Thursday, June 10, 2004

How to get 'creative': Help middle class



Peter Bronson

I'm looking at a color-coded map of a national "Gay Index" that ranks cities by their diversity quotient. Cincinnati is spruce green. What a surprise. With all the griping about how oppressive we are, I thought we'd be stoplight red: "Warning, homosexuals are not gay here."

But it turns out we're not dead last. We're not even second to last. We're in the lower middle-half for census of gay and lesbian couples.

It also turns out red is first place: San Francisco, Miami and what looks like the corner of Massachusetts that's on all those invitations to gay weddings.

Purple is worst - the gay badlands. But despite our intolerant, discriminatory, hateful, popular, pro-family, anti-gay-rights law, Cincinnati is a green fourth among six rankings - no worse than many cities and better than a lot of them.

But that's not good enough. According to the bible of hip, techie "progressives" called The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, we should paint the town San Francisco red.

Florida postulates that the population of gays measures diversity, and that diversity is the best magnet for the creative class. He believes gays are the "canaries of the creative age." If you find enough, the urban mine is safe to dig high-tech gold.

Florida's book won't outsell the confessions of Pete Rose, but some local leaders in Cincinnati, like other cities, take his theory as economic gospel. At art galleries and cocktail parties, it's a favorite argument to repeal the Issue 3 ban on gay-rights laws. Just listen for "creative class" at diversity meetings and in those "enlightened" editorials about tolerance.

But Florida may be selling intellectual swampland.

In a Washington Monthly article, he pined for the high-tech "internationalist Bill Clinton" and scorned President Bush as a symbol of traditionalist, square America who has "inspired the fury of the world" by not swallowing the globaloney about climate change. His implicit message: Elect John Kerry.

I guess we should expect sour, pickled politics from Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz professor of economic development - as in Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate's ketchup-heiress wife.

But what about his theory that cities can strike it rich by wooing gays and coddling the creative class?

"Florida rarely lets basic economic data get in the way of his theories," writes Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute in the winter 2004 City Journal. Malanga analyzed Florida's research and found "Florida's indexes are such poor economic predictors that his top cities don't outperform his bottom ones."

In job growth, population and creation of fast-growing businesses, the cities Florida praises as magnets for gays and the creative class - San Francisco, New York and Austin, Texas - are losers to cities that rely on traditional lures, such as quality of life, low crime and low taxes.

"Many of his 'talent magnets' are among the worst at attracting and, more importantly, hanging on to residents," Malanga writes.

Politicians like to use Florida's theory to justify mandatory gay-rights diversity and big spending on culture and the arts. So Cincinnati spends millions on the arts, but can't afford better safety equipment for firefighters.

We have plenty of creative talkers - but not enough do-ers. It's usually a big mistake to single out one class of people for such special treatment. But if we have to pick one, how about making Cincinnati more attractive to the people who do most of the work and pay most of the taxes that support our "political class" and "creative class."

That's the middle class.

E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.




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