Theme: The folly of taking a Creative Class approach to economic development.
Subject Article: "Madison lagging behind peer cities in economic vitality."
Other Links: 1. "Madison360: A decade later, Madison still makes the 'creative class' grade."
2. "The Fall of the Creative Class."
3. "Slack to the Future: Austin gets older; 'Slacker' stays forever young."
4. "Field Of Dreams Portland."
Postscript: The functioning economic geography of the United States concerns places that produce talent and places that refine talent. The Richard Florida playbook is about attracting talent by turning your city into a Creative Class playground. Madison, a center of redoubtable talent production, should be the best of both worlds. It isn't and the city appears to be seriously struggling. I am shocked by the almost doubling of the household poverty rate for primary and secondary students over the last decade. What's wrong?
For his excellent look at the problems with Creative Class theory, Frank Bures spoke with Penelope Trunk, "a branding expert, a Gen Y prognosticator, and a ruthless, relentless self-promoter":
Four years later, Trunk left town, which seemed odd, given her much-ballyhooed arrival. By then, we had fallen out of touch, and I was never quite clear on her reason for leaving. So I called her to find out what had gone wrong. Trunk now lives on a farm in southwest Wisconsin, (she divorced her husband and married a farmer). On the phone, she was still brash and bombastic and as she told it, her honeymoon with the city started to end almost as soon as she got there. One day her ex-husband was googling, “sex offenders,” and he discovered there were four registered on their block. Next, she discovered that the public schools were terrible. “I started talking to everyone,” Trunk said. “And I said, ‘Hey, aren’t you upset the schools suck? How is everyone sending their kid here?’ And people said, ‘Oh, no, I really love my school. I make sure for my kid it’s all about values.’ I mean the bullshit that people were telling me was utterly incredible. Then it just became like an onslaught. Tons of lies. Madison is a city full of people in denial. People don’t leave Madison, so they don’t realize what’s good and not good.” I asked her if she had any regrets, or if the move was a wrong one, or if she had any advice for other people looking to relocate. Or maybe, I suggested, life was just messier than research?
“No,” she said. “Life is totally clear cut. It’s exactly what the research is. All the research says go live with your friends and family. Otherwise, you have to look at why you’re not doing that. If you want to look at a city that’s best for your career, it’s New York, San Francisco or London. If you’re not looking for your career, it doesn’t really matter. There’s no difference. It’s splitting hairs. The whole conversation about where to live is bullshit.”
Emphasis added. Trunk is describing what I term "talent refineries". Being a site of talent production is not enough. Madison needs more refined talent from Chicago or, better yet, New York. Retaining college graduates is a bad idea. Attracting recent college graduates isn't much better unless your town can refine that talent. Good luck trying to out-New York NYC. The prize demographic are the real estate refugees from Big City. I'll have more to say about that in a future post.