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Jennifer Seib-Adese, Creatively Misguided: Richard Florida’s Work and the City of Toronto

Tolerance is a concept with a long history in the United States (U.S.), as Wendy Brown offers in Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire. From its U.S. debut as a term whose purpose was to offer sanctuary from those facing religious persecution, to its present consideration by theorists such as Brown as a covert word for “mannered racialism” (1), tolerance has always referred to a permission granted to the existence of “Others” by the dominant class. Contemporary city planning’s employment of “tolerance” implies a regulatory agenda of the emerging and dominant “Creative Class”. Within Creative City logic, the term effectively serves to reduce “visible minorities” to performers for the majority Creative Class, whose only purpose is to visually stimulate and “culturally” enrich city spaces, as well as to offer a seemingly innocent mechanism for “ethnic” and “racial” management.

Richard Florida, an American economist, is perhaps the most widely recognized proponent of the “Creative City”, and the first to ascribe the label “Creative City” to a trend already in progress in North American cities. A leader in the completion of a city project begun nearly seven years prior to his first published work on the Creative City, Florida has come to be seen as the guru of the Creative City, held in high regard among Toronto city administrators and social elite. First, I will offer an overview of key points in Florida’s work. Next, I will argue that, beginning in 1995 with the Golden Report, the City of Toronto set itself up for competition in the Creative Economy by embracing many of the trends Florida would later identify (2002) as central for success.

The Mike Harris government’s enactment of the Safe Streets Act 1999 was essential to the establishment of Toronto as a Creative City, and the Act itself appears to be a gross misapplication of Jane Jacobs’ assertion, in her 1961 work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, that safe streets are necessary foundations of successful cities. The Safe Streets Act realizes the Golden Report’s rhetoric of tolerance (perceived as positive and non-problematic), as it is precisely the term tolerance that allows for the singling out of certain segments of the population for regulation (i.e. Toronto’s largely “visible minority” homeless and street population). This engagement with tolerance reveals the truly problematic way in which Florida’s promotion of “tolerance” blinds a deeper racist dynamic, reducing the Toronto’s “visible minorities” to, as Stanley Fish writes, “boutique multiculturalist” identities (cookie-cutter, rigidly “ethnically” defined).

Encouraged by the acknowledgement of Toronto as one of the most progressive Creative Cities in North America in Florida’s 2005 The Flight of the Creative Class: The New Global Competition for Talent, Toronto’s city administrators and elite citizens alike are steadfastly devoted to continuing this trend. Moving into an era that is post-publication of Florida’s books, I will discuss the “Toronto Case Study” from the Munk Centre, which analyzes Toronto’s creative city initiatives (rich with reference to Florida’s work).   I will endeavor to show that legislating identities (much like the Safe Streets Act 1999) is essential to the maintenance of Toronto’s identity as a “safe” creative city (revealing the necessity of a regulatory term such as “tolerance”). The legislation as such regulates desirable people into manageable segments, encompassing those resistant to or deemed intolerable by the Creative Economy logic, denying those who would refuse incorporation as full citizens within the Creative City, and relegating “them” to the margins of Toronto society both figuratively and physically.

Distraught over the failure of the Creative Economy to “put an end to long-standing divisions of race and gender” (Flight 79), Florida asserts that tolerance is the most vital of the 3T’s of tolerance, talent, and technology, and that cities’ success in the new economy is directly linked to its ability to absorb diversity. Florida’s insistence on tolerance is not limited, it is inappropriate, and it continually facilitates the social inequalities he seems so concerned about in his second and third books (which he developed an Inequality Index to measure, concluding that wage disparity is the core of inequality versus the limitations and implications of a term as weighted as “tolerance”).

