Richard Florida, who has long claimed that urban planners should target the desires of the “creative class,” recently conceded that this approach is a mistake. Joel Kotkin’s summary of the problems with this approach is worth reading; chiefly, “the benefits of appealing to the creative class accrue largely to its members and do little to make anyone else any better off.” Florida’s epiphany comes after a large wave of hilarious but tragic attempts to replicate Vanuatuan cargo cults in major American cities, in which local governments spent years and millions of dollars building hollow simulacra of Seattle, San Francisco, or Brooklyn instead of spending hours and locally-sourced lumber building hollow simulacra of air traffic control towers.
Unfortunately, building pretend hip neighborhoods doesn’t do anything more to attract these mythical upper-income “creative class” types than building pretend runways does to attract cargo planes full of food and durable goods. Even worse, in Florida’s words, “talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits.” (Apparently, the rising tide created by expensive nods to the whims of the creative class lifts only artisanal boats.)
You’re probably are as shocked as I was that choosing to incentivize SWPL is a poor basis for public policy. But establishing a cargo cult seems to be the most natural strategy for many decisionmakers: the same impulse is the one that says “increasing homeownership will swell the ranks of the middle class” and “college degrees lead to good jobs.”