The Rise of the Creative Class


By Richard Florida

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World-renowned urbanist Richard Florida’s bestselling classic on the transformation of our cities in the twenty-first century — now updated with a new preface

In his modern classic The Rise of the Creative Class, urbanist Richard Florida identifies the emergence of a new social class reshaping the twenty-first century’s economy, geography, and workplace. This Creative Class is made up of engineers and managers, academics and musicians, researchers, designers, entrepreneurs and lawyers, poets and programmer, whose work turns on the creation of new forms. Increasingly, Florida observes, this Creative Class determines how workplaces are organized, which companies prosper or go bankrupt, and which cities thrive, stagnate or decline.

Florida offers a detailed occupational, demographic, psychological, and economic profile of the Creative Class, examines its global impact, and explores the factors that shape “quality of place” in our changing cities and suburbs. Now updated with a new preface that considers the latest developments in our changing cities, The Rise of the Creative Class is the definitive edition of this foundational book on our contemporary economy.


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This book was, and is, my attempt to explain the key forces that have been transforming our economy, society, politics, and culture over the past several decades. When I first started writing it in the late 1990s, it was becoming increasingly clear that our society was undergoing a truly tectonic shift, one that was as deep and thoroughgoing as any it had experienced since the Industrial Revolution. At one level, globalization and new technologies, including the Internet, personal computers, and mobile phones, were transforming our jobs, lives, and communities. But beneath these changes, I came to realize, was an even deeper and more fundamental force: the rise of knowledge and creativity as economic drivers, and, alongside that, the rise of a new social class, the Creative Class. This new class spanned science and technology, traditional knowledge workers and the professions, and the arts, media, and culture. Its rise, it seemed to me, was the social force behind a host of emerging and seemingly unrelated trends. It was this new class that was reshaping how we work, how we live, and what we want in our communities, and, in doing so, transforming the very rhythms, patterns, desires, and expectations of our daily lives.1

In the nearly two decades since this book was first published, society has experienced a series of world-changing events—the attacks of 9/11, the economic crisis of 2008, and more, each of which alone could have derailed the rise of this new class. Yet through it all, the Creative Class has continued to expand and grow, increasing from 35 million workers in 2000 to 43 million by 2017 in the United States alone. Across America, the Creative Class now makes up roughly a third of the workforce. In its leading metropolitan areas, it makes up anywhere from 45 percent to more than 50 percent of the workforce. Across the advanced world, the Creative Class makes up as much as half of the workforce in countries such as the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, and Singapore. And its members are increasingly aware of their place in it. When LinkedIn looked at the backgrounds and résumés of more than 100 million of its members across the world, the professional networking site found that the word they used most frequently to describe themselves was “creative.”2

While this book met with a good deal of fanfare when it was originally published, it also generated considerable controversy from both the right and the left. Today, it’s hard to see what all the fuss was about: as time has gone by, what once seemed so controversial, even outlandish, has become conventional wisdom.

When the book was initially released, some critics said I was confusing chickens with eggs, particularly when I argued that the key to urban success was to create a vibrant “people climate” to attract talented, highly skilled workers. This strategy, I noted then, was a break with, and a much-needed corrective to, the wasteful and ineffective practice of luring companies with expensive tax breaks and publicly financed incentives. My observation that dense and diverse urban centers would someday come to overtake faceless suburban office parks as locations for high-tech industry was dismissed as wishful thinking when this book first came out. Today, the leading centers of high-tech startups are big, dense urban centers such as San Francisco, New York, London, Beijing, and Shanghai.3

Others said I was naïve to argue that the traditional approach to reviving downtowns, which was to build stadiums, convention centers, cultural complexes, and generic retail districts, was a colossal waste of money; that smaller-scale investments in amenities aimed at improving a community’s “quality of place,” such as parks, bike paths, and street-level music and art scenes, would have a bigger impact on cities. Almost two decades on, these things have become standard fare of urban development and city-building. Not just in superstar cities and tech hubs such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington, DC, or in big cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta, but in small and medium-sized cities, such as Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; Minneapolis–St. Paul; and Oklahoma City, and once hard-pressed Rustbelt cities, such as Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The transformation of these places is remarkable. Their downtowns and urban neighborhoods are filled with lively restaurants, bars, coffee shops, art galleries, and amenities that could only be found in the biggest cities when I first wrote this book.

