Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Creative Thinking


Urbanist Richard Florida speaks at Penn State Harrisburg.

Postindustrial cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg have had an uphill economic climb since the glory days of cars, steel and railroad. But bringing industry and manufacturing jobs back into cities may not be the solution to grow urban areas and draw in the next generation of workers.

So says renowned urbanist and author Richard Florida, who spoke last week at the “PNC Thought Lecture Series” held in Penn State Harrisburg’s new Student Enrichment Center.

On a stage straight out of “TED Talks,” Florida outlined his theory on urban renewal. It’s based not on looking back at our manufacturing past, but in looking forward to our creative future and what he describes as the ”creative class.”

In his book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” Florida defines the group to include “people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and new creative content.”

“We [once] used physical labor and natural resources to create wealth,” said Florida, who serves as the director of cities at the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. “[Today], the human mind is the means of production.”

Florida asserted that people like artists, musicians, entrepreneurs and technology professionals add to the vibrancy of an area. It’s this vibrancy—not necessarily jobs per se—that attract young people to a city.


Quality of Place

Florida said that he began to question the basic economic model of “if you have good jobs, the people will come” as a professor at Carnegie Mellon, when he asked his class if they would stay to work in the Pittsburgh area. The answer, he said, was a resounding “no.”

“They wanted to go to San Francisco, New York City or Seattle because these places had energy and excitement, places they could fit in,” he said.

“Quality of place” is what draws people to a city, Florida said. This quality includes natural features, open space, a diverse feel and a variety of activities such as symphonies, operas, ballet, cafes and restaurants.

Another part of city renewal is the presence of gay and lesbian communities, but not necessarily because of the individuals themselves. Florida asserted that communities that welcome gays and lesbians also embrace diverse ways of thinking. He said that great cities invest in the three “T’s”: talent, technology and tolerance.

One of these creatives is Jessica Bacon, creative director of design at Smile Spinners, a fabric and sewing boutique in Marysville. She attended the Florida speech at Penn State Harrisburg.

“I wanted a creative opportunity,” she said, explaining why she came to the Harrisburg area. “I want to build something.”

Karl Singleton, senior advisor to Mayor Eric Papenfuse, was also in the crowd. He advocated, “capturing local talent to enliven the school system,” hence encouraging the kind of creativity that Florida says is necessary to revitalize cities.

Rob Shoaff and Shaina Carter, two Maker Fellows from the Foundry Makerspace, are on board with that idea. In their jobs, they bring STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) into the classrooms of Harrisburg schools. Carter, who fellows at Downey Elementary, said that the program is “bridging the gap between community and school, bringing in community partners and bringing in technology.”

The quality of schools is vital because, as Florida said, young people often stay in a city until their children are of school age—then move out for a better school district.


Innovation and Growth

According to Florida, the numbers for the Harrisburg area shake out like this: 93,000 creative class workers, 67,000 working class workers and about 151,000 service class workers, who typically have the lowest paying jobs.

In some cities, creative class workers are moving into lower-income areas, pushing up property values and displacing long-time residents. So, how does a city bring everyone into the fold as neighborhoods change? Florida’s conclusion is to increase the pay of lower-income service jobs.

He likened this idea to the state of factory jobs prior to World War II and used his father as an example. He stated that, before the war, nine members of his father’s family needed to work in factories and other jobs just to keep the family afloat. Post-war, however, factory jobs paid better, allowing parents to own homes, purchase cars and send their children to college.

“We decided, as a society, led by Franklin Roosevelt and Henry Ford, that, in order to grow the economy so that working people could buy clothes and buy cars and buy air conditioners, we needed to pay them enough,” he said.

We can, he said, do the same thing for service workers today.

“We can give them higher pay, make their jobs better and involve them in innovation,” he said.

This, he said, would help invest all workers in their communities and foster the collaboration needed for a city to grow.

“When people get together in communities, we are more productive, we are more than the sum of its parts,” he said. “We create great, powerful communities that create innovation and growth.”

Author: Susan Ryder

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