What makes me less enthusiastic about Florida's work is that it encourages the same kind of thinking that is the foundation of gated communities: the desire to surround yourself with people who are pretty much just like you. While I have been known to express a personal dislike of Nylachi on this blog every once in a while (ahem), there is at least one thing that I appreciate about those places: diversity. From what little know about biological systems, as I understand it biological diversity is absolutely critical for the health of the ecosphere. I would venture to say that the same is true of the human community in a democracy -- it benefits from diverse viewpoints and life experiences.
When Joe makes the next logical step, I start thinking "coals to Newcastle." This is the kind of thinking -- which is totally logical, indeed extremely smart -- that leads to the increasing centralization of our arts world:
I suspect the place finder might even be help people focus their thinking when they consider founding an arts organization. (Maybe the NEA or Americans for the Arts should adopt a similar tool specifically for the arts.) Even without his book being published, I don't think I would be suggesting anything earth shattering were I to say that founding an arts organization that doesn't resonate with the underlying vibe of a community is a bad idea and probably destined to result in one muttering about philistines. If communities can target the wrong group of creatives, creatives can certainly target the wrong communities.Now, I would agree that if you go into the "wrong community" with a missionary zeal to teach them natives the Right Way to look at things, then the result might be exactly what Joe describes. But if you arrive with an open mind and the confidence to listen as well as speak, in other words if you arrive with a desire to become part of the community -- well, you might just discover a richness of experience that would far surpass that of living in a Creative Class echo chamber.
I also worry about the effects on the non-urban, non-"cool" parts of the country. When I went to Amazon to take a look at Florida's latest book entitled Who's Your City: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life (as if this was a new discovery), I was told that people who bought Florida's book also bought Richard C. Longworth's Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism, which I was offered as a package with Florida's book.
The reviewer for Publisher's Weekly had this to say about Longworth's book:
Ex–Chicago Tribune correspondent Longworth (Global Squeeze) paints a bleak, evocative portrait of the Midwest's losing struggle with foreign competition and capitalist gigantism. It's a landscape of shuttered factories, desperate laid-off workers, family farms gobbled up by agribusiness, once great cities like Detroit and Cleveland now in ruins, small towns devolved into depopulated rural slums haunted by pensioners and meth-heads. But the harshest element of the book is Longworth's own pitiless ideology of globalism. In his telling, Midwesterners are sluggish, unskilled, risk-averse mediocrities, clinging to obsolete industrial-age dreams of job security, allergic to change, indifferent to education and totally unfit for the global age. They are doomed because global competition is unstoppable, says Longworth, who dismisses the idea of trade barriers as simplistic nonsense purveyed by conspiracy theorists. The silver linings Longworth floats—biotechnology, proposals for regional cooperation—are meager and iffy. The Midwest's real hope, he insists, lies in a massive influx of mostly low-wage immigrant workers and in enclaves of the rich and brainy, like Chicago and Ann Arbor, where the creative class sells nebulous information solutions to dropouts and Ph.D.s. It's not the Middle West that's under siege in Longworth's telling; it's the now apparently quaint notion of a middle class.At some point, I think we, as a country, as a society, have to ask ourselves whether the goal is to create a brain drain from the country to the city. Whether the kind of intelligence necessary to grow our food without killing our environment can exist if all the creative thinkers have been lured to Florida's hip urban enclaves. I think eventually we have to ask ourselves whether the constant uprooting and scattering of families all over the country in response to globalism's decimation of local industries is good for our country, and whether our assumption as a society that the best way to confront this decimation is to retrain the workforce into white-collared "knowledge workers" instead of maintaining an economic system in which a person can make a stable, reasonable living by the sweat of his brow is really sustainable or desirable.
And as artists, we need to ask ourselves whether the Shiny, Happy People that we feel most comfortable really need another theatre, and whether those "rust belt" survivors deserve one. I'd answer, respectively, no and yes. We need to go back to the values of the 1930s, when the artists saw themselves as on the side of the workers, instead of seeing ourselves as the lapdogs of the rich.