I was also taken to task for arguing that diversity—openness to all kinds of people, across gender, race, nationality, and sexual orientation—was an economic driver as well as a moral imperative. Social conservatives derided my research showing connections between a city’s gay presence, music scene, and bohemian index (its concentration of artists, musicians, designers, and cultural creatives) and its level of innovation, high-tech industry, and overall wealth. Today, gay marriage is the law of the land in America as well as in virtually every other advanced nation. Communities large and small have seen the benefit of investing in their artistic and cultural scenes. And a large body of research confirms the role of diversity in innovation and economic growth.4 Several years ago, a leading urban economist pointed to “poor but sexy” Berlin, with its bohemian vibe but little in the way of high-tech, high-growth industry, as the ultimate contradiction of my Creative Class theory.5 Yet by 2018, Berlin ranked among the world’s twenty leading high-tech startup cities, second only to London in Europe.6

Outraged by the very notion that diversity could be connected to economic success, some social conservatives accused me of promoting a gay agenda, threatening the conventional nuclear family, and even undermining the foundations of Judeo-Christian civilization. In red states today, it is local businesspeople and chamber of commerce types who are joining progressives and activist groups to fight conservative efforts to limit gay and women’s rights, because such measures make it much harder to attract and retain talent and recruit knowledge-based businesses.

Yet, despite substantial progress in the advanced nations, gay and lesbian people continue to suffer horrific discrimination in many parts of the world. At times when I have been asked to speak in such places, I have been explicitly warned not to talk about openness and tolerance toward the gay community. I have always ignored such warnings and spoken out on the role of tolerance and openness in building more prosperous economies and more vibrant societies. While I will never know the reason for certain, after a speaking engagement in one such country, I was detained and questioned by immigration authorities. Still to this day, in too many places around the world, being gay remains illegal, and simply talking about gay rights, or other forms of tolerance, can land you in jail.

Many on the left have dubbed the very concept of the Creative Class elitist. I have been called an architect of gentrification, a neoliberal, and worse. It has been said that I am either blind or indifferent to urban poverty, class division, and economic inequality. As a lifelong progressive, I can assure you that none of this is the case. Those critics seem to confuse the fact that as a social scientist, I was not making any case for gentrification, but simply seeking to identify the forces and factors that were propelling the back-to-the-city movement.

Inequality has been at the very center of my work since I conducted the research for the original edition of this book. More than a decade before Occupy Wall Street’s political mobilization against the rise of the “one percent” and the publication of Thomas Piketty’s landmark Capital in the Twenty-First Century, I was writing about the challenges and dangers of economic inequality.7 In the first edition published in 2002, I argued that society was being divided between the well-paid one-third of workers who were members of the Creative Class and the other two-thirds, who belonged to the much lower-paid and less advantaged blue-collar Working and Service Classes. The 70 million or so members of the Service Class who work in the fastest-growing but lowest-paying job categories, such as food service and prep, home health care, and retail sales, who make up nearly half the workforce, barely have enough to scrape by.

I also identified a second dimension to mounting inequality: geography. “Our society is being divided along class lines—divides that are being etched ever more deeply into America’s economic landscape as a result of geographic segmentation,” is how I put in in the 2002 edition. “In every region across the country, cities and suburbs are increasingly balkanized into communities of haves and have-nots.” In the introduction to the first paperback edition in 2004, I continued to voice such concerns. “There is growing evidence from many sources that the U.S. is splitting into two separate and distinct nations, economically, culturally, and politically,” I noted. “The people in these different nations read different newspapers, watch different television shows, vote for different leaders, go about their work differently, and hold mutually incompatible views on almost every subject.”

As part of the empirical research I conducted back then, I ranked and rated all 300-plus of America’s metropolitan areas on a new measure of wage inequality—the gap in wages between the Creative Class and the two less-advantaged classes. That research uncovered a strikingly close connection between this wage inequality and significant Creative Class concentrations in these places. Leading Creative Class hubs—such as San Francisco and San Jose, the veritable heart of Silicon Valley, as well as New York, Boston, Washington, DC, and the North Carolina Research Triangle—all numbered among the most unequal places in the country. My editor was concerned that the book was already too bulky, so instead of including that analysis in the book, I published those findings in Washington Monthly.8 I later incorporated the analysis into the revised edition that was published for the book’s tenth anniversary. In my 2005 follow-up book The Flight of the Creative Class, I identified such geographic inequality as the key factor in America’s growing political polarization.9 (An updated version of this analysis of inequality was also included in the 2012 revised edition of this book and appears as Chapter 16 here.) While I could never have imagined the virulence of the populism that came to the surface a dozen years later with the rise of Donald Trump, I noted then that growing geographic inequality was generating a deepening political divide and prompting a burgeoning backlash against immigration, globalism, science, and education in left-behind places that would threaten America’s long-held advantages in innovation and high-tech industry.

