The “creative class” were just the rich all along
August 27, 2017 2:29 AM   Subscribe

Richard Florida is sorry For the past 15 years many cities around the world have followed the gospel of 'The creative city' as a means for prosperity. And Richard Florida was their messiah.

If you live in an urban center in North America, the United Kingdom, or Australia, you are living in Richard Florida’s world. Fifteen years ago, he argued that an influx of what he called the “creative classes” — artists, hipsters, tech workers — were sparking economic growth in places like the Bay Area. Their tolerance, flexibility, and eccentricity dissolved the rigid structures of industrial production and replaced them with the kinds of workplaces and neighborhoods that attracted more young people and, importantly, more investment.

However, in a world of growing inequality, the scourge of gentrification and cookie-cutter 'hipsterism' around the developed world, even Richard Florida admits that maybe it was all a bit ... bogus.
Though he stops just short of saying it, he all but admits that he was wrong. He argues that the creative classes have grabbed hold of many of the world’s great cities and choked them to death. As a result, the fifty largest metropolitan areas house just 7 percent of the world’s population but generate 40 percent of its growth. These “superstar” cities are becoming gated communities, their vibrancy replaced with deracinated streets full of Airbnbs and empty summer homes.
posted by Megami (65 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've seen this change first hand in an accelerated way here in Durham, NC. Six years ago it was the poorest of the three cities of The Triangle (among Raleigh, the state capitol, and Chapel Hill, the well-off university town), but also the most exciting place to find food, music and arts; real estate was so cheap at the time that Merge Records bought a three story building in central downtown because it was cheaper than renting an office in Chapel Hill. College grads and dropouts were starting storefront restaurants, and Durham was the locus of the food truck scene.

Real estate downtown now costs ten or more times as much as it did six years ago. There are three luxury hotels at the same intersection in the central square, one formerly an insurance company's building, one a "Mad Men" styled retrofit of what used to be lower-income housing, one still under construction and slated to be the town's tallest building, looming over the two-story buildings around it. There's another boutique luxury hotel half a block away. All of which seems excessive for a still generally impoverished city of barely over a quarter million people.

The local threadbare entrepreneurs who made Durham nice to hang out in are mostly squeezed out now. The studios are already torn down and replaced with luxury condos, whose occupants file nuisance complaints against the drumming circle in the city park they overlook. And that seems like the best encapsulation of my feelings about talk of "the creative class" and the harm they do. The creative classes weren't the people paying ten times as much for a three-bedroom condo as the house owners did for their two-story buildings ten years ago. The creative classes were the ones who moved in because it was the only urban area they could afford; once they made the area nice enough and white enough to be palatable to the commercial developers, they were shoved out along with the minority businesses they operated alongside by the real estate developers, corporate franchisees, and well-connected VC-backed serial entrepreneurs.

I don't want to bury that last point. Downtown Durham had a diversity of minority-owned and -operated retail establishments alongside the French bakery, boutique pie shop, brewery, and so on. They weren't forced out by rents and changing culture until the corporate money began sloughing in.

Currently, hereabouts if you want to start a studio, restaurant, or new storefront, and you're young and have more ambition than money or credit rating, you've got to join the diaspora of peers setting up in the various stripmalls on the periphery of the city and hope your craft can catch the eye of the work commuters, and hope that you don't eventually get forced out of there because the stripmall's gonna be razed to put in another luxury hotel.

The Jacobin article is good. But the repeated fingerpointing at "creative classes", starting from Richard Florida and picked up unquestioningly by Weatherall in this piece, seems to me like an accidental deflection of responsibility, a way to couch another rant against those goddamned hipsters because they're easier to stereotype than the faceless entities doing their best to make things nicest for the least number of people.
posted by ardgedee at 4:33 AM on August 27 [125 favorites]


Fifteen years ago, I was part of this "creative class", in the sense that I was a stage manager with a day job to make ends meet.

I had to give it up because I realized that the rents were rising so fast that I would always need to have a day job, and since stage managing was already a second full-time job, this would mean I would have two jobs my whole life, and there were other things I wanted to do. If it weren't so expensive to live in the only city where I can find work, I'd still be stage managing today.

Fuck this guy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:49 AM on August 27 [29 favorites]


Oh yeah, I am here to pour scorn on Florida (the man, not the place), as his policies have directly influenced places where I have lived, and it's not gone well.

That said, the same sort of town council that thought boho chic and pop-up art exhibitions was the way forward will now be able to say, hey, we don't need to build bike paths, this Florida guy admitted he was a crock.