In The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, Richard Florida chronicles the economic evolution of society, with a specific focus on the role of human creativity. He writes that what has emerged in today’s society is an economy and a class driven primarily by creativity, meaning the availability of, and people’s employment in, occupations that permit them the use of “creative” skills. The unifying agent of these individuals, which draws them into a definable class, is “a shared commitment (not unlike the Protestant Ethic) to the creative spirit that underpins the creative ethos of our age.” (Rise 5)

The Creative Class, in this sense, is not determined by income level; rather its membership is determined by the class individual’s engagement in creative work: “A class is a cluster of people who have common interests and tend to think, feel and behave similarly, but their similarities are fundamentally determined by economic function — by the kind of work they do for a living (8).” Any similarities, like social and cultural preferences, identities, and consumption habits, stem from the similar employment of the Creative Class. The Creative Class is also marked by an “experiential lifestyle”, whereby categories such as “mother”, “wife”, “father”, and “husband” are replaced by “acid jazz lover”, “wine enthusiast”, “white water rafter”(13). Class identities, in this context, appear overwhelmingly dependant on income level, trumping Florida’s assertion that the unifying factor is creativity in employment. The experiential lifestyle requires a certain level of affluence, an ability to afford the luxuries Florida considers as experiential endeavours of the Creative Class.

Diversity (diversity being a wide range of colours, genders, and personal preferences) is essential to the Creative Class, a class with a propensity for experiential living. The Creative Class wants not only to experience, but also to participate in the “more authentic and indigenous or organic venues that offer a wide range of option” (187). They want to be active, experience authenticity, and have a hand in creating their leisurely lifestyles — they yearn to appropriate! For Florida, Toronto is a peak example of creative city success: “In Toronto, a thriving multidimensional Creative Center, Creative Class people from all walks of life live side-by-side with new immigrants (who are roughly half of the city’s population) and less affluent groups with whom their children attend the same schools (324).” There is an explicit “Other” in Florida’s statement on Toronto, a distinct difference between the Creative Class from all avenues, the new immigrants and less affluent. To facilitate the Creative Class’ experiential lifestyle, tolerance offers itself as an effective tool for the regulatory control of desirable and undesirable bodies in Toronto.

A city garners success and sustainability by drawing companies to it that offer creative jobs which will allow a Creative Class to flourish, jobs which will rescue people away from their uncreative roles in two other of Florida’s defined classes: the Working Class and the Service Class. The Working Class are those whose work “de-skills” and “de-creatifies” them, where a corporate template (i.e. a fast food cashier who ask, “Do you want fries wi
that?”) dictates every word a
nd action (71). The Service Class members are employed in jobs determined by Florida as low-end, often jobs such as secretarial work, clerical work, and bank tellers, essentially any area that involves assisting or serving other people. The Creative Class is distinguished from the Working and Service Classes by their employment in fields that permit them to utilize their creativity, to think and to generate ideas, such as programmers, advertisers, designers, musicians and entrepreneurs. As Richard Lloyd argues, the Creative Class is made primarily of those who were at the centre of the Internet boom: longhaired, tattooed, moonlighting rock musicians with a penchance for living in artistic neighbourhoods (67).

At a rather defensive moment in his second book, Cities and the Creative Class, Florida states that many critics misunderstand his delineation of creativity and creative capacity in The Rise of the Creative Class, and asserts that everyone possesses creative ability–human beings innately possess creativity capacity, akin to our innate capacity for thought (Cities 4). The Working and Services class have the ability to engage in creative work, the Creative Class just needs to find ways to support them. To demonstrate the possibility of this, Florida draws on his childhood memories of his father’s work with Victory Optical. He writes that a warehouse worker could be creative by changing machine pans to help keep the environment green (38). For Florida, environmental friendliness and awareness are important elements of Creative Class identity.

