The last thing I read Sunday before turning off the nightlight was was Frank Bures’ essay “The Fall of the Creative Class” in the new, promising debut of Thirty Two magazine. The piece argues that jobs, family, and friends, among other factors, all play a more important role than “creativity” in attracting young, innovative professionals to a region.
The first thing I read with my coffee this morning was a Star Tribune piece about the rise of Lowertown, an artsy neighborhood in downtown St. Paul that’s seen a boom in new condos, apartments, bars and restaurants in recent years. This paragraph jumped out in particular:
“Now it’s a 24-hour neighborhood,” said Terri Cermak, whose architectural firm has been in the Northwestern Building at 275 E. 4th St. for about 15 years. She and her husband, Todd Rhoades, said they chose the location for the price and the mojo. “There are so many artists down here, it’s a really nice creative atmosphere,” Rhoades said.
At a glance, the anecdote seems to support Florida’s creative class theory. But the article doesn’t say where Cermak and Rhoades came from and where they might of gone instead. If it weren’t for Lowertown’s hip-ness, would they be in Portland, or on Grand Avenue? Maybe creativity matters, but mostly at the local/regional level? Could it be a zero-sum game for a city or metro area?
In thinking about my migration, jobs and family/friends have certainly been the most important drivers. I moved to Waterloo, Iowa, and Sioux Falls, SD, for jobs, and then back to Minneapolis for family and friends. I love the local music scene, but would it keep me from taking a better job elsewhere? Probably not. But family and friends would.
The reading also made me think about my own neighborhood, Northeast Minneapolis, and the role artists have played in its recent revival. When people ask my wife and I about our neighborhood, we brag about our great neighbors along with the arts, the restaurants, the festivals, all of that creative economy stuff.
But thinking back to why we bought a house where we did, the most important factors were probably affordability, safety, closeness to the center, access to transit, and bike/walkability. Access to arts never consciously entered the discussion. We wanted a good, affordable neighborhood in a convenient location.
Maybe people aren’t moving to Northeast or Lowertown because of artists, but instead they’re moving to these places for the same reasons as artists. Maybe artists are just better at recognizing good neighborhoods before the rest of us. Maybe creativity isn’t causing migration, but it’s just getting an early jump.