Florida’s idea was a nice one: Young, innovative people move to places that are open and hip and tolerant. They, in turn, generate economic innovation. I loved this idea because, as a freelance writer, it made me important. I was poor, but somehow I made everyone else rich! It seemed to make perfect sense. Madison, by that reasoning, should have been clamoring to have me, since I was one of the mystical bearers of prosperity. …
I’m not sure what exactly I expected, but within a year or two it was clear that something wasn’t right. If Madison was such a Creative Class hotbed overflowing with independent, post-industrial workers like myself, we should have fit in. Yet our presence didn’t seem to matter to anyone, creatively or otherwise. And anyway, Madison’s economy was humming along with unemployment around four percent, while back in fun, creative Portland, it was more than twice that, at eight and a half percent. This was not how the world according to Florida was supposed to work. I started to wonder if I’d misread him. Around town I encountered a few other transplants who also found themselves scratching their heads over what the fuss had been about. Within a couple years, most of them would be gone.
Frank Bures wrote a really great essay in Thirty Two Magazine, a new publication for the Twin Cities, about the myth of the creative class—an idea pushed by urban theorist Richard Florida that a city with a strong presence of artists, gays and lesbians, and immigrants would drive economic growth. Economists agree that a healthy amount of college-educated people does help drive economic growth—and much of the creative class are college-educated—but there has not been a lot of evidence showing that cities like Washington D.C., Boston, and New York grew because creative people came there, or if creative people came there because the cities were growing.
This is all really just to say if you’re expecting to move to Portland to find a booming economy full of young, creative types, you’ll need to adjust your expectations.