In an attempt to map the growth of cities, Florida sampled a segment of society to find out why they chose to reside in the cities that they did. He found that their location choice was often based on lifestyle interests, interests that “went well beyond the standard quality-of-life amenities that most experts thought were important” (x). Florida concluded that human capital, the presence of skilled workers, drove a city’s economic growth and that there were “measurable” factors prompting people to reside in certain areas. The cities with the largest growth were cities that appeared to be “tolerant, diverse and open to creativity.”(x)

Collaborating with Gary Gates in 1998, Florida found that the results of his study bore striking similarity to the results of Gates’ study on the urban settlement pattern of “gay people”. Together, they developed the “Gay Index”, which confirmed that cities with the largest gay population also seemed to be cities where there was greater economic growth, somehow reinforcing Florida’s determination that growth occurs in places that are tolerant, diverse, and open to creativity (xi). It is not clear from Florida’s books how “gay people” determine which cities are tolerant, diverse and open to creativity. Presumably, the cities chosen are cities are where the study participants felt less overt prejudice towards gay people:

As a group, gays have been subject to a particularly high level of discrimination. Attempts by gays to integrate into the mainstream of society have met substantial opposition. To some extent, homosexuality represents the last frontier of diversity in our society, and thus a place that welcomes the gay community welcomes all kinds of people. (Cities 41)

Firstly, Florida seems to idealize a world where homophobia is the last remaining prejudice, where racism and ethnicism are no longer. He states that “in the Creative Economy, diversity is no longer a matter of legal compliance–corporations realize the value of diverse hiring, reducing barriers that had once been faced by racial and ethnic “minorities” (Rise 5). This explicitly reductive statement supports his Creative Economy logic, and in essence “privileges” homosexual prejudice over all other forms of prejudice. This “privileging” is reflected in Florida’s utilization of the Gay Index as a measure of quality-of-life. The Gay Index measures the “who” of a city — those that drive the heart of the city and determine what constitutes it. In contrast, the Foreign-Born Index (which I will discuss shortly), measures the presence of “ethnic people” who function as actors that enhance quality-of-life (not who determines the quality-of-life, but why/how/what enhances it). This “privileging” reveals a second problem, in that his logic implies a “gay uniformity”, a singular “gay identity”, in which all gay people are definitively creative, open to diversity, and necessarily tolerant. In Florida’s world, racist homosexuals do not exist, and neither do homophobic “races”.   

Another confusing index is the “Bohemian Index”, manufactured by Florida to measure the density of artists, writers, and performers in major cities. Florida feels that Bohemians, like gay people, are attracted to cities that are creative, tolerant, and open to diversity — cities that allow them to foster their creative capacity. The perception of the successful creative cities is that they allow people to be themselves, to validate their distinct identities, and to mobilize and attract the creative energy that “bubbles up naturally from all walks of life.” (Cities 7) Richard Lloyd feels that Florida’s use of the term “Bohemia” refers to a container for artists and their friends, and denotes a distinctive style of life conditioned by both special and social location (66).

Finding that the “Bohemians” reject his name for them, Florida uncovers that “Bohemia” carries persistent, negative connotations, and that the “new Bohemians” ultimately feel alienated not by living outside of society, but by living in it. In what David Brook’s refers to as the “big morph”, the new mainstream emerged in the midst of an expanded cultural economy that led to a “Bohemian bourgeoisie” (Bobos), who “work like the bourgeoisie and consume like bohemians and the (capitalist) beat goes on” (Lloyd 67). Instead of seeking out artistic self-destruction at the dejected margins of society, they represent the new core. [1]

A third index introduced by Florida is the “Foreign-Born Index”, which measures the percentage of internationally born, or foreign, workers. Higher levels of foreign-born residents imply a more tolerant city, which is crucial to Florida for creative city growth. What is lacking is an analysis of whether or not a city is appreciative of its “homegrown” diversity, whether it is as tolerant of First Nations people, for example, or black Canadians. This leads to, I feel, the exclusion of “homegrown” people in configuring the creative city. Florida makes no distinction between the visual representation of “minorities” and tangible lived experience. He assumes that a visual presence always necessarily indicates a satisfied presence, revealing one of the ways in which is notion of tolerance is severely limited.