Richard Florida took an incomplete data set and built a conclusion that a lot of people liked, but that doesn't mean he was all wrong. What should be happening - and isn't - is that the state should be deeply involved in the housing market. Small businesses should get a helping hand, big businesses should be taxed, and monopolies should be nationalised. This is pretty far from the world we live in though. And Florida remains a tool for allowing his work to get twisted to support neoliberalism
posted by The River Ivel at 5:17 AM on August 27 [25 favorites]


"I was ruinously, disastrously wrong, and for this I apologize. But now I have a *new* book!"
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:22 AM on August 27 [56 favorites]


I wish there were some alternate version of Jacobin that didn't hate everything about urbanism and city planning. The author is so hellbent on grinding an axe that this "book review" is painful to read. I'm sure Richard Florida is sorry for predicting rapid growth in cities 15 years ago, please bludgeon your readers over the head with this information! At least this piece includes this:

Florida’s offered solutions are modest...more affordable housing, more investment in infrastructure, and higher pay for service jobs

More affordable housing? More PAY??? Man, fuck this Florida guy, his ideas have always sucked!
posted by antonymous at 5:26 AM on August 27 [53 favorites]


Remember that Florida recently called for devolving national power to cities.
posted by doctornemo at 5:36 AM on August 27


The cheap rent and artist's studios and cool brunch place era is a phase of gentrification, not something other than gentrification. The money always comes in to clean up, once a scene like that has reached a certain stage of maturity. I saw this happen several times, in different parts of Atlanta.
posted by thelonius at 5:37 AM on August 27 [45 favorites]


One of the biggest problems with the "creative class" theory is that it expanded beyond artists and musicians to people like lawyers, accountants, and middle managers. Florida and his followers, I'm not sure why, started calling pretty much anyone with a college degree "creative". At that point, you're stripping away the pretense that it's anything more than gentrification. I suppose you could make an argument that lawyers are "creative", but... no. The hypothesis transforms into "cities with lots of affluent residents will perform better", which is pretty obvious.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:52 AM on August 27 [43 favorites]


The problem is rent-seeking, and everything being dependent on rentiers (and the right of the rentier to exploit every situation to the max), which goes against not only Marx but also Adam Smith.

During the reign of the Thatcher government, it was still possible for young creative people (including young working class people) to develop careers on the dole, and out of that came a vibrant popular culture, which did buoy the general culture. But it was everything the government stood against - welfare state, council housing, squatting - that made it possible. In addition, the government directly underwrote a number of projects with their policies to boost entrepreneurialism. In a weird way, looking back at the 80s having seen what's happened since, the Thatcherites really did walk the walk of their liberalised, pro-entrepreneurial ideology (despite the fact that with the other hand they were forming an authoritarian fist).

So the Florida theory isn't wrong, per se, especially if one considers "creative class" as more significant than merely a synonym for "bourgeois" but it puts the cart and the horse in an unhelpful and misleading order.

Thirty years on, all of that infrastructure is gone, and the rapacious property-development industry doesn't allow any artistic quarter enough time to benefit anyone before forcing out all but the wealthy.

However, like a lot of developments of the last ten years or so, it doesn't really add up (because it's based on the wishful thinking of the property owners rather than anything that can be empirically tested). I think we can expect some kind of reckoning at some point. It will be neither pretty nor fun, but I'm not sure that the future is a rentier's expensive shoe stamping on a human face forever.
posted by Grangousier at 6:01 AM on August 27 [10 favorites]


I've always read "creative class" as meaning people with money - graphic designers in marketing and the web, not starving artists or sculptors. Copy writers, not budding novelists. People making a product, not people making art. It's always felt like a trick to try and get people with money associated with whatever cultural cachet actual artists (in the broad sense) have
posted by Dysk at 6:04 AM on August 27 [39 favorites]


I think we can expect some kind of reckoning at some point. It will be neither pretty nor fun, but I'm not sure that the future is a rentier's expensive shoe stamping on a human face forever.

I don't know. Given that the cental scheme of capitalism as it's developed is "private profit, public risk," I'm sure when the inevitable crash happens, for the most part the burden will fall on the taxpayer. Unless we can become a lot more effective in our voting...
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


His name is funny because Dick is short for Richard, and Florida is shaped like a penis.
posted by Literaryhero at 6:34 AM on August 27 [11 favorites]


slated to be the town's tallest building

Taller than the glass syringe on 15-501?b
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:44 AM on August 27


I've always read "creative class" as meaning people with money - graphic designers in marketing and the web, not starving artists or sculptors. Copy writers, not budding novelists.

These are the same people! No one is employed as a "budding novelist," and the "starving artist" cliché is so tiresome. I'm an artist and writer who makes a living as a web designer. I know dozens of people who are artists (professional artists, who see themselves primarily as artists, get grants, and show work across Canada) who are also running small businesses, or work as gallery attendants or game designers or marketers. Every novelist I know pays the bills by teaching or editing.
posted by oulipian at 7:01 AM on August 27 [26 favorites]


> It's always felt like a trick to try and get people with money associated with whatever cultural cachet actual artists (in the broad sense) have

Which is how you get things like Toronto's Bohemian Embassy, an especially obvious and gross attempt to cash in on the artistic scene that gentrifying condo developments like this inevitably kill off.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:22 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Just a thought here, but let's assume these boutique hotels/shops/restaurants are going to be built somewhere. If not in the urban center, then the only other alternative is the suburbs/exurbs, right?

Then wouldn't the complaint be OMG THE SPRAWL!!!!!
posted by Kibbutz at 7:30 AM on August 27 [8 favorites]


Every novelist I know pays the bills by teaching or editing.

