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Ten Best: Myths about the “creative class”

by Chris Lowrance

The definition

Sociologist Richard Florida brought the term to prominence in his 2004 book The Rise of the Creative Class. To hear Greensboro’s politicians, pundits and policy wonks tell it, they’re going to be the saviors of our cities — young, bright, affluent men and women riding in on a rainbow of diversity and disposable income. Lovely. Unfortu nately, almost immediately following Action Greensboro’s 2004 report on how to attract them, the city became schizophrenic about who they are and what they want. I submit that I represent the creative class: I’m young, college-educated, and as an illustrator and designer my main job function is to use my creativity to solve problems. However, the best definition I can find at Florida’s site, which seems more concerned with selling me books and speaking gigs, includes every occupation from architect to doctor. And there’s your first myth: that “creative class” means anything.

We’re loaded

Downtown bigwigs seem convinced us creative types have all kinds of money to inject into the otherwise flaccid economy. The thought of it gets them so hot and bothered I almost feel guilty popping the balloon from under them. Almost. The truth is, we don’t have a lot of the green stuff left when you deduct the high cost of living, our college loans and health care (you do know creative types are more prone to men tal health problems, don’t you?) from the measly salary you pay us for creative work. I guess it doesn’t seem as valuable when you’re writing the check. If Greensboro’s elite really want to attract the creative class, I suggest paying the people that already work for you better.

“Street people” frighten us

Actually, I could give a damn if some guy wants to ask me for change as I stumble out of M’Coul’s on a Friday night. But based on the increasingly tight restrictions on panhandling and other compassionless rules concerning where homeless people can and cannot be, Greensboro thinks the creative class is terrified of poor folks. We aren’t, beyond seeing our possible future in their glassy eyes if we don’t land another gig soon. So let the man have his street corner, and don’t make him jump through hoops to get a “panhandler’s license,” because then you’re just wasting everybody’s time.

Crime frightens us

It’s been said that if Greensboro were the safest city in Ameri ca, the creative class would flock here in droves. Not if it came at the cost of plenty of bars and entertainment venues. Yet I know through the grapevine that the successor to one of Greenboro’s coolest art gallery/entertainment venues is being held up be cause of a technicality. It seems having a stage makes you a “bar,” and City Hall thinks there are already too many of those (exactly what I was thinking last time there was barely breathing room in any of my favorite watering holes). Bars, as we all know, lead to drunk people, and drunk people lead to crime. Oh dear. Look, crime doesn’t exactly attract me, but I’m a big boy. I’m not going to abandon the city because cops busted a guy with coke last weekend. Trying to keep “certain types” out is a terrible idea; how about you put the money and focus on a well-supported police force that looks out for everyone rather than just the frightened yuppies sipping vodka at the sidewalk tables.

Vice frightens us

According to www.creativeclass.com, Portland, Ore. is one of the best towns for creative types to move to. The reasons include a high tolerance for diversity, a devotion to technology and a robust public transportation system. Also, Portland claims the highest per capita number of strip joints of any American city, with over 50 for it’s half-million people. Do exotic dancers count as the creative class? I’d say so. Lets see a $100,000 bond to build a two-story strip joint on South Elm Street on the ballot this fall.

We’re clean

Don’t get me wrong — I don’t partake of anything harder than neat whiskey. The same isn’t true of my creative brothers and sisters. We’re the spiritual descendents of absinthe-chugging dragon-chasers, after all. You’re lucky we haven’t installed an opium den under the Lincoln Financial Building. So if you really want the best and brightest downtown, go easy on the minor pot infractions.

We’re clean

Not a typo. I’m talking a different kind of clean here — the neat facial hair, crisp suits and soap-and-water kind. It’s not an accurate description of every creative worker, and certainly not of every artist. Sorry, friends, but you know it’s true, and I think it’s worth exposing to dispel the “shiny happy person” image so many wonks buy into. No advice here, although I think this ties into entry number #2.

We’re, you know… clean

Okay, now I’m talking the “PG” kind of “clean.” I realize a casual stroll of Greensboro’s arts district, with it’s pretty sparkley things and paintings of happy trees, will give you the impression that’s all artists do. Anyone that’s been to a real arts district, say… anywhere but here, will know art isn’t always safe for prime time. Pushing into territory many fear to tread is a vital role of creativity, and sometimes that’s going to mean a nipple. Or worse. Much, much worse….

We’re bitter

This myth might have formed in your mind over the last few minutes of reading this. I’m not bitter, though. Honest. You jerks.

We’re more important

In the end, the concept of the creative class as an economic defibrillator is just another gold rush — a “grass is always greener” equation for cities afraid to deal with the tough realities of the population they already have. There are aspects that are admirable: Diversity, technology and creativity will help any region. But you can’t swap out generations of disenfranchised laborers for a mythological class of fresh-faced Google kids and call it a job well done. New talent is vital, but so are hardworking men and women like my parents, who put their backs into their work every day to give me the chance to join that “creative class.” Greensboro needs both. Hope you had a good Labor Day.

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