This past semester I began my thesis writing on the Creative Class and Rustbelt Cities. The Following is the abstract from my paper:
Richard Florida’s “The Rise of the Creative Class” recognizes the emergence of a new social class, the creative class, as the people who are paid principally to do creative work as a living. He goes so far as to state that human creativity is the ultimate economic resource and that all communities and community leaders should invest in creative resources and creative people. The Three T’s for Economic Growth, Florida states, recognizes technology, talent, and tolerance as the major factors for the development of economic growth. More recently, he has recognizes a fourth T for economic growth, Territorial Assets, as the key factor that draws people to a certain place. Also known as “Quality of Place,” Territorial Assets include the assets that make a certain place attractive for creative people. Thick labor markets, lifestyle, social interaction, diversity, and identity are some of these assets. When building a creative community, it is important to develop a strong people climate rather than simply a business climate.
The loss of manufacturing jobs caused Cleveland’s economy to struggle and the population to shrink substantially. The phenomenon of shrinking cities has caused planners and developers to think differently about planning in a way that is more honest and realistic for Rustbelt cities such as Cleveland that are struggling to regain population growth. Like Florida mentions, bottom-up community development strategies are important, but it isn’t the only strategy that planners and designers must consider. What is important is to establish a unique kind of creative class, which I title “The Rustbelt Creative Class.”
Even though Cleveland has experienced urban shrinkage and decline in the past several decades, there is a downtown revival emerging that due in part to the innovators, entrepreneurs, thinkers and doers in places such as Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Youngstown. The Rustbelt revival is not experiencing new growth only because there is an abundance of cheap space. It’s about the authenticity of the post-industrial environment, particularly the prevalence of conflict.
Conflict, which is often associated with anger, tension and avoidance, should be seen as the driving force for community growth. The irony of conflict is that it “stirs us into observation and memory” and allows our minds to think creatively. The ability to create has long been tied to ones surroundings. In the case of Rustbelt Cities, these surroundings are characterized by the vacant and underutilized buildings and structures, the post-industrial parks and factory buildings, foreclosed homes and boarded-up storefronts, and patchwork of random buildings and land. This “patchwork” of contrast is the characteristic of a chaotic landscape: one that lacks an identity and is the outcome of urban decay, shrinkage, demolition and abandonment.
Cleveland’s growing arts community has embraced the conflicted environment and approached it in an artist way; recognizing and reusing once underutilized and vacant spaces and buildings, creating something out of nothing. The process of reusing vacant buildings does not have to be belabored, but can be done in phases and can be as simple as selecting one building for rehabilitation, as a model, then building up the number for rehabilitation. The redevelopment of vacant lots and structures has the potential to create more jobs, more recreational spaces, cultural opportunities and more vibrancy to an area that formerly was a dilapidated area.
This is the approach that planners and community leaders need to take: being able to embrace authenticity, enacting a strategy that accepts conflict in the environment. The traditional model for economic growth, one that is based on the idea of newness and maximum population growth, simply does not work for Rustbelt cities like Cleveland. The site selected will recognize these guidelines and serve as a model for creative communities in Rustbelt cities.
Keywords: Creative Class, Richard Florida, Conflict, Rustbelt, Cleveland, Artist District
Brandon E. Young