This may be a class thing or a UK VS US thing, but every novelist, artist, writer, and performance artist I know makes a living working in retail, in call centres, or a few in (short-term, insecure, underpaid jobs in) academia. A few are on some kind of disability benefit instead. A lot of them don't have long term or stable jobs, because they fall into and out of periods where their art can sustain them, because they've managed to put together a few week tour, or got a residency for a few months, or a book advance and need to dedicate the time to finishing off the manuscript. They are absolutely not in the corporate creative sphere.
posted by Dysk at 7:48 AM on August 27 [23 favorites]


Huh. I never really looked too much in depth into Florida's theories before because I always assumed the rejuvenate cities by appealing to the creative class idea was meant to be about catering to young artist/bohemian types who would bring life to dying areas and then be driven out by money to start over again elsewhere. I thought that was the point since that's a pretty well established pattern that some cities have leeched off of for decades. Guess I was wrong, and not so much at the same time.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:15 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


> Just a thought here, but let's assume these boutique hotels/shops/restaurants are going to be built somewhere.

Alternately, let's consider the possibility that a good city is one that one can live in comfortably without being rich, and that therefore the end state of a city should maybe not be a situation where businesses catering to the rich squeeze out everything else.

Which is to say, let's, maybe, not assume that these boutique hotels/shops/restaurants are going to be built somewhere. Let's arrange our environments so that they're kept to a reasonable minimum, or else not built at all.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:15 AM on August 27 [20 favorites]


> Just a thought here, but let's assume these boutique hotels/shops/restaurants are going to be built somewhere.

You assume so much lavish luxury accommodation has to be built anywhere. They're mostly empty.
posted by ardgedee at 8:17 AM on August 27 [15 favorites]


...and to finish that thought; by being empty, they risk laying waste to what was a once vital area, making it only slightly more pleasant than the rows of abandoned buildings that used to be there by dint of the lights staying on and the skeleton crew responsible for maintaining them.
posted by ardgedee at 8:19 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


> Remember that Florida recently called for devolving national power to cities.

Given that the GOP is waging war against cities - something that we here in Texas are definitely bearing the brunt of (especially Austin) - I'd say that, at least is this regard, Florida is on the right track.
posted by smcdow at 8:31 AM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Metafilter: Oh yeah, I am here to pour scorn on Florida
posted by adept256 at 8:32 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Since Toronto gets to kneel before the majesty of Richard Florida and scoop up the pearls of wisdom he casts before us, like so:

(Florida argues that the protection of green spaces like the ravines and The Greenbelt is vital. "People are living in smaller spaces as the city gets bigger, so third spaces—particularly natural environments—are really important," he adds.

Thanks, Einstein!

...it's worth thinking about an area here that was developed using principles that are more Jacobean than Floridean.

The St. Lawrence neighbourhood was redeveloped starting early in the 1970s. As a resident of this area, I can attest to the fact that it's undergoing a bit of gentrification, but that's mitigated by the fact that the whole planning goal from the get-go was a mixture of uses and types of housing. Meaning that there is already a large amount of co-operative housing as well as subsidized housing in the area, and even if a bench of new condo developments go up in the next two or three years (and they are), there is a firmly-entrenched mix of family and geared-to-income and not-for-profit housing in the area that's already anchoring it. It's also mixed use.

Directions for New Urban Neighbourhoods: Learning from St. Lawrence

The goals of the St. Lawrence neighbourhood were:

1. to provide housing for all income groups, in particular families with moderate to low household incomes.
2. to increase the supply of housing in the central city.
3. to develop the new community according to sound planning principles.
4. to restore the character of the Old Town of York by integrating the existing neighbourhood and historical buildings with the St. Lawrence neighbourhood.
5. to prevent the building of a typical public housing project.


This meant direct government intervention with a particular purpose in mind - helping people with lower incomes and intervention in the supply of affordable housing to prevent people from actually being driven out to the inner or outer suburbs.
Florida's schtick has always basically seemed to me to be a progressive-sounding retread of trickle-down economics. It's good to see that he may be admitting error on that front, even though he may be repackaging some ideas so well-established as to be banal truths, but I guess he's got a brand to market.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:41 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Just to be that guy in the room, I don't think his ideas failed because these were bourgeois values, but because of the ongoing march of increasing inequality, and a structural move of capital from companies that made things to companies that finance or acquire things. The overemphasis of tech as an economic solution is a direct result of VC and corporate cash shifting the de facto priorities of our culture. The work that I could find in Seattle 20 years ago might require ability to copy edit a web site or run a audio board or manage an online community. Perfect for people in the arts. These jobs didn't really require a degree, and I generally saw more diversity in the office than if I had ended up in banking (where I temped when I first moved out here).

There are almost no "content" or "production" jobs now, because everything is the domain of software engineers. And the web media work I could use to pay for an apartment in the city limits pays at or below the level it did 20 years ago. The same VC and corporate cash flowing through city coffers push the projects I like but also de-emphasize the equitable aspects that were the point of those projects in the first place. Witness "bike share" in Seattle. I'd move somewhere cheaper, but I'm not sure the industry I built my career on exists anywhere.

My response is focus on entrepreneurial projects that build equity into the business governance structures, provide services of real value to residents, and to place them in the suburbs or exurbs close to transit. I have no money to do this because of the above, but my naive optimism says there might be a few others who can go in with me on this.
posted by SoundInhabitant at 8:59 AM on August 27 [19 favorites]


I am very familiar with two (but only two) communities that have successfully employed Florida's original philosophy.

