Is Creative Class Urbanism This Generation's Urban Renewal?

The 10th anniversary and updating of Richard Florida's "Rise of the Creative Class" has brought about a re-evaluation of "creative class" urbanism. Will Doig surveys a series of popular essays that question Florida's highly influential arguments.
July 20, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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A flurry of articles in blogs and journals over the last couple of months have argued for the failings of different elements of creative class theory. The most recent of these, appearing in the literary journal The Baffler, "took aim at urbanism's fetish for 'vibrancy,' and called the coolness-will-save-us model a 'Ponzi scheme' that needs to be stopped," notes Doig. 

He suggests there is a growing conversation, and concern, "that much of today's urbanism, even when its goals are lofty, is too muddled with buzzwords, corporate-speak and privileged points of view." While counter-arguments to Florida often dwell on semantics rather than substance, Doig argues that at the heart of the criticisms lies a spreading anxiety, "that some of this stuff - the streetcars, the pop-up cafes, the activated spaces, the 'vibrancy' - is frivolous and insubstantial."

And the fact that many of these dissenting articles appear in "small publications, written by people who aren't as invested in urbanism as a movement," Doig seems to argue, is their greatest credential. Planners, as a lot, are remiss if they aren't invariably suspicious of the type of sure-minded group-think that brought about the disastrous urban renewal schemes of the 1950s and 60s. And Doig seems to play on this suspicion by making an analogy between these articles and the work of "local activists" who by the mid 1960s, "had been writing for years in community newspapers about the destructiveness of urban renewal policies, that they were doing more harm than good."

"Meanwhile," Doig continues, "the New York Times was still running Op-Eds promoting 'the long-standing national goal of tearing down all slums and providing every American family with ‘a safe, decent and sanitary home.'' 

Because, "The Times, along with some of the brightest minds of that generation, was wrong about cities," concludes Doig, "Some of the ideas that are being implemented [now] might also be wrong..."

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Published on Friday, July 13, 2012 in Salon
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