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The Greening of the Creative Class?

Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class made a bit of a splash last year. His argument -- that "cultural creatives" (an intentionally broad social-economic category) were most attracted to diverse, tolerant urban environments -- resonated with many, particularly those who were encompassed by his "creative class" definition. Florida asserted that the American locations driving the boom of the late 1990s, as well as what we here call the "Tech Bloom" of the 2000s, had particular social-cultural elements in common: relative population density; lively artistic communities; diverse cultures; an embrace of (or at least strong tolerance for) gay communities; and a multiplicity of universities. Urban centers that encouraged contact and connections across a wide array of cultures tended to stimulate the new ideas underlying the digital economy.

Florida's argument is controversial, to say the least. His definition of cultural creatives includes professional categories other sociologists might otherwise omit, and it remains to be seen whether his assertions about the connection between creative workers and economic growth will hold true over the long run. Still, his basic argument -- that knowledge and media work represent key engines of economic growth, and environments supportive of cultural and intellectual diversity are attractive to these kinds of industries -- does seem to capture some of the underlying drivers of the current state of American society.

In his research, Florida does not pay much attention to the environmental attitude of his creative class, other than lumping it into "lifestyle." But while reading an article in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor -- "In Portland, living the green American dream" -- it struck me that there seems to be significant overlap between the creative class professionals and the rapidly growing circle of people embracing green/sustainable design in their lives. People who seek out urban environments with a combination of diverse stimuli and dense connections increasingly also are the people looking for material surroundings with a combination of smart design and high efficiency. The creative class is taking on a distinctly Viridian shade of green.

This can be illustrated by comparing some lists: Richard Florida's list of top Creative Index cities (an amalgam of a variety of factors); a recently-released listing of top cities for hybrid car purchases; and the current list of cities with the most LEED-certified buildings. In all cases, "city" means greater metropolitan area (e.g, San Francisco includes Oakland and San Jose). Bold represents cities showing up on all three lists; italics represents cities on 2 of the 3 lists.

Florida's Top 15 Creative Index cities (City, Index score):
1. San Francisco     1057
2. Austin     1028
3. San Diego     1015
3. Boston     1015
5. Seattle     1008
6. Chapel Hill     996
7. Houston     980
8. Washington     964
9. New York     962
10. Dallas     960
10. Minneapolis     960
12. Los Angeles     942
14. Atlanta     940
14. Denver     940
15. Chicago     935

Top 15 cities for hybrids (City, No. of hybrids registered in 2004, % growth over hybrids registered in 2003):

1. Los Angeles     10,399     102.0%
2. San Francisco Bay Area     8,051     94.0%
3. Washington DC     6,473     52.0%
4. New York     3.779     111.9%
5. Seattle-Tacoma     2,857     67.3%
6. Boston     2,720     84.9%
7. Sacramento     2,182     108.6%
8. Chicago     2,122     71.8%
9. San Diego     1,851     134.3%
10. Philadelphia     1,770     83.2%
11. Portland, OR     1,767     103.3%
12. Baltimore     1,514     79.8%
13. Denver     1,432     76.1%
14. Phoenix     1,217     82.5%
15. Dallas Ft Worth     1,076     82.1%

Top 13 urban regions for "green buildings" (City, LEED certified projects):

1. Seattle     14
2. Portland     10
3. San Francisco     9
4. Los Angeles     9
5. Atlanta     6
6. Pittsburgh     6
7. Sacramento     5
8. Washington     4
9. Denver     4
10. Arlington     3
10. Baltimore     3
10. Boston     3

(15 additional cities have 2 LEED certified buildings)

The three lists are not identical by any means, but the amount of overlap is notable. 11 of the top 15 Creative Index cities are among the top cities for hybrid cars, LEED certified buildings, or both. Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC show up on all three lists; the cities that show up on two of the three include some predictable entries (Portland, New York) and some surprises (Dalls, Sacramento). Austin, #2 on Florida's list, actually does better than this comparison suggests, as it's #16 on the hybrid car list and among the cities with 2 LEED buildings, just missing the cut-off.