Yes, there is gentrification, with old funky cheap small buildings being torn down to build new bigger ones. Usually the new buildings are mixed use, with commercial on the first floor, residential on all floors above, and maybe a few underground parking spots below. The rents are certainly higher for the new spaces than what was charged for the old ones.

But there is a reason for that. The old buildings were built more than a century ago, and more often with sticks than with bricks. The reason the rents were cheap (and that therefore the "creatives" could afford to live and work there) is because the buildings were falling apart. Even if the current owner/landlord wanted to improve the buildings rather than razing them, it would be almost impossible and certainly cost-prohibitive to do so, and forget about being able to modernize the old spaces and still keeping the rents as inexpensive as before.

Plus, from a tax standpoint, the cities LOVE the new structures. In many cases the municipality is receiving ten times the property taxes from the new building, compared to what the old building was generating for the same geographical footprint.

Yes, those occupying the previous structures need to find a new, more affordable place to live/work, and in a perfect world, they would be able to move back into their new, nicer spaces with the same address, and the same low cost. But someone or some entity has to come up with the funds to subsidize those lower rents, and as we prove here pretty much every day here on Metafilter, it's difficult to convince people with money to use it to help those who don't have money.
posted by Kibbutz at 9:05 AM on August 27 [7 favorites]


Sitting here watching San Francisco devolve into a homogenous Disneyland playground for the monied classes, while the real creative people are forced out to make way for people who aren't creative, though they like to see themselves as creative, or at least live where they think really creative people are, I can't agree more that Florida blew it. The worse problem are the city officials who fell for this crap. For some of us, rent control is the only saving thing. But despite cheaper rents for some of us, the culture here is rapidly fading into vapidity making this less and less a livable place.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:10 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Did the author really need to rabbit punch James Blunt and Mumford & Sons at the end to make his point? (Not to mention if you're going to go after Mumford & Sons, get someone else from Manchester to do it.)
posted by lagomorphius at 9:24 AM on August 27 [2 favorites]


I find this article shallow. The problem is not hipster artists, or urban planners thinking that the "creative classes" are their new salvation. Sure, those things can be obnoxious, but they are not the cause of poverty or inequality.

Does the author really think that art galleries and coffee shops *caused* more people to be in poverty? Does he really think that things would, on the whole, be *better* for the working classes had cities remained in their insolvent, crime-ridden states they were at the time Florida wrote his book?

I find that completely absurd. The problems simply would have remained in the cities rather than migrate to the suburbs, as they often have.

The problem is inequality and the system that makes it, not faddish philosophies of urbanism. And while it's cathartic to point out the vapidness of the gallery circuits, or the weirdness of hipster chic, doing so gives a free pass to an economic system that is spiraling us into ever greater inequality. Progressive taxation, higher wages, universal healthcare, equitable school funding—that is what actually stands to help people.

You could shut every gallery in Boyle Heights and trim every poofy beard like Peter the Great, and it would do dickall to reduce inequality or increase security for the working class *overall*.

It's pretty disappointing to watch the left devolve into nostalgia for urban decay and hipster mockery. Jacobin, in fact had a way better article about how hipster mockery totally fucking sucks. The idea that everyone at a coffee shop with gauged ears or a Macbook comes from money is dumb and irresponsible, and it is a sad commentary on the intellectual standards in leftist writing.
posted by andrewpcone at 9:28 AM on August 27 [72 favorites]


ardgedee: Real estate downtown now costs ten or more times as much as it did six years ago. There are three luxury hotels at the same intersection in the central square, one formerly an insurance company's building, one a "Mad Men" styled retrofit of what used to be lower-income housing, one still under construction and slated to be the town's tallest building, looming over the two-story buildings around it. There's another boutique luxury hotel half a block away. All of which seems excessive for a still generally impoverished city of barely over a quarter million people.

In "The self-destruction of diversity",* Jane Jacobs talks about how easy it is for the money that's attracted to an economically diverse, creative neighbourhood to destroy what attracted the money in the first place, and how difficult it is to prevent that from happening. One bank moves into the most dynamic corner lot in the city in order to capture the foot traffic; then four banks move in to all four corners, and what made the corner great is destroyed. Restaurants can destroy the economic diversity of an entire strip, since they generate more rent than so many other uses. Knocking down a bunch of old buildings and putting up condos is even worse, but there's massive economic pressure in that direction because of the massive short-term profits involved.

Toronto just announced that it will designate hundreds of otherwise unremarkable buildings as heritage properties in a desperate attempt to stop the condo juggernaut and preserve some neighbourhood-level economic diversity. Developers, though, are such big political contributors on a municipal and provincial level that it's hard for me to see how this will work after all the lawyering is done.

* Chapter 13 in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities". Maybe Florida skipped that chapter?
posted by clawsoon at 9:56 AM on August 27 [9 favorites]


Rich people ruin everything?
*Looks around*
You don't say...

One thing that's bothering me lately is that pushes for affordable housing aren't focused on ownership by the poor, they're focused on rentals, which means increasing power to the rich.

As with most things I suspect the problem isn't how to help the poor, it's how to reduce the economic power of the rich. We already know how to do that: taxes.
posted by klanawa at 10:26 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


And Richard Florida was their messiah.

well, that's your problem right there.

Every novelist I know pays the bills by teaching or editing.