The three keys of creative city growth, deemed the “3T’s” by Florida, are talent, technology, and tolerance. He writes:

I define tolerance as an openness, inclusiveness, and diversity to all ethnicities, races, and walks of life. Talent is defined as those with a bachelor’s degree and above. And technology is a function of both innovation and high technological concentrations in a region. (Cities 37)

Tolerance gets top honours as the most vital of the 3T’s. Florida’s choice of the word “tolerance” gives rise for some concern. It implies a distinct permissiveness; it implies a forgiving on the part of the Creative Class to set aside their disdain for “difference” and embrace it wholeheartedly — no, wait — tolerate it, for the sake of enriching their own lives. Tolerance as a key category for economic growth explicitly “Others”, positing those of all “ethnicities, races, and walks of life” distinctly outside the Creative Class. At the same time, tolerance draws the “Other” inside the social network of the Creative Clas

s, molding the “Other” into easily diges
tible and neat packages, within reach of Creative Class consumption.

This is an example of how the Creative Class reduces people to cultural performativities, to a kind of “boutique multiculturalism”:

That in spite of their approval, appreciation, and even sympathy for the ‘traditions of cultures’ not their own…boutique multiculturalists will always stop short of approving other cultures at a point where some value at their center generates an act that offends against the canons of civilized decency as they have been either declared or assumed. (Fish 378)

For example, if Aboriginals were to be included in Toronto’s creative city, it would be at the Toronto Star Aboriginal Festival where Aboriginal people are welcome to dance in their regalia (often referred to by non-Aboriginals as “pretty costumes”) yet not welcome to contest the inappropriateness of corporate sponsorship of a traditional gathering.

As reflected in the above example, Toronto is not immune to the contradictions, failures, and problems of Creative City logic. The rosy picture of Toronto life Florida paints offers a valuable opportunity for illuminating core flaws in the Creative City. Years of careful, calculated planning have gone into the structuring of Toronto along Creative Economy lines, beginning most notably with the 1995 Golden Report.

In April 1995, Toronto’s municipal government commissioned a Task Force to focus on the future of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Known as the “Golden Task Force”, the collective chaired by Dr. Anne Golden, and including Jack Diamond, Thomas W. McCormack, Professor J. Robert S. Prichard, and Dr. Joseph Y.K. Wong, envisioned a Toronto as “the place where people and businesses that can choose to be anywhere, choose to be” (Golden 9). Directly in line with what Richard Florida would later identify as essential to the future of the Creative City, the report outlines a framework with a focus on building the GTA’s physical and human infrastructures in order to create a more sustainable urban form. The report briefly mentions a desire to create a program to cushion the blows to those adversely affected by this new agenda, but offers no insight as to what this means, and what this proposed program should look like (Ibid).
Touting Peter Ustinov’s reference to Toronto as “New York run by the Swiss”, the report emphasizes what it deems the city’s strengths in maintaining a competitive advantage in the global economy:
Greater Toronto is one of the world’s few city-regions that combines all the ingredients for social and economic success. We are a civil society–tolerant, law-abiding, culturally diverse, and cosmopolitan. We also have many competitive advantages–a high quality of life, a skilled labour force, a strong manufacturing and service base, and a well-developed infrastructure. (10)

Prior to Florida writing his first book on the Creative Class, Toronto was actively trying to achieve Creative Economy supremacy. The Golden Report identifies human capital as the foundation for economic growth followed by a high quality-of-life and gives credit to the presence of middle and upper income families living in the heart of Toronto for maintaining a high quality-of-life (30).

To plot directives for the city, the Task Force conducted a study of downtown Torontonians, which revealed that there was a perception that a high quality-of-life was decreasing in the face of a supposedly weak economy, a lack of jobs, and the belief that crime, was significantly rising (63). Toronto’s street youth were immediately blamed for ruining the image of the city. This provided ammunition for Mike Harris’ Conservative government to mobilize their neoliberal restructuring–the “Common-Sense” Revolution (CSR) for the Province of Ontario–and provided ammunition for the implementation of the Safe Streets Act 1999, despite the fact that economy was expanding and crime rates were falling by 1999 (Martin 101).   

