Last night, Richard Florida (American economist and urban studies theorist) spoke at Wright
State University. His book Rise of the Creative Class was one of the things that inspired me to get more involved with urban advocacy. Yes, I am included in that creative class group – I’m in my 30’s, I am an entrepreneur, I work with technology, I live downtown, I enjoy coffee shops, I go to the theater. But that isn’t what Florida’s "Creative Class" is all about, despite what many people believe. No matter what your profession, if you frequently express yourself either through art, music, writing (even bloggers), acting, etc., then you are in fact creative and thus in this group. If you work at a job where you use your mind to create – whether that is at a software company or a manufacturing plant where your input leads to process improvement – you are in the creative group. The point is, many people think of this "creative class" idea and think that it only applies to high tech people or artists. Those "yuppie types" as I’ve heard some people say. But as Florida spoke last night, he emphasized the fact that this class of people is not very exclusive; most of us are indeed creative and thus are part of this group.
Richard Florida’s theories are interesting and make sense, but I’m afraid that many people do not "get it". A city is not a success because it has a bunch of coffee shops and high tech workers and artists running around; nor is this the message Florida is trying to articulate. A city is successful when leaders recognize that our biggest assets are the people we have here. A city is a success when its citizens believe that their dreams and ideas are embraced not only by our leaders, but also the community in general – which in turn makes them feel good about their city. Florida made a good point when he said that the key to having a successful city is to be open to diversity in every aspect of the word. Economically/Racially/Culturally segregated cities stand absolutely NO chance of success. Dayton has a tall hill to climb when it comes to this idea, but it can be done. So next time you come downtown and cringe at looking at people who are economically, racially or culturally different than you, try turning your attitude around and embrace the fact that we are a very diverse town.
Dayton has tremendous creative talent here not just in the form of high tech scientists and engineers, but in visual, performance and musical arts. There is talent here that is every bit as good as places like Austin and Memphis that are known for their music scenes. We have more local theater groups and performing arts talent than in any other small city that I’ve been to. And our talent is succeeding here, despite what Florida eloquently referred to as "squelchers". It is those squelchers that seem to be very abundant in this town that don’t want to believe. They come in the form of fellow citizens who dismiss those who are trying to improve our city and instead simply bitch about what isn’t being done. They are the people that spend little energy on being part of the solution and instead spend their time dreaming of living somewhere else where the grass is supposedly so much greener. They are also the people that are in leadership positions and are supposedly working towards bettering the city but are close-minded and have no interest in embracing new ideas or learning about what the younger generation or average citizen thinks about things. And finally, they are the suburbanites who raise their kids far away from the perceived dangers and diversity of the inner city only to watch their kids grow up and move far away as soon as they can because they would rather live where diversity is embraced.
Shannon and I moved to Ohio in 2001, and we are blessed with the means to live anywhere in the country we want. And despite the constant stream of negativity we hear about Dayton, we still believe enough about this city that we continue to be advocates for Dayton urban revitalization as we constantly look for new ways we can get involved. When Richard Florida talked about his friend that chose not to live in an "8 or 9" city but instead moved to a "4" city where he thought he could make a difference and help transform it into an "8" city, we were reminded of our own experience here in Dayton. Yes, there is a spirit here that is not only alive but growing despite those squelchers. You simply need to embrace the possibilities and you will begin to see Dayton the way we do. Nothing is impossible…
UPDATE: The power of the Internet never ceases to amaze me. Somehow Dr. Richard Florida found Dayton MostMetro and this particular blog post yesterday (same day it was written) and references it on his blog about his visit to Dayton. It is nice to be recognized – thank you Richard…
Click Play below to hear a WYSO interview with Richard Florida as he speaks about his theories and how they might apply to Dayton.
ALSO: 1/20/2008 – Creative Region Initiative – It’s Official