Friday, January 8, 2010

Urban Huckstering

"This wasn't Jesus Christ throwing the money men out of the temple;this was an academic.He was a fucking college professor,and you're hoping to resurrect Canton, Ohio? Yeah, good luck with that."

Rodgers Frantz, former tour manager for Richard Florida, quoted in: Alec MacGillis,"The Ruse of the Creative Class," American Prospect, January February 2010.

A lot of people have been waiting to take Richard Florida down. He made the mistake of making a lot of money giving false hope to places; now,in a turn of mind, he is giving false "no hope" to some of the same places. He's apparently smart enough to know that marketing the creative class during the Great Recession has more than a false ring -- even though "innovation" and "skills" are widely seen as long-term panaceas.

We have a long line of urban hucksters or rock stars. The article mentions Michael Porter but the list is longer and certainly includes some of the regionalists, eds and meds advocates, and even, I hesitate to say, some of the green folks. To be a good huckster requires that you marshal and focus on a bit of truth and market the hell out of it: it's just not the whole, complex truth. This happens all the time with the "silver bullet" model projects of social entrepreneurs. Cities are littered with their failures.

Hawking the creative class is another way of saying: invest in downtown development, focus on urban amenities, cater to creative and producer services,renovate the warehouses, etc. How long has that advice been in circulation? And by the way, add a new stadium, convention center, and go for the Olympics (or something smaller)if you are bold enough.

The article doesn't ponder why we are so susceptible to urban hucksters. Why are we so ready to buy the Brooklyn Bridge? Is it that we like simple, fashion cycle ideas? Is it that we really don't know what to do? Is it that doing the things that really matter is too hard and involves the expenditure of too much political capital?

Finally, Florida is missing an interesting trend. Artists, artist types, and those liking gritty arty tone live on the cheap and are great entrepreneurs and risk takers. That's why, back in the 1970s, they were feared or welcomed as the first wave of urban pioneers. Cities in tough times are attractive to this bunch -- and to social justice advocates as well. Maybe we need a new version of urban huckstering that calls for squatting, free land, no rules etc. Oops, we tried that already: Enterprise Zones.

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