Roger Keil’s paper “‘Common-Sense Neoliberalism: Progressive Conservative Urbanism in Toronto, Canada” examines the neoliberal politics of the Mike Harris’ government. Keil contends that the elites of Toronto conservatives furthered Harris’ CSR through neoliberal policies and actions of their own, and that this led to, among other things, a “re-regulation” of urban everyday life (230). As well, natural communities were being destroyed in this era of neoliberalism and globalization, and, in line with Florida’s argument, social positioning became increasingly influenced by aesthetic experiences and related consumption patterns (Spacelab 9). The City of Toronto went through a “re-embourgeoisement”, re-regulating by sanitizing, controlling, and sub-urbanizing inner-city spaces, “so as to transform them into sites for global elite culture and spectacle” (Keil 244).

The Safe Streets Act 1999’s explicit purpose was to “clean-up” Toronto’s downtown core, by removing “threats” manifested in the form of squeegee kids (youth who earned money by cleaning the windows of vehicles stopped in traffic), homeless people (a disproportionately high number of youth and “visible minorities”), and beggars (people requesting money). One of the implicit purposes of the act was to maintain the apparent high quality-of-life (as identified in the Golden Report and a crucial element to the success of the Creative City), facilitated by the presence of middle and upper income families, as identified by the Golden Task Force. What did not appeal to these families, was the visual reminder that people very persistently sat excluded and on the margins of the transforming global society. As Chatterton and Hollands write, exposure to the problem of homelessness and poverty breaks the carefully crafted sanitized separation of rich from poor (197).
The Act aligns itself with the idea that people fear “Other” people, and that increased regulation of city streets would increase safety. In the new Creative Economy, the safety is very clearly that of the Creative Class. Pushing Toronto’s “visible” poor to the city’s dark corners — away from Yonge Street, Front Street, and Lakeshore Boulevard — to less inhabited streets and out of the Creative Class’ public spaces, increases the “visible” poor’s invisibility. Patrick Declerk writes that cities are the spaces where those who refuse to accept society’s social obligations (with a particular emphasis on the failure to adhere to the obligation of work) are put on display to remind those who would dare to deter that there is a price to be paid (161). Re-marginalization and re-regulation of an already marginalized and heavily regulated poor population is the cross to bear for those who refuse to adhere to support the Creative Economy.

This matters not in the Creative Economy, where Richard Florida’s revelation about the severely detrimental impacts the Creative Class has been having on society in general, carries an air of “with us or against us”:
To build true social cohesion, the members of the Creative Class will need to offer those in other classes a tangible vision of ways to improve their own lives, either by becoming part of the Creative Economy or, at the very least, by reaping some of its rewards. (Rise xii)

Inequality in Florida’s world is not linked to separation from the Creative Class itself; it is linked to a disparity in wages. Apparently, Canada does not have this problem. Thankfully, Canada has inherited a system of social cohesion, open-mindedness and tolerance, and is able to go beyond simply innovating and creating. Canada can “respond to and to internalize the tensions and externalities the creative economy implies.” (176)
A problem with Florida’s logic, one of many reasons it only exacerbates inequality (aside from the extreme limitedness of tolerance), is that the diversity he is enco