No bartenders, house painters, elder care workers, tree planters? Novelists need to NOT hang out in the milieu of other writers, else they just end up writing novels about writers which is usually boring -- at least that's the advice I got way back when. The thing that worked for me was driving cab. But that ceased to be a workable option decades ago as the driver's share of the proceeds just got narrower and narrower (long before Uber).

Bottom line (and paraphrasing my now quite old mother): change is inevitable and you're a fool to think it's just naturally going to be for the better. If you are indeed serious about being cultural player whose stuff is NOT somehow compromised by big money and its blind-idiot tendencies, you better learn to scramble, because you'll be doing a lot of that whatever happens, whoever the next "messiah" turns out to be.
posted by philip-random at 10:31 AM on August 27 [6 favorites]


One thing that's bothering me lately is that pushes for affordable housing aren't focused on ownership by the poor, they're focused on rentals, which means increasing power to the rich.

Homeownership means assuming huge financial risk. If you're poor, it typically makes more sense to rent. Foisting market instability and unpredictable maintenance costs on lower income people is not responsible. Valorizing homeownership is a central part of the ideological machinery that got us subprime lending and the recession. It is a bad thing. Throw it away.
posted by andrewpcone at 10:40 AM on August 27 [18 favorites]


The thing that worked for me was driving cab.

Did you guys ever have races with the philosophy PhD cab drivers?
posted by thelonius at 10:44 AM on August 27 [1 favorite]


No bartenders, house painters, elder care workers, tree planters?

Yes! But they're poets, not novelists :)
posted by oulipian at 10:45 AM on August 27 [5 favorites]


"I was ruinously, disastrously wrong, and for this I apologize. But now I have a *new* book!"


cf. Francis Fukuyama.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:53 AM on August 27 [6 favorites]


Portland went from being a nice mid tier city to a wasteland of single named restaurants and ugly high density box buildings where as many people as possible are crammed in . Traffic is a thousand times worse, making commutes that used to last a half hour three times that long.

There is no more Clown house, where a cadre of bike riding clowns would spill onto the road randomly, making people smile.

Places that have never been renovated now go for twice what they used to.

I have watched this happen in several cities, and I'm not sure what the answer is when most jobs are concentrated in urban centers.

Young people have traditionally gone to the big city to make their fortune- it seems to me that now they go to pile up some more debt.
posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 10:56 AM on August 27 [11 favorites]


LuckyMonkey21's comment is a perfect example of what is toxic and broken about progressive anti-gentrification rhetoric. To break down just part of it:

Portland went from being a nice mid tier city to a wasteland of single named restaurants and ugly high density box buildings

It's hard for me not to read this as a snobbish aesthetic objection to the changes, and not substantive concern for their socioeconomic impact. Portland is a highly desirable place, attracting people from all over the country. The population and housing prices reflect this. It may be a "wasteland" in your eyes. Evidently many people disagree, and I don't get the sense you hold those people in very high regard.

where as many people as possible are crammed in .

Portland is still not one of the denser major cities in the US. Higher density in this range means more cheaper provision of public services. The increase in density also facilitates better public transit and walkability, and Portland is an example of that working.

Traffic is a thousand times worse, making commutes that used to last a half hour three times that long.

Congestion increases whenever population grows, and population grows when a place is more desirable. It is a problem of plenty. The correct way to address it is with infrastructure and transit spending, not with whining about the newcomers and their inferior culture. The false consciousness here is not substantially different than the anti-immigrant sentiments characteristic of the right. Aim higher.
posted by andrewpcone at 11:23 AM on August 27 [33 favorites]


I just got back from a bike ride down the towpath trail and through downtown Akron, Ohio. Beautiful milieu, and an interesting trail alongside the canal -- a 100 times more interesting urban walkway than the NYC High Line. Whyn't all you guys who complain about gentrification and the cost of living in Seattle, Portland, etc., move to Akron, or Cuyahoga Falls, or great big Cleveland? Pittsburgh? Scranton? These are easy places to live. And don't say "no jobs there in my field". If you're smart enough to make middle class living in San Francisco, you're smart enough to get one of the better paying jobs in Akron.
posted by Modest House at 11:43 AM on August 27 [13 favorites]


Homeownership means assuming huge financial risk. If you're poor, it typically makes more sense to rent. Foisting market instability and unpredictable maintenance costs on lower income people is not responsible. Valorizing homeownership is a central part of the ideological machinery that got us subprime lending and the recession. It is a bad thing. Throw it away.

You are conceiving of ownership too narrowly.

I grew up in a building that was purchased by a nearby church as a vacant, decaying shell, rehabbed, and sold to the tenants' association for a nominal sum. We paid "rent," but it went to no landlord but ourselves. Low- or no-equity coops have been a thing for decades. There are still many HDFC coops in NYC, although the program is under various forms of pressure.

There is definitely a segment of the population whose lives and income are too precarious for anything other than renting (ideally, in a closely-regulated system) to make sense. There is a substantially larger group for which plain old free-market homeownership is also a bad idea. But those are not the only two choices, if we were willing to be more imaginative about things.
posted by praemunire at 12:00 PM on August 27 [8 favorites]


I'm not sure what the answer is when most jobs are concentrated in urban centers.

