Celebrity Deathmatch (not) and the coming war
Getting around to this a moment or two late (and even later, in print this coming Saturday, I hope) but I wanted to offer a brief summary of impressions from the Town Hall held at the Toronto Free Gallery on Thursday.
You'll find an highly detailed summary of events from Leah Sandals on her blog; I'm not going to do that here. Rather, on the weekend, I intend to use some of these ideas as a jumping off point to examine the hucksterish rhetoric that Florida has sold so successfully, and widely, to a growing number of cities across the continent (not to mention the Globe and Mail, which breathlessly touts him on a bi-weekly basis (at right), despite the fact the column can be a patchwork presentation of other people's work).
I've been down this rabbit hole a few times in the past, in an exhaustive exploration of the class warfare implicit in the very term "gentrification," and a little more recently, in an attempt to gauge what Florida's "Creative Cities" pitch is actually about.
As panel moderator and organizer Heather McLean (and Creative Class Struggler) rightly said in her opening remarks on Thursday, it's mercurial, to say the least -- a loosely-held "philosophy" that seems to suggest anyone who works with their heads, not their hands -- professors, writers, computer programmers, artists, engineers, mathematicians, architects, name your intellectually-based pursuit -- are the proverbial golden geese, and failure to lure them to your city means certain doom in the coming economic re-ordering.
So why is he so popular, particularly in the dying civic economies of the American rust belt? Precisely because what he proposes is so simple; Florida offers a silver-bullet, a one-step cure all. The way he tells it, it's so easy. And this is the problem. Florida's ideas are simple, applied to a circumstance with a set of dynamics -- failing industrial economies, mass immigration, re-urbanization, and now, global economic upheaval -- that are anything but.
As one of the speakers on Thursday rightly pointed out (she called him "Richard," leading one spectator to muse his celebrity had reached the mono-name apex, like Bono or Madonna) Florida offers an incredibly seductive package, an apparent fix-all toolkit that he steadfastly asserts can be applied with equanimity. That's the pitch, anyway, and it doesn't take a member of the "Creative Class" to see that assertion as willfully naiver. But Florida's just the pitchman. Our civic governments -- including Toronto, in fact as well as practice, with various cultural fireworks displays like Luminato and Nuit Blanche, that leave nothing behind -- don't have to buy what he's selling.
But they do. Desperation, it seems, breeds imprudence. We can only blame Florida for opportunism -- I don't know what he charges for his various civic-lifesaving gigs, but he's the only U of T faculty who lives in Rosedale, on the ravine -- but we need to blame our civic leaders as well, for grabbing the rope he threw them. Do they really think it's that easy?
Thursday night was an opening salvo in what I think will become an increasingly public battle against the thin model Florida's selling. This is goign to get interesting, and soon.