Zoltan Acs
by Zoltan Acs
Thu Jul 23rd 2009 at 4:45pm UTC

The “Creativity Crisis” in Industrial Cities

Creativity is changing the way in which cities approach economic development and formulate policy. Creative metropolises base their economic development strategies, at least partly, on building communities attractive to the creative class worker. While there are countless examples of high-tech regions transforming into creative economies, traditionally industrial cities have received much less attention in this regard.

In a recent article with Monica Megyesi, we study Baltimore to assess the potential of transforming a traditionally industrial region into a creative economy. It analyzes Baltimore’s performance on dimensions of talent, tolerance, technology, and territory both as a stand-alone metropolitan area and in comparison to similar industrial metropolises.

This case study concludes that Baltimore has the opportunity to capitalize on the creative economy because of its openness to diversity, established technology base, appealing territorial amenities, and access to the largest reservoir of creative talent in the USA: Washington, D.C.

While a decade ago it seemed that you can transform an industrial city, today it looks bleaker than ever. Baltimore is a case in point. The rise of the creative class and the international creative class has driven a wedge between the members and nonmembers of the creative class. The evidence is to be found in the rise in inequality in income and wealth.

Without resetting the goal posts to create opportunity, America faces an uncertain future. It appears that without investing in the education and training of the non-creative class, the U.S. is on a long-run decline. How we reform, invest, and deliver educational services remains one of the most daunting challenges for the U.S. in the 21st century.

8 Responses to “The “Creativity Crisis” in Industrial Cities”

  1. hayden fisher Says:

    Agreed! Great post. Without sounding like a mindless parrot, I do not think the U.S. will ever realize a long-run decline– too dynamic, too diverse, too overall tolerant and too able to change rapidly when necessary. But if we look at marginal competitiveness, we’re in for a much more declined reset than we’re used to if we do not invest in the non-creative class. In particular, it’s unfortunate that neither group clearly recognize their collective interdependence. But, great post, hopefully it and other highlighting of these issues will bring about the awareness that is necessary for a correction.

  2. Buzzcut Says:

    It would be a more accurate statement to say that the non-creative class is not investing in itself.

    It might be an even more accurate statement to say that few Americans are investing as much in themselves as the Chinese and Indians are. China especially.

    You know, in many ways, we are still living off the dividends from our response to Sputnik. Sputnik was a bucketfull of ice cold water over the collective heads of Americans. It showed that our educational system was not turning out the type of people it was capable of, and that were needed to compete internationally. (nevermind if that was actually true)

    In response, Americans as individuals focused on their own education, and the American education system repsonded by producing the best, highest performing graduates this country has ever produced.

    This could be seen in the rise in SAT scores in the years after ‘58, culminating in the peak SAT scores seen in ‘63.

    In the face of international competition these days, Americans are not responding by working harder and performing better. Why is that? If anything, it seems to me that fields that compete directly with India and China, like engineering, are avoided by “the best and the brightest”.

  3. Todd Pierce Says:

    Fascinating, and sobering.
    I live in Birmingham, AL, and fortunately, this is not the case here. We are literally transforming the city & region from the inside out. We may be as fancy as showy as Dallas or Charlotte, but we are light years ahead of all the other “rust belt” cities.

    We also still produce iron & steel! I think 11% or so of the workforce is still employed in that industry. Also, we make Mercedes-Benz & Honda vehicles here, too. Norfolk-Southern is about to invest heavily, but it is our extremely high-tech biomedical sector that is leading the massive cultural transformations here.

  4. Todd Pierce Says:

    * I meant to say, “we may NOT be as fancy or showy as…”
    Sorry about the typos.

  5. David Says:

    I was born, raised and never lived anywhere else but Baltimore. There really is two Baltimores (just as there are two DCs, Philadelphias, LAs, etc.) There is the educated, functional, productive class, and there is the poor, uneducated, dysfunctional class. And the divide is only growing. Drive through the ghetto and the people are living like they do in the 3rd world. A few blocks away world-famous researchers are making important medical discoveries at Johns Hopkins. For every one success, there are two that struggle and cannot compete in the 21st century economy in which we live. We are a college town – over ten college and universities – many with excellent repuations. We are also city where only 60% of incoming high school freshman will graduate. Until that divide is shortened, we will not reach our true potential. Having said that, we have a lot going for us, and a sizeable creative class – especially when the metro area is included. We are very fortunate to be in the heart of the BOS-WASH mega region.

  6. Deborah Says:

    Really sobering in light of the fact that many US schools have so little arts education. Not much opportunity for basic introduction to creative problem solving and open ended instruction. Lucky elementary school kids get 50 minutes a week or less for music and visual arts instruction. Just enough time to get everyone involved and then pack up!

  7. RS Says:

    Creativity is a lot more than arts education. In fact, in my opinion it has little to do with art education at all, rather it has to do with how creative thought is dealt with in the educational system.

    For if a child is dictated what and how to draw or paint something (which in my experience is what is (at least was) done in primary and secondary arts classes) or how to play a certain song and is graded on their ability to do what they are told, where is the creativity in that.

    To me the problem is more more complicated than the extent to which arts are taught in schools. It involves the entire system. Its not about what is taught… but how. To me the problem is that we teach children what to think rather than how to think.

    For instance, this past school year my 9 year old son did not understand some of his “story problems” on his math homework and so I helped him do them. When he received the homework back, he had points taken off in spite of the fact that he got the correct answers. The points were taken off because he did not “do” the homework as it was shown in class. His (or perhaps my) creativity in answering the questions was actually punished. This is the heart of the problem… and has nothing to do with how much art education he receives.

    The fact of the matter is that creativity in primary and secondary education is more often punished than rewarded… even in arts classes.

    Is there anything that can be done about that, i do not know. In fact, I am somewhat skeptical that creativity can be “taught” in school at all. Especially when standarized tests are increasingly being used as the metric on which to measure educational performance.

    Furthermore, I am not sure that it is even appropriate to teach “creative thinking” before the basic fundementals are fully presented. Is it?

  8. CR Says:

    My children would say children “think creatively” naturally and school as it is designed now slowly takes that away.