Jamie Peck on Struggling With the Creative Class
Fast Moving Front Commentary, November 2010
Article: Struggling with the creative class
Authors: Peck, J
Jamie Peck talks with ScienceWatch.com and answers a few questions about this month's Fast Moving Fronts paper in the field of Social Sciences, general.
Why do you think your paper is highly cited?
The paper presented a no-holds-barred critique of an influential thesis in urban studies and urban policymaking—that the fortunes of cities around the world are increasingly tied to the preferences, movements, and lifestyle choices of an elite group of "creative class" workers. Primarily associated with the work of Richard Florida , the creative-class thesis holds that a uniquely mobile class of talented individuals has become the principal carrier for innovatory capacity, and that the task for cities should be to cater to this group with various incentives and inducements, including vibrant urban cultures, rich in trendy amenities, and attractive downtown housing options.
Despite resting on a shaky evidence base and circular causal reasoning, the creative class/creative cities thesis has proven to be remarkably seductive, not only to researchers in urban, cultural, and innovation studies, but also to mayors and urban-policy advocates all around the world. The task for my paper, then, was not simply to present a social-science critique in the conventional manner, but also to account for the creativity "syndrome" as an urban-political phenomenon.
"...I remain committed to working on cities, as crucibles of innovation, as sites of crisis and confrontation, and also as places of progressive political possibility."
In a nutshell, the argument is that both are symptomatic of the widespread "neoliberalization" of urban culture, including the intensification of competition between urban areas and the concomitant rise of city marketing; the increased reliance on low-cost/high-hype strategies that work with the grain of gentrifying housing markets and ever-more-flexible labor markets; and the eroded capacity for meaningful intervention on the part of local governments.
The creativity thesis is as much a symptom as a cause of these increasingly systemic conditions, for all the distractions of Richard Florida's flamboyant presentation and his subsequent rise to prominence as an urban guru. This said, I must confess to taking some pleasure in lampooning the rhetorical excesses of the Florida model, which I interpreted as a license to widen the conventional register for critical engagement, in this case by exploiting the potential of an especially cutting style of critique.
Somewhat ironically perhaps, the paper has surely become highly cited due to the sprawling influence of the Florida phenomenon itself, tempered—I hope—by a growing sense of skepticism. The paper has become a signifier for the controversial status of the original claims in the Florida thesis and their collateral effects in urban policy. Since to my knowledge it has never really been comprehensively "answered," I would like to think that it also stands as an alternate explanation of the present state of urban policy and (parts of) urban theory.
How did you become involved in this research?
Almost by accident, and largely in response to developments in my daily life. I was living in Madison, Wisconsin, at the time that I wrote the paper, which had just been ranked #1 on one of Florida's league tables of mid-sized "creative cities." This caught the eye of our liberal mayor, who was soon making the case for a creativity strategy for Madison (soon to be followed by neighboring creative strivers, like Green Bay and Milwaukee, along with countless other cities, large and small).
"The paper presented a no-holds-barred critique of an influential thesis in urban studies and urban policymaking—that the fortunes of cities around the world are increasingly tied to the preferences, movements, and lifestyle choices of an elite group of "creative class" workers."
As an urban political economist with an interest in the construction of policy fads, formulas, and fixes, this struck me as a vivid example of "fast-policy" contagion, and one that called for some sort of explanation.
I hadn't worked specifically on urban culture before (and still don't), but in any case, my sense was that the explanation for the downstream policy effects of the Florida "model" had less to do with its endogenous potency or some seismic shift in urban culture-economies, and much more to do with the political-economic fields across which its claims and prescriptions were finding (remarkably) eager audiences. Hence my later claim that it is the "demand-side" of the creative-cities phenomenon that really warrants critical attention, not just its "supply-side" characteristics as a relatively successful scientific theory.
I have periodically reconnected with the creativity debate since the paper came out, though I have been more interested in exploring its political causes and consequences than with "internal" discussions concerning the utility of the original formulation. Despite its weak explanatory power, the creativity thesis continues to have afterlives in the world of urban policy, where I suspect it will linger for a while yet—maybe until it is displaced by some other formulation that likewise complements the political zeitgeist and fiscal constraints of the contemporary city.
Where do you see your research leading in the future?
I continue to work on neoliberalization, as a mutating form of market-oriented governance, both at the urban scale and more "globally." In fact, I have incorporated my work on the Florida phenomenon (and the IJURR paper in particular) into my new book on the propagation of neoliberal ideologies , since to my mind it speaks both to the contemporary cultural politics of this process and to its adaptability as a policy project. And I remain committed to working on cities, as crucibles of innovation, as sites of crisis and confrontation, and also as places of progressive political possibility.
Canada Research Chair in Urban & Regional Political Economy
Department of Geography
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC, Canada
 Florida, R. 2002. The rise of the creative class. Basic Books,
 Peck, J. 2010. Constructions of neoliberal reason. Oxford University Press, Oxford
KEYWORDS: INDUSTRY; GROWTH; CREATIVE CLASS; CREATIVE CITIES.