There's certainly an economic aspect to this line-up. Hybrids are more expensive than equivalent gas-only cars, and while there's plenty of evidence that LEED-compliance is not costly, the public perception is often that green buildings cost more. To some degree, the Creative Index cities may generally have more hybrids and LEED buildings than others because they can afford them. But it's hard to deny the cultural element -- the connection between centers of innovation and centers of sustainable design is clear.

So what does this suggest?

First and foremost, it suggests that the next wave of economic innovation may well come from those locations with the greatest support for sustainable technologies and infrastructure. While some of this will come from existing "creative class" residents pushing for greener buildings, transit and industries in their home communities, some will come from innovators and entrepreneurs seeking out appealing hubs of urban sustainability, moving to take advantage of green material surroundings already in evidence. The creative class is demonstrably a mobile class, willing to shift geographic locations as readily as they shift places of employment.

Cities or regions wishing to become innovation centers, then, should consider ways to adopt more sustainable urban planning. If the people most involved in generating economic growth are in fact starting to pay increasing attention to their environmental footprints, the up-front investments in better public transit, support for solar panels and green roofs, even a shift to lighter-color street pavement will pay off handsomely.

It also suggests that we're on the verge of seeing an explosion of sustainable design products and services across the economic spectrum. Purchasing decisions of the creative class -- and marketing crafted by the creatives themselves -- can be more influential than their raw numbers might suggest. Hybrid cars are a good example. The number of hybrid cars on the road is, in absolute terms, still very small. While over 83,000 hybrid vehicles were registered in the US in 2004, that represented only a small fraction of all cars registered. Yet hybrids already have a significant cultural weight, appearing in movies and television, in newspapers and magazines, and talked up by politicians and academics. As a result, the decision-makers at GM and Daimler-Chrysler, who had originally only paid attention to the numbers, are now scrambling to get hybrids on the market as quickly as possible.

The greening of the creative class will not, in and of itself, be sufficient to transform the American cultural landscape into a low-footprint, high-efficiency society. On its own, it's a leading indicator for the success of the "baseline scenario." But even if it's not actively transformative, it's catalytic. A society already familiar with the style and virtues of sustainable dwellings, design and transit is one more willing to consider even bigger changes. A green creative class is not enough to get us to where we need to be, but it certainly points us in the right direction.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Greening of the Creative Class?:

» Will the Creative Class Lead the Way...? from sustainablog
That's the question Jamais Cascio at WorldChanging ponders, with the help of some interesing statistics about hybrid ownership, green building and "Creative Class" cities. I read Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class, last year, and found hi... [Read More]

» Greening classes from Synapse Chronicles
WorldChanging: The Greening of the Creative Class?. Interesting correlation between environmental indicators and Richard Florida's creative centers.... [Read More]

» The Greening of the Creative Class? from Creative Fort Wayne
In his research, Florida does not pay much attention to the environmental attitude of his creative class, other than lumping it into "lifestyle." But while reading an article in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor -- "In Portland, living the green Am... [Read More]

Comments (12)

Awesome piece, Jamais!

And I think this --

"It also suggests that we're on the verge of seeing an explosion of sustainable design products and services across the economic spectrum. Purchasing decisions of the creative class -- and marketing crafted by the creatives themselves -- can be more influential than their raw numbers might suggest"

-- is exactly right.

Well done!


Good article. This information seems more like a pat on the back, rather than information destined to change the outlook of middle america, but it certainly is an interesting read.

One small point: I could name several green buildings in New York City just off the top of my head, and probably could compile a substantial list with a bit of research. I'm not sure your data is entire accurate.

One small point: I could name several green buildings in New York City just off the top of my head, and probably could compile a substantial list with a bit of research. I'm not sure your data is entire accurate.

The list seems to be referring to LEED Certified projects, not just any building which is considered "green". Here is the USGBC list of LEED Certified Projects.

