Are The Creatives Among Us?

One situation I meant to acknowledge in my post yesterday about whether proximity to others doing creative work spurred your own innovation was (for want of a better term) Steve Jobs’ design of Pixar’s studios.

In short, he had the restrooms and other important building features placed in a central hub so that people from different parts of the company would run into each other. About a year ago I wrote a little about other arrangements that replicate this basic idea.

Richard Florida has been writing a series of five articles for The Atlantic Cities on different types of economic segregation in metro areas around the country.

Today he made his final post on the places where creative class workers are segregated from everyone else. Even if you are skeptical about Florida’s theories about creative class bolstering the economies of different communities, the research results are interesting to consider. I had never even thought about segregation of creatives as a problematic condition.

You may have heard of the term “town and gown” referring to the distinct cultural line that often develops between people who live in a community with a college and those who attend and work there. The depth of this cultural divide is one of the factors that feeds into the creative class segregation, but there are many others as well.

The metros where the creative class is most segregated include the nation’s largest metros and many of its leading knowledge-based economic centers. Los Angeles tops the list, followed by Houston, San Jose, San Francisco, New York, Austin, San Antonio, San Diego, and Chicago.

When we expand the list to include all metros, a number of smaller ones also show substantial levels of segregation. The creative class remains the most segregated in Los Angeles, but Trenton-Ewing, New Jersey (which includes Princeton University) takes second place, and Salinas, California is the third most highly segregated metro in the country on this score…The creative class is also highly segregated in college towns like Ann Arbor, Durham-Chapel Hill, Tucson, Gainesville, and College Station. As I wrote a few weeks ago, many of these smaller college towns also experience high levels of segregation of educated residents.

There were some results from the research that I saw encouraging to my hope that vibrant cultural experiences could be built in smaller communities.

Conversely, the metros where the creative class is least segregated are mainly in the Midwest and Sunbelt. The Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul is the least segregated large metro on this score, followed by Rochester, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Providence, Milwaukee, and Hartford. Jacksonville, Tampa, and Virginia Beach in the Sunbelt round out the top ten large metros where the creative class is least segregated.

The metros where the creative class is least segregated are all smaller ones. In fact, there are more than 150 smaller and medium-sized metros where the creative class is less segregated than their counterparts in the least segregated large metro. Many of these places, especially in the Northeast and the Midwest, are cities where levels of the creative class are fairly low. Mankato, Minnesota, has the lowest level of creative class segregation in the country, followed by Lewiston-Auburn, Maine; St. Cloud, Minnesota; Joplin, Missouri; and Rome, Georgia.

There are a number of reasons why segregation is higher in large metropolis, often having to do with gentrification raising rents and longer commuting times, both which inhibit different groups from interacting with each other.

So getting back to the question I posed yesterday about what scenario might be better, this research got me wondering if a situation might arise where a lot of people are doing creative work in a large city, but they may be doing it in enclaves distinct from the general population. That dynamic may actually be better for your personal creative growth, but the work being created might also be more disconnected from the community than that being created in a smaller metro area.

It may be more difficult therefore to attain the goal of “serving the community” in a larger metro than a smaller one. Even though greater numbers of people are experiencing your work, you may be serving a far smaller segment of the population than an artist in a metro area of 50,000. Two arts organizations in the smaller metro may serve a far more economic, educational and racially diverse segment of their general community than 20 arts organizations in a larger city.

As I mentioned earlier, I hadn’t really thought about segregation of creatives as being a problem. I wonder if it is perceived as such. Is this manifesting in a negative manner for cities with high segregation like New York, Austin and Chicago, which are all recognized as having relatively vibrant cultural scenes? Do they see untapped potential in more integrated living conditions?

The protests in San Francisco against tech companies like Google would seem to be a reaction against creatives living amongst the population. (The issues are more complicated than that, really.)

On the other hand, the low segregation communities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Rochester, Buffalo and Cincinnati all generally recognize and appreciate the benefits their arts scenes bring to the livability of their respective cities. And lest you think that smaller communities necessarily means less available financial support for the arts, ArtsWave of Cincinnati just raised “$12 million in contributions– the highest amount ever raised by any community campaign for the arts in the country.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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