s knowledge economy, such as fast-food servers, home health aides, or retail workers.