Later, in the mid-2000s, when researching the connection between creativity and inequality across roughly 140 nations, I made a more heartening discovery. Across most of the advanced nations, greater concentrations of the Creative Class seemed to go along with less inequality. The United States was an outlier from this more general pattern. Along with the United Kingdom and a few other nations, America exemplifies what I dubbed a “low-road path,” where higher levels of innovation and higher concentrations of the Creative Class went along with higher levels of inequality. The Scandinavian and Northern European counties charted an alternative “high-road path” in which higher concentrations of the Creative Class went along with lower levels of inequality. These nations and their people benefit from stronger social safety nets, accessible national health care systems, and the higher pay and greater job protections offered to blue-collar and service workers.10 A Creative Economy can be—and across the advanced nations more generally is—associated with less economic inequality.

For me, equity and creativity are of a piece. At the center of my work has been a long-standing focus on inclusivity as the driver of economic and social progress. My central argument is this: every single human being is creative. The key is to harness and reward the creativity of each and every worker.

Karl Marx long ago said that what made the proletariat a universal class was the collaborative nature of physical labor. But I believe that what sets humanity apart from all other species—and what will ultimately draw us together—is our innate creativity. In my view, creativity is history’s great leveler, annihilating all of our self-imposed social categories, from gender and race to nationality and sexual orientation. It is a collective resource, shared and cultivated by all. The key to a better future lies in unlocking and stoking the creative furnace that lies within each and every one of us.

If The Rise of the Creative Class changed the trajectory of my career, writing it was not a huge departure for me; rather, it followed from the long arc of my work.11 This book was the continuation of an ongoing intellectual project to marry three strands of theory—Marx’s theories of capitalist development and class, Joseph Schumpeter’s theories of innovation and economic development, and Jane Jacobs’s ideas on the centrality of cities in our society and economy.12

My interest in updating and adapting Marx’s basic analysis of capitalism and class categories for the new knowledge economy dates all the way back to my undergraduate and graduate school days in the late 1970s and 1980s. In addition to the central role of Marx’s ideas, my thinking about the changing class structures of the knowledge economy was also influenced by Daniel Bell’s theories of postindustrialism and the rise of a new scientific, technical, and managerial class; Peter Drucker’s construct of the shift to the knowledge economy; and the sociologist Erik Olin Wright’s theories of the evolving class structures of modern capitalism.13

By the late 1990s, as the economy continued to shift toward knowledge and innovation, I became more and more interested in the changing class structure of postindustrial capitalism.14 Working with colleagues and graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University, I started digging into data organized by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics on hundreds and hundreds of occupations and job categories.15 As I examined the historical trend data going back to the nineteenth century and analyzed the patterns across cities and metropolitan regions, it slowly dawned on me that a new class structure had come into being. I identified it as being organized into three major classes based on workers’ relationships to the means of production. These three classes are all working classes—in the sense that their members all work for a living. The more fundamental division in society remains between these three working classes and the ultra-advantaged capitalist class, which continues to own and control the means of production.

But in the kinds of work they do, the members of these three classes differ from each other in fundamental ways. The members of the declining blue-collar Working Class, as Marx defined it, use their physical labor in production. But the members of the Creative Class draw principally upon their knowledge or mental labor to engage in research, innovation, and product design and development, or to manage people, or engage in artistic and cultural production.

My thinking on the nature of class in postindustrial capitalism was most profoundly shaped by Marx’s insights into the nature of knowledge work as I noted in Chapter 3 on the Creative Class in the original edition of this book. “Nature builds no machines, no locomotives, railways, electric telegraphs, self-acting mules, etc.,” Marx presciently wrote more than a century and a half ago. “These are products of human industry; natural material transformed into organs of the human will over nature, or of human participation in nature. They are organs of the human brain, created by the human hand; the power of knowledge, objectified.”16

The other, even larger, new class is the Service Class, whose members engage in the production of routine services such as home health care, food service, and clerical jobs. These jobs provide the support structure required to maintain and reproduce the modern knowledge economy. Both of these new classes have grown considerably larger than the blue-collar Working Class, Marx’s famed proletariat of manual workers, which has shrunk to just a fifth of the workforce in the United States, and today only 6 percent of the entire workforce is engaged in direct factory production.

The other core element of my work was to place cities at the center of the process of capitalist development. For Marx, industrial capitalism revolved around the factory and the large industrial corporation. My earliest interest in cities was tied