I think this is something that needs to be looked at when we talk about gentrification and housing prices. Job growth since the Great Recession has been concentrated in fewer cities, especially along the coasts. College educated people, especially, are going to where they can find jobs in their fields.

During the 60's through the 80's, crime and grime and mismanagement kept prices low. I think the challenge is to have affordable places for people on different incomes to live, without relying on unpleasantness to do the work for us. There's fewer opportunities for someone to be a lawyer or a graphic designer or run a successful nonprofit in smaller cities - the jobs and the money are more and more concentrated. People are going to move to the cities regardless.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:20 PM on August 27 [3 favorites]


Valorizing homeownership is a central part of the ideological machinery that got us subprime lending and the recession. It is a bad thing. Throw it away.

First, I'm not valorizing anything. Second, the thing the got us the housing crisis was greedy assholes who manipulated people into taking on more debt than they could afford and reselling that debt without disclosing the risk. The thing that allowed them to do that was lack of regulation. The fact that some of those people used the lure of ownership to manipulate their victims has nothing to do with the actual benefits or risks of ownership. It does, however, have something to do with the increasing concentration of wealth and ownership, and it has (as we can see) a lot to do with the entrenchment of narratives concerning the inability of poor people to make rational financial decisions.

I have the feeling that if I were a wealthy person, you'd characterise my desire to own property as rational and wise. Because I'm poor, you'd characterise is as the uncritical acceptance of a "valorizing" dogma. But, I mean, who am I to interfere with a just-so narrative, right? I'm just having a bitter morning. I live two blocks from where I was born, I'm a grad student, the cheapest houses in my city are a million dollars, vacancy rates are indistinguishable from zero and my landlord is squeezing me.
posted by klanawa at 12:52 PM on August 27 [5 favorites]


Whyn't all you guys who complain about gentrification and the cost of living in Seattle, Portland, etc., move to Akron, or Cuyahoga Falls, or great big Cleveland? Pittsburgh? Scranton? These are easy places to live. And don't say "no jobs there in my field". If you're smart enough to make middle class living in San Francisco, you're smart enough to get one of the better paying jobs in Akron.

Akron does not have any member theaters in the LORT (League of Resident Theaters), so I would be unable to stage manage if I moved to Akron. As for other cities in Ohio, there is only one in Cleveland and one in Cincinnatti. Moreover, as an Actors' Equity member, I would not be able to work for any non-Union theaters that may be in whatever theater underground you are claiming is in Ohio.

When we say the jobs in our fields are only in specific locations, there is usually a reason we are saying that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 PM on August 27 [21 favorites]


Are there any cases of cities that are seeing economic and population growth but not leading to rampant inequality or lowered quality of life for the original inhabitants?
posted by Apocryphon at 3:55 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


if I were a wealthy person, you'd characterise my desire to own property as rational and wise

Well, let's put aside the fact that real estate is a poor investment, and address your original concern. In cities where million dollar homes consist of a 40 thousand dollar single family dwelling built on top of a million dollar quarter acre plot of land, how do you propose to increase ownership among the poor?
posted by pwnguin at 4:12 PM on August 27


Are there any cases of cities that are seeing economic and population growth but not leading to rampant inequality or lowered quality of life for the original inhabitants?

Houston? (Present conditions excepted.)
posted by PMdixon at 4:43 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


"Akron does not have any member theaters in the LORT"

I'm aware this is splitting hairs and tangential, but Akron-to-Cleveland is a bad example for the point you're making. The north side of Akron is closer to Playhouse Square in Cleveland than either Westchester County or Coney Island are to Times Square. It's not a great commute, but a not-insignificant number of people do it.

The fact that you voluntarily belong to an organization that artificially limits your employment prospects also isn't the best argument for your limited employment prospects.

Finally, you have a pretty specialized job in a niche industry. Yes, you specifically would probably have a difficult time doing your job outside of NYC. But that's not true of most people. I know people who have moved to bigger cities to work as waiters or bartenders, to manage big box retail stores, to work in warehouses or call centers, to be secretaries because "there are no jobs" in the smaller cities they moved from. That's just not true. There are waiter jobs; there are call centers. It's kind of like celiac disease: There are plenty of people who actually suffer from celiac disease and can't eat gluten. There are a lot more people who just say they have the disease because not eating gluten is a trend. And the latter generally ruin it for the former. There are some jobs that are intrinsically linked to specific places. You probably won't work in Mormon social services unless you live in Utah. Serving in the US Senate probably means moving to DC. It would be hard to play professional baseball for the Chicago Cubs without relocating to northeast Illinois. But these are pretty specific, and most people who move to Utah, DC, or Chicago aren't moving there because of those specific jobs. Most of them are teachers or insurance salesmen or software programmers or real estate lawyers, all of which they could do in Akron.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:03 PM on August 27 [4 favorites]


The fact that you voluntarily belong to an organization that artificially limits your employment prospects also isn't the best argument for your limited employment prospects.

The Actors' Equity Association is a union.