NYC seems to only have one - The Solaire. Six others are currently seeking certification, which you can search for here.

Jamais Cascio:

Jared, I'm sure you can. I used the data for LEED-certified buildings; each of these cities has quite a few more LEED-registered buildings. LEED-registration is a step prior to certification, but does not guaranteed LEED status.

You can find the LEED registration list here:


Jamais Cascio:


Joseph posted at the same time I did, with more-or-less the same information.


There's a lot I find distasteful in Florida's pseudoscience circle jerk. As far as I can tell, his resonance with an older professional and academic crowd can be attributed as much to generational jet lag as to his accuracy. The untempered rise of neoliberalism enjoys patting itself on the back, and what better way to do so than to point out that hipsters, despite their striking counter-cultural appearances, are finding employment in mainstream corporations.

Hurrah, the next generation isn't dropping out. We must have solved everything that made others so difficult to incorporate. The hippies didn't fail: they've fused with the yuppies into a progressive, profitable superculture.

It seems to me that Florida is merely documenting another stage of recuperation achieved by the spectacle. The appearance of surrealism in advertising did not signal the triumph of the movement over its bourgeois opponents, but its capitulation.

My disagreement with his assessments also comes as a result of my own experience with my generation. I've seen burgeoning punk communities host brilliant and creative minds that have no interest in economic growth. I've watched children of affluence and education despair at the "progress" of the world and drop into patterns of minimal labor for survival (and, yes, frequently intoxication.) Dumpster diving has never been so popular.

I know this not to be a localized phenomenon, and the trends of hipsters, et al., in this direction seem to me to be the real fringe, perhaps the reverberations of a smaller core. Few of those "creatives" who factor into Florida's charts contribute economically through anything more than a sense of self-preservation and would gladly "drop out" if shown their genuine creative potential for self-support.

We are a particularly lazy generation raised on the heights of passive entertainment and absolute convenience. The miracle that should be discussed is that we manage to be as creative at all despite the "progress" before us. If one were to argue that a route to individual creative explosion is through the debasement of mass culture one might be closer to a truth, but not one we should model ourselves on. Assuming such an explosion exists at all.

to rephrase:
it's always better on holiday, and that's why we only work when we need the money.

even uberpop products of this generation get it better than academics.

Dropping out and joining the Counterculture is just one strategy for changing the world -- not usually a terribly effective one at that.

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FYI - we posted Jamais' April 27, 2005 article about this "newly electric green" wave of a growing greener class which referenced greenroofs on the Greenroofs.com Home Page under NewsLinks.

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You know, we should've done an article long ago about the book that started this stuff: "the cultural creatives" by Paul H. Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson. ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0609604678/qid%3D970529901/sr%3D1-1/002-1966413-1838400 ).

It goes into great detail about the correlations between green lifestyle and socially liberal lifestyle (along with food, health and spirituality choices), and says that this is a much bigger demographic than anyone realizes-- 50 million people in the US, almost a quarter of the population.

The authors are market-researchers, not academics (though they have enough credentials for the latter). In my mind this gives them extremely high credibility, because those are the people best trained to spot demographics you can take to the bank.

The corollary to their book is that if we as a demographic would wake up to our size (and buying power, and cultural influence potential), and begin to cohere, the political landscape of America would do a 180-degree turn. Increasing hybrid sales and green buildings should only be the first small signs.

deborah squier:

Good article!


To throw a little cold water on Jeremy Faludi's final paragraph -- 50 million people is only 1/6 the US population, and this demographic is almost exclusively urban, which means that to the extent it is is politicized at all, it is mostly "hidden" inside the Democratic Party, with nowhere else to go, and no leverage issues.

But as they say "there are no atheists in foxholes" -- I don't think there will be many non-sustainable people in a severe drought or famine! (Perhaps not under $5/gal gasoline either.) Things have the potential to change quickly, as the great enthusiasm for hybrids shows.

Great article and comment thread.


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