uraging is not natural. As Jane Jacobs’ writes, “Diversity
is natural to big cities” (qtd. in Alexiou 77). Diversity for Jacobs, occurs organically, and should continue to do so, whereas Florida continuously seeks ways to speed up the process, and to force his vision into immediate realization. Florida feels that a city’s inability to absorb its diversity is the cause for a lack of social cohesion. Perhaps allowing for a more organic diversification, as Jacobs suggests, would lead to social cohesion on its own. Proponents of his theories seem to support his model, taking it a step further by recommending, through political action, the implementation of policies and institutions that effectively integrate diverse groups and social practices (Ruble 81). On the other hand, respecting, acknowledging, and genuinely embracing people for who they are, versus simply tolerating (and reducing to cultural actors), may also prove a productive route that does not require political action.
In 2004, Jacobs’ Dark Age Ahead was published, identifying Toronto as a city in crisis acknowledging the serious failures of Toronto to respond to needs for public housing. She writes that between 1996 and 2002, Toronto lost seventeen thousand, five hundred and fifteen affordable rental housing units for the sake of condominium development, and only seventy-four subsidized apartments were added (108). It is a disgusting record to say the very least, at the result of increasing gentrification in Creative Toronto.
The “Toronto Case Study” released in July 2006 by the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, draws heavily on Florida’s Creative Economy outline. It offers a comprehensive analysis of Toronto’s cultural industries, profiles employment growth, and outlines a cultural and strategic plan for the creation of Toronto as a safe city, which, “evokes pride, passion, and a sense of belonging” (Munk 6). Florida has articulated Toronto’s vision of itself. The Case Study highlights some of the cultural festivals perceived as key to Toronto’s cultural growth and its encouragement of diversity, including the Toronto Caribbean Festival (Caribana), Pride Week, and the ImagineNative Film and Media Arts Festival (22). The study also discusses the success of current programs, such as the “A Bridge to Toronto’s Communities – Royal Conservatory of Music Project”, in which free music lessons are offered in the homes of low-income Toronto families, specifically in areas such as Flemingdon Park, Jamestown, Regent Park and Jane-Finch. The program targets “at-risk” children, ages twelve and under, and “at-risk” youth, ages thirteen to twenty-four (the study does not say what the youth are “at-risk” for) (39).

As opposed to engaging youth in studies of music, for which the conservatory is world-renown, such as classical, violin, baroque, operatic, piano, etc., the program offers lessons in “African drumming”, “Steel pan band”, and “Hip-hop songwriting and rap” (Ibid). On the one hand, it could be that the program genuinely wants to reach out to youth and encourage them to find themselves in music (although why they would be taught a form of music that, based on the target areas, is already present in the cultures of the people in the community, is beyond me). In keeping with Creative Class ideologies, it is more likely that lessons in music such as “African drumming” are to help mold youth into cultural actors for the authentic and experiential enjoyment of the Bohemian Bourgeoisie.

Current popular culture and advertising is heavily influenced by a wave of “pro-Island”, or more specifically, “pro-Jamaica” attitude among urban youth. As a result, Toronto’s black youth have been propelled into what are fast becoming boutique identities. The validity of such an assertion is reflected in the popularity of Toronto’s Caribana Festival each August. A large number of people from “all walks of life” turn out to take in the “authentic” sights, sounds, people, and food, yet when Caribana ends the Caribbean-Canadian youth are forgotten, their performance for the culturally-engaged Creative Class over for another year, relegated to appearing only in stereotypical portrayals on the evening news as purveyors of Toronto’s gun violence. They have been pushed off the streets and into their designated corners “of the increasingly gentrified city.” (Chatterton 200)

Recently, the City of Toronto announced the placement of surveillance cameras on streets in the downtown core. This introduction follows a continued dialogue on the safety of Toronto’s streets in the aftermath of the shooting death of teenager Jane Creba and increased criminalization of black youth in Toronto media. Are these surveillance cameras representative of another push, a push a la the Safe Streets Act, to keep “certain” residents safe? I would say no: it represents the great divide imposed by Toronto’s Creative Economy agenda, where inequality based on “race” and ethnicity (not simply wage disparity) flourishes. The Safe Streets Act specifically targeted the people whom it felt posed a threat to the Creative Class, those perceived to be a threat on Toronto streets. In the wake of the shooting of Jane Creba (a young white girl) at one of the busiest street corners in Toronto (Yonge and Dundas), the Creative Class has grown intolerant of young black men who step out of line with their boutique multiculturalist identities and explicit targeting by aggressive crime legislation and social policing in the name of the “safe city”(video surveillance, new gun legislation) becomes the answer.


[1] For a discussion on the emergence of “Bohemia” as a popular term, I recommend Richard Lloyd’s, Neo-Bohemia: Art and Commerce in the Postindustrial City. Columbia University Press

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Stolar, Batia Boe. “Buildling and Living the Immigrant City: Michael Ondaatje’s and Austin Clarke’s Toronto.” Downtown Canada: Writing Canadian Cities. Eds. Justin D. Edwards and Douglas Ivison. Toronto: U of T Press, 2002. 122-141.

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