Professor of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative at San Diego State University


It seems every city is talking about becoming an innovation city, an innovation region, an innovation community.

But you can’t have innovation without creativity. How you make someone creative and what our schools and communities must do to develop, nurture and sustain creativity is not well understood.

Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, said that for a city to attract the creative class and be a creative and innovative community, it must possess “the three ‘T’s”: Talent (a highly talented/educated/skilled population), Tolerance (a diverse community, that has a ‘live and let live’ ethos), and Technology (the technological infrastructure necessary to fuel an entrepreneurial culture).

Cities across the world are trying to reinvent themselves to meet the challenges of the new economy. They know that to do that they not only have to attract the creative class, but also nurture the next generation, while retaining the existing creative workforce.

It’s not so easy.

One blog describes Florida’s argument as saying that essentially “cities that attract gays, bohemians, and ethnic minorities are the new economic powerhouses because they are also the places where creative workers — the kind who start and staff innovative, fast-growing companies — want to live.” So many cities have focused on making their city “cool” or “artsy” or maybe even “gay friendly.”

It’s true there may be a correlation between being gay friendly and being a city on the move. But Joel Kotkin, author of The City: A Global History and The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape writes in Foreign Policy :

Perhaps the most damaging misconception of all is the idea that concentration by its very nature creates wealth…Ancient Athens and Rome didn’t start out as undiscovered artist neighborhoods. They were metropolises built on imperial wealth — largely collected by force from their colonies — that funded a new class of patrons and consumers of the arts. Renaissance Florence and Amsterdam established themselves as trade centers first and only then began to nurture great artists from their own middle classes and the surrounding regions.

Kotkin makes a good point. But in an age when creativity and innovation are the hallmarks of a whole new economy, so too does Florida.

Whether cities seek to be creative metropolises, smart cities or simply more wired communities — requires their first asking: who lives here, and why? What do you want for your kids, and importantly, why change anything at all?

Almost 20 years ago, when San Diego Mayor Susan Golding was elected, she had the foresight to launch a “city of the future” initiative. San Diego really didn’t know what a city of the future looked like, but knew about fiber optics — lots of bandwidth in the ground was a critical component. So fiber optics and bandwidth became the focus of the effort.

Today, understanding the challenges of the new global economy and knowing what it takes to succeed in the workplace of the future, we know it is not bandwidth in the ground that is so important as is the bandwidth in people’s heads. And it starts with education.

While there are many things every city and every region must do to make their communities highly livable, and attract, nurture and retain the best and brightest, a truly creative community understands that:

1) Globalization has changed life and work, as we know it. Technology — particularly the internet and the pervasive spread and influence of new media — has led to the emergence of a world where every nation is inextricably tied to every other and manufacturing and service sector jobs are being outsourced or off-shored.

2) A new, truly global knowledge-based economy has evolved. This new economy represents every city’s salvation if the city is willing to aggressively embrace the principals of freedom, free enterprise and entrepreneurship, and highly value its art and cultural assets.

3) Education must be reinvented to ensure a workforce capable of succeeding in the new economy. As Dana Gioia, former Chair of the National Endowment for the Arts said “cheap labor, cheap raw materials, or the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base, will not be enough to compete … to compete successfully, this country (speaking of the US) needs creativity, ingenuity, and innovation.”

4) Efficient, affordable, effective broadband infrastructures available to citizens, businesses, governments, schools, and the entire non-profit sector are essential for economic survival and success.

5) Metropolitan “regions” — not just cities — are the new centers of commerce. Cities, counties, prefectures within larger economic regions must work together to compete in the global economy. Governmental planning and development, as well as the provision of vital public services must be regional.

6) Telecommunication has replaced transportation and affects land use and zoning rules and regulations. The creative community recognizes the important role of so-called creative clusters combining business, education, art and cultural institutions. Downtowns also play a special role becoming the “living rooms” of regional communities.

7) And perhaps most importantly, civic collaboration or engagement is critical.

New and existing organizations responsible for planning and development and for weaving the fabric of the new community together must become owners of the new economic, social, and political agenda. And the process must involve every man, woman and child affected by this new agenda.

Today, no one, no one individual, institution or organization can be left out of the process of making such vital decisions about a city’s or a region’s future.