So, I read this earlier about Richard Florida and the creative class and how many cities, such as Michigan’s Cool Cities Initiative really fail because they basically make life better for us creative class types, but make the more blue-collar, working class suffer once basic living needs, such as housing, is taken into consideration. I have to admit that the more rational, logical part of me isn’t surprised, but my more creative self doesn’t want to admit this is true and that this is just another terribly biased article, which it probably is in its way. I remember reading Florida’s book on The Rise of the Creative Class for a class I took last academic year and thinking, yes, this is like me and I love this, and at the same time thinking, but what would happen to people like who my parents were when I was growing up? What about the working class? And while Florida discusses blue collar workers in his book, I couldn’t help but think they don’t really benefit from it, despite his arguments since I had never seen any evidence for it. When you are working class, you are far less likely to take in the latest community-sponsored play or see what is happening in your local arts scene. You are also far less likely to have completed a college education. So what does the creative class do for the blue-collar workers, or the working poor?
Sure, you may get a nicer community, but that also means the cost of living rises whereas your wages may not. You also get a group of people who care about schools, the arts, and just people who in general care about having leisure activities that aren’t about seeing how many beers you can drink after you clock out at five. But are the blue-collar workers going to care? I’ll admit I’ve been in my share of dive bars and seen them acknowledge, hey, we have a great city now; look at these young kids having a fantastic time and doing cool and interesting things, and oh, you are one of them! Fantastic!, but if you ask them how they benefit from it directly, they cannot say. They may mention their rent has went up in the last year or so and no, they have never been to Newest Hipster Hangout and what does that mean again?
I grew up on a farm and small towns. Farming communities have their share of middle class people because land is tied to money in our culture, which the government constantly reminds us in the form of taxes. But even with “rich farmers” I also knew a ton of working class people. My best friend in elementary school had two parents who were beautifully blue-collar and with them I felt like part of the working class, even though by the time I was in high school, my dad was a paid professional. Still, I saw how long it took for my parents to “catch up” on the socioeconomic scale. Having three kids didn’t help. While my mom held a number of jobs, she was mostly just a stay-at-home mom, which is a really great opportunity, if one can do it. And, as the oldest child, I probably still best remember what it was like before my dad finished his MS in Crop and Weed science and got better jobs. Now my parents appear to be doing great, but my dad is also partially retired and it took them so long to even get to that point. In a few days, they will have been married for 32 years, and that, as far as I am concerned, is a long time to do anything. And I know we were very lucky and things could have been far, far worse if it were not for my grandparents on my mom’s side and some of my dad’s extended family. Far, far worse.
But my past experiences as a child always make me concerned for what people term “the invisible poor” and/or “the working poor”. It is easy to not notice (or just plain ignore) the working poor in the community when you are not the working poor. I think about them far more than I should and worry about them and wish that there is more we could do as a community. I know initiatives exist, but the midwestern culture does not always look kindly upon people who are less than middle class because, as you know, bad things happen because you didn’t work hard enough.
I admit I am speaking entirely from bias and my experiences and while I admire Florida’s ideas and goals and want to believe strongly in them (and in some ways I do), I worry about them as well. What kind of culture are we really producing and who really benefits? I mean, I love the arts. I am a part of the arts community. But I know we cannot ignore the whole picture, either.