It is not without its own problems (and I deal with Equity on a regular basis... so I'm familiar with many of those problems), but it "artificially limits employment" because it's there to protect its members from exploitative situations.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 5:12 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


On the subject of software, self-professed entrepreneurs, founders, and other tech visionaries need to swallow their own Kool-Aid and embrace technological solutions such as remote work. Being attached to the Bay Area just because it's historically been the center of the tech industry is some hoary-minded, uninnovative thinking. Let tech workers live wherever they want in the country, and you'll dampen a host of current tech gentrification, economic monoculturalism, brain drain, etc. social problems.
posted by Apocryphon at 5:14 PM on August 27 [7 favorites]


Finally, you have a pretty specialized job in a niche industry. Yes, you specifically would probably have a difficult time doing your job outside of NYC. But that's not true of most people.

....You are aware that "specialized jobs in a hiche industry" is the exact topic of this thread, yes? This is a thread about how supposedly the city is being made to accomodate "the creative class", and we are discussing our own membership in the arts and how these so-called "accomodations" are falling short. And my point was to dispute the notion that people in "creative fields" could simply up and move to another city and get the same work there.

I deliberately did not mention the other kinds of people who often get told that they should just "move to another city" when the rent gets too high - families who have been in the same home for generations, or grown children caring for parents in nursing homes, etc. because the topic of this thread is, as I have mentioned, how catering to people in "the creative class" was a mis-step, and how people in this thread who are working in these specialized jobs in the "niche industry" (the arts) are being affected - and how the solution to those problems is not as simple as "Just move to another city".

I trust that I have now clarified my point sufficiently.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 PM on August 27 [6 favorites]


One thing that's bothering me lately is that pushes for affordable housing aren't focused on ownership by the poor, they're focused on rentals, which means increasing power to the rich.

Homeownership means assuming huge financial risk. If you're poor, it typically makes more sense to rent. Foisting market instability and unpredictable maintenance costs on lower income people is not responsible. Valorizing homeownership is a central part of the ideological machinery that got us subprime lending and the recession. It is a bad thing. Throw it away.


Mortgages mean assuming huge financial risk. Owning your own home, or land, means that you can improve it incrementally rather than having to ... legislate? ... to be able to install a solar panel, hang your clothes on a line, put in a garden, grow your own food, fix your own plumbing when it breaks, replace your own floor if it stinks add a single room on if you need more space, and not have strangers coming through your house or have to upend your entire life if the landlord decides to sell what _he_ owns. All of these, all of them, are non-trivial.

And those abilities lead naturally and incontrovertibly to caring more about the house, the land, and the community, and we desperately need that.
posted by amtho at 6:53 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


And those abilities lead naturally and incontrovertibly to caring more about the house, the land, and the community, and we desperately need that.

Now this is some white-middle-class BS if ever I saw it. You think, e.g., the people who have been renting for generations in Harlem don't care all that much, or enough, about their homes and their communities because they rent? I can tell you right now that, as a renter, I give way more of a damn what happens to my neighborhood than does the oligarch owning a two-bedroom in the new development down the road, except when it comes to the very specific issue of inflating real estate value, which is not really a benefit to the community anyway.

Like...you really think the reason renters aren't visibly "caring more about their communities" is that they're renters, rather than that (a) if they're living somewhere where renters are poorer, they are by necessity going to have fewer resources to invest in their communities and (b) such people don't necessarily structure their community participation in ways that the white upper class knows how to recognize anyway? Honestly, this is a really offensive thing to say, and I don't care how many other thinkpieces have said it.
posted by praemunire at 9:01 PM on August 27 [17 favorites]


No, I don't believe that.
posted by amtho at 9:20 PM on August 27


What I would like is for those people who are in the community, caring about it emotionally, to be able to care about it materially without living under the threat that all their material work for the community - the sense of "caring" I suppose I really meant -- can be taken away by people who don't live in and care about the community simply because that second set of people "own" things.

I also think that when that kind of caring is destroyed by outside actions, it can make some people cynical and dissuade them from caring emotionally in the future.

I also didn't use the words "all" or "always" or the phrase "for every single person" or anything like that.
posted by amtho at 9:27 PM on August 27 [2 favorites]


You don't need to say "everyone" when you say that the powers homeowners have lead "naturally and incontrovertibly" to their "caring more about the house, the land, and the community" than renters. Geez.
posted by praemunire at 9:31 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Currently, hereabouts if you want to start a studio, restaurant, or new storefront, and you're young and have more ambition than money or credit rating, you've got to join the diaspora of peers setting up in the various stripmalls on the periphery of the city and hope your craft can catch the eye of the work commuters

This is a big part of the problem.

In your city, you've run out of dense, walkable places for the young entrepreneurs to locate their stores, places where they could hope for foot traffic or a critical mass of other businesses.

Why? Because we stopped building places like that 70 years ago.

If we could built more city around the existing prewar city cores, we could relieve a lot of pressure on the cities. But we can't, because zoning, modern development standards and NIMBYism have made it impossible.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:51 PM on August 27 [1 favorite]


Broader in scope than Florida, Adam Ozimek nevertheless makes many of the same points as this thread's comments in his article: Helping Struggling Places (via interfluidity's recent post on UBI)
posted by Fupped Duck at 2:41 AM on August 28


Owning your own home, or land, means that you can improve it incrementally rather than having to ... legislate? ... to be able to install a solar panel, hang your clothes on a line, put in a garden, grow your own food, fix your own plumbing when it breaks, replace your own floor if it stinks add a single room on if you need more space


Even in the city or suburbs that can mean a townhouse or yard house with an HOA where you can't put up a solar grid without an f ton of hoops, plant a garden or hang a clothesline... room additions may be constricted or impossible as well.

