Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Creative Class Mesofacts

Yes, geography still matters. But that doesn't mean the world is getting spikier instead of flatter. And even if the world is getting spikier, that doesn't preclude it from getting flatter at some point in the future. Transformation takes time. Mesofacts are facts that are no longer true. Today's migrants are chasing yesterday's dream city. The Creative Class economy is dying.

2013 will be a year of reckoning for Creative Class mesofacts in dire need of updating. Richard Florida made too much of CMU graduates bolting Rust Belt Pittsburgh for cool Austin. The Steel City didn't have enough rock bands and gays to cut it. It still doesn't, but now Pittsburgh is cool. The buzz will likely attract rock bands and gays, proof that world is spiky.

Yes, the world is still spiky. Pittsburgh is proof that it is getting flatter. You needn't live in Los Angeles to work for Disney. The entertainment technology industry is diffusing (i.e. converging). A similar story is developing in Brighton, U.K.:

A modest office block around the back of Brighton train station looks an unlikely place for Disney’s European base for its hit kids’ games website, Club Penguin, but inside there is a clue. National flags for Spain, Portugal, France and Germany mark out how each area of the brightly-coloured office caters for a different language.

Many of the young staff of around 60 people, who sit at computer screens, managing the online chatter between kids who play on Club Penguin, have been recruited locally.

Brighton’s youthful cosmpolitan population — there are a string of language schools as well as two universities — was a big attraction for Disney when it expanded Club Penguin beyond North America in 2008. “We knew we’d be able to hire the key people with language skills,” explains Simon Pollard, a manager at Club Penguin.

“We could have chosen London,” he adds, but there was a cultural fit with Brighton as Club Penguin itself was founded in a small city, Kelowna, in Canada. And Disney already owned a computer games studio in Brighton, Black Rock, which it bought in 2006.

In the digital age, where anyone with a broadband connection can have global reach and talent is mobile, being based in a major city like London is no longer essential for a media company. Ricochet, the TV firm behind Supernanny, Gok Wan’s Style Secrets and Blood, Sweat, moved to the South Coast for just that reason.

“This used to be a London company with a Brighton outpost,” recalls Ricochet managing director Jo Ball, thinking back a decade, when founder Nick Powell pushed for the relocation because his home was in Sussex.  “Now it’s a Brighton company with a small toehold in London.” Significantly, US giant Warner Bros, which bought Ricochet in 2010, hasn’t wanted to change it.

Brighton’s seaside charms and its reputation as a liberal, party-loving town have always appealed to creative types. That has only increased as living costs in London have soared.

Emphasis added. Talent is geographically mobile. The technology exists that would allow this talent to live anywhere and still lead highly productive lives. Then why was this talent agglomerating in a few cities such as London? That's the Creative Class paradox.

Agglomeration can't go on forever. At some point, the rent is too damn high. London is at that point. Brighton is the beneficiary. The world is getting flatter.

1 comment:

Patrick Prescott said...

Important thoughts to consider, especially if your city considers itself the "media capital of the world."