Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Overlooked Attribute for Appeal to Creatives

Not only is the term creative class misused, but lost in most analysis of research about this bellwether group is the role of landscape appeal.

It is also another reason why officials in Durham, North Carolina, where I live seem short-sighted to keep skipping over the importance of conducting a thorough community-wide i-Tree inventory of tree canopy.

Researchers now unpack the creative class into three types of knowledge workers by occupation or avocation: synthetic, analytic and symbolic.

Analytic creatives work in universities or research labs and in the R&D divisions of corporations.

Synthetic creatives such as entrepreneurs are those involved in applied research, e.g. taking discoveries or what works in one area and applying it to concrete solutions in another such as with processes or systems.

Symbolic creatives are those in the cultural industries including everything from design and packaging to marketing organizations to curators, artists and musicians.

When communities such as Durham seek to perpetuate appeal to the creative class, they are focusing on the small percentage of individuals who will relocate in a four year span.

Symbolics are the least mobile, while analytics are the most.

According to Dr. Richard Florida, “many confuse creative class with young workers” but age 25 to 35 just happens to be the cohort least rooted.  Even then, rootedness and authenticity, more than “hipness” are the attributes of places to which they are most drawn.

In 2003, the year after first publication of The Rise of the Creative Class, I formed a consortium in Durham, to drill down to the county level, long before data mining made that the gold standard.

We were one of the first in the nation at that level to do so.

But not until digging deeper into the research did I realize until recently that the analysis missed one of the most important attributes to creative class appeal, which is natural setting.

Still, as far as it went, It turned out our hunch was correct.  Durham County and the four-county Durham MSA, now hyphenated to Durham-Chapel Hill were identified as some of the highest concentrations of creative class workers in the nation.

Some people who were too impatient to read the research or the book would leap frenetically in an effort to pigeon hole the create class, jumping to classifying it as only as artists, then ad agencies, then entertainment venues and as some still do now, as entrepreneurs.

Of course, the creative class includes or is drawn to places with those attributes and populations but it is more complicated than that.  For example, the groups including those noted above are far more comprehensive, and sometimes things have different meanings.

For example, by entertainment venues, an active street music scene is far more relevant than large-scale venues, especially those that have high ticket prices and where it is hard to come and go during performances.

Overlooked is that “outdoor amenities” are a key ingredient to places where creatives are drawn and congregate.  “Outdoor” unpacks into landscape, climate and recreational influences.

“Landscape” preferences include forest and open country as well as topographic variation, e.g hills and dales, lakes, rivers and access to mountains and coasts, etc.

The greater forest cover a place has, the higher its appeal.

Anyone truly familiar with Durham can see why it is appealing to and has such a huge creative class sector.

Values such as tolerance (we prefer the word acceptance here,) historic building that are appealing to creative class ventures, organic districts such as Brightleaf and Ninth Street, historic neighborhoods, a world class R&D park and two research university are pivotal.

It has a renowned foodie and cultural scene, a downtown entrepreneurial hub along with a landscape mix of urban, small town and rural as well as waterways, greenways and the 60% of forest canopy remaining as shown in the image above of North Durham.

It is the same mix that visitors find so appealing, including the 80% to 85% of newcomers and relocating executives who scout the community first as visitors.

They may be drawn by the community’s overarching brand (more than a logo or tagline) and the coherent storytelling of its marketing organization but only because Durham delivers on that personality.

Officials here have much to worry about including elimination of poverty.

But only by fostering all three elements of Durham’s incredible sense of place, a distinctive cocktail of “built,” cultural and natural assets, can its vitality be ensured so as to generate the resources needed.

Most at risk is its natural setting or landscape because it is the most fragile.  It can be so easily cannibalized by the first two place-based ingredients but without it, they are nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:13, adapted to sense of place, would read – And now these three remain: “built,” cultural and natural.  But the greatest of these is “natural.”  Because it is the most fragile.

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