As for plumbing, depends on the pipes. In a community of detached single family homes, I can fix and run my own lawn sprinklers. 75% of my neighbors are not allowed (we are 1 of four "phases " and have different land covenants and responsibilities).

I have more first floor square footage of living space than mow able lawn.

And our "downtown " is so gentrified up that 30 year old restaurants are being forced off of Main Street and being replaced by national bank cafes (corporate "community centers "). Almost all of the small business are leaving, except for a few smart cookies who conjured up enough money and support to self run a few art building spaces. And the "bitty cool festivals" are moving out of town because blocking the streets 3/5th of the weekends of the year isn't cute anymore and "eats into the profits " of the businesses not run out by high rents.
posted by tilde at 3:21 AM on August 28


And those abilities lead naturally and incontrovertibly to caring more about the house, the land, and the community, and we desperately need that.

No, it means caring more about your property values, which often puts your interests directly at odds with the interests of the land and the community. Homeownership means you are rooting for a necessity of life to become unaffordable for other people.
posted by enn at 4:32 AM on August 28 [6 favorites]


Apocryphon: On the subject of software, self-professed entrepreneurs, founders, and other tech visionaries need to swallow their own Kool-Aid and embrace technological solutions such as remote work. Being attached to the Bay Area just because it's historically been the center of the tech industry is some hoary-minded, uninnovative thinking. Let tech workers live wherever they want in the country, and you'll dampen a host of current tech gentrification, economic monoculturalism, brain drain, etc. social problems.

It's funny... I do IT and software development in a reasonably high-tech industry (computer animation), and there's not just a concentration of work in cities, there are also concentrations of work within the companies. As in: There's an obsession with putting teams of people together in the same room. If someone's role or project changes - and they change often, because projects are often short-term - they must be moved to be within a few physical feet of the other people they'll be working with. Desk changes are constant.

There are multiple ways to group people, though, which can lead to some ridiculous situations. In one case, a 500-person company decided that everyone should be organized by department - animators with animators, compositors with compositors, etc., so that lead artists could train and guide junior artists - then, a few months later, decided that everyone should be organized by project, so that communication between the interconnected departments would be more effective. Hundreds of people were moved each time within the same building.

I can understand why it happens, but it's ironic. We can send gigabytes of data across our networks at lightning speed, but that still isn't enough of a communications channel.
posted by clawsoon at 5:06 AM on August 28 [3 favorites]


It's not my industry, but I've also been told that one of the reasons tech workers are hesitant to move out of SV is because networking is such a constant need, and you can't back-slap and network when you're 500 miles away. I think this is just another issue with the tech industries obsession with "culture fit" and thinking of themselves as some kind of industry apart from every other industry. Yo, you do not have to have been seeing some dude at your Crossfit box for the past 5 years in order to hire them. You can do it the same way everyone else does: solicit resumes, evaluate portfolios, do a Skype interview, fly people out for a day of meetings.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:23 AM on August 28 [1 favorite]


On the subject of software, self-professed entrepreneurs, founders, and other tech visionaries need to swallow their own Kool-Aid and embrace technological solutions such as remote work.

I work remotely in tech and it's great, but I still feel much more secure living in a large city with a healthy job market in my (rather narrow) specialty. I've spent the last year in a small city where there are literally zero jobs in my specific field (and very possibly zero software development jobs at all). If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd have no choice but to move if I couldn't find another remote gig; in a big city I have more options.

(Also, even all-remote companies tend to pay their staff in high-cost-of-living areas more money.)
posted by enn at 7:26 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


I work remotely in tech and it's great, but I still feel much more secure living in a large city with a healthy job market in my (rather narrow) specialty. I've spent the last year in a small city where there are literally zero jobs in my specific field (and very possibly zero software development jobs at all). If I lost my job tomorrow, I'd have no choice but to move if I couldn't find another remote gig; in a big city I have more options.

This is a really good point. The days when people worked a job for life are gone. It's now a given that one has to churn in and out of jobs and even career fields every few years. If you live in a "company town" or even a small city with only a few good employers, and you lose your job and can't get hired within the company - either you accept un-or-underemployment or you move.

Which gives people yet another reason to live in a large city with plenty of employment prospects. People are moving to a few costly cities not because "muah ha ha I'm going to be a meanie gentrifier and kick poor people out on the streets *cackle*" but because that is where the jobs and opportunities are.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:35 AM on August 28 [2 favorites]


Some thoughts from "Steal Like an Artist" author Austin Kleon on where creative individuals should choose to live.
posted by twsf at 9:46 AM on August 28


I work remotely in tech and it's great, but I still feel much more secure living in a large city with a healthy job market in my (rather narrow) specialty.

Sure, but it seems like right now tech in the U.S. is horribly concentrated in the Bay Area. Yes, a lot of it is startups of the Silicon Valley funny money variety, but most of the giants other than the two in Seattle are also based there. If there were more large cities that were as attractive to tech workers, maybe the gentrification problems would be lessened all around as workers flowed to several instead of concentrating on a few.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:20 AM on August 28


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