Amidst ongoing discussion over Richard Florida’s books, The Rise of the Creative Class and The Flight of the Creative Class (the first apparently beloved by NSW Minister Andrew Refshauge), I just stumbled across an unusual review of Florida’s first book by Harvard professor Ed Glaeser. The review is not only incredibly complimentary, it also tackles the core question in Florida’s research better than Florida himself:

The source of Florida’s policy prescriptions seems to be his attempt to argue that there is a difference between his “creative capital” view and the mainstream urban view that human capital generates growth. As mentioned above, I have always argued that skilled cities grow because “the presence of skills in the metropolitan area may increase new idea production and the growth rate of city-specific productivity levels,” but if Florida wants to argue that there is an effective of bohemian, creative types, over and above the effect of human capital, then presumably that should show up in the data.

Glaeser then presents a series of regressions (I told you it was an unusual book review) showing that the main factor driving city growth is the fraction of adults with a college degree, and that beyond this, the fraction of gay couples and the bohemian index have minimal explanatory power. He then comes to the conclusion that:

I would be awfully suspicious of suggesting to mayors that the right way to fuel economic development is to attract a larger gay population. There are many good reasons to be tolerant, without spinning an unfounded story about how Bohemianism helps urban development.

Instead, he argues that cities should focus on the basics: "low taxes, sprawl and safety".

(An aside: A couple of years ago, Justin Wolfers and I argued that the presence of gay couples in cities is a good metric of city quality. I still think this is fundamentally right. What I don’t believe is that there is a causal connection – that cities grow substantially faster because they have a higher fraction of gay couples.)

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3 Responses to Classy

  1. I think Glaeser is right. I am not sure about gay couples as an indicator. One problem is that there is only a very limited number of gay men (I am not sure how lesbians fit into the theory), so it is unlikely that every city can have large concentrations of them. The second is that gay men are likely to be attracted to a large community of other gay men irrespective of city quality. Take a look at Darlinghurst these days – one boring Thai restaurant after another. It has the signs of a captive rather than a dynamic, trend-setting market. I suspect Sydney got a start with the gay community because of the relative sexual freedom of the Kings Cross area, high-density living, and some initial entrepreneurial activism. After that, it was probably more path dependency than anything special about Sydney.

  2. Sacha Blumen says:

    I think that what Andrew says: “gay men are likely to be attracted to a large community of other gay men” is (especially) true for Sydney – it’s well-known as the magnet for gay men across Australia, and possibly internationally as well.

  3. Andrew Leigh says:

    Andrew, I used to believe this too. But Dan Black and coauthors convinced me otherwise. Their paper was the basis for the SMH piece that Justin and I wrote in 2003:

    Click to access SF101800.pdf

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