THINKING FOR OURSELVES
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Nov.21-27, 2010
The mainstream media has a way of flattening ideas. It strips them of their complexity and nuance. This process is evident every time the mainstream press talks about creativity in the rebuilding of Detroit.
I was excited by Richard Florida’s Rise of the Creative Class and How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life when I first read the book in 2002. Florida began with the idea that Work has changed dramatically as we have shifted from industrial production. He noted that, at the end of WWII, only 15% of the population had been doing creative work, who were what he calls the “knowledge professionals”: scientists, engineers, artists, musicians, designers, teachers, medical and other knowledge-based jobs. By the beginning of 2000 more than 30% of the workforce were engaged in these jobs. Moreover, cities with high concentrations of knowledge workers were the ones that experienced growth.
Florida wanted to understand why some cities were growing and some shrinking. The core of his insight rested on what he called the 4 T’s. Talent was attracted to places that were Tolerant, Technologically robust with Territorial Assets. His message was that states like Michigan, with strong university and educational systems, were exporting their Talented young people to other states and cities that had high correlations with the Tolerance, Technology and Territorial assets.
I had hoped that the essence of Florida’s message would encourage those concerned with growth to take a look at the costs to our state of intolerance, lack of investment in technology and the squandering of our natural resources. I saw Florida’s work as a powerful indictment of those who backed the dismantling of affirmative action, restrictions on same sex relationships and attacks on immigrants. Florida provided a strong economic argument that we should be investing in people, parks, communication systems and policies that celebrate diversity and cultural expression.
However, none of these ideas seemed to resonate with the press and power elite . They reduced Florida’s ideas to the simple notion that Detroit is a blank canvass awaiting young artists. Moreover, they have consistently backed policies that otherwise contradict his findings.
A few years before Richard Florida’s book, two other thinkers, Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson wrote The Cultural Creatives: How 50 million People Are Changing the World. Unlike Florida, the change Ray and Anderson detected was the result not of job categories, but of the slow, steady changes in values created by the great social movements of the 20th century. These movements of people for dignity, for civil rights and for full participation in public life; of ecological movements for sustainability’ and of peace movements for more just relationships among nations have engaged more than 26% of the population.
Ray and Anderson argue that people touched by these movements have been developing a new system of values that stress authenticity, engaged action and whole process learning, idealism and activism, globalization and ecology, the importance of women, and a self-actualization that combines concern for changing systems with spiritual growth and changing ourselves. These values are widely shared and understood by people of every class, age, race and walk of life. They reflect people who are not interested in labels of left and right or seduced by easy solutions. These are people who represent a major shift in our evolution, changing the nature of who we are and what is real.
If we are going to create a Detroit that works for all, we would do well to recognize that our greatest strength has been not the production of jobs and cars but the creation of movements that challenged power, privilege and conventional wisdom.
It is not “empty land” but the energy of these movements that is attracting young people to our city, This political and social creativity holds the best hope for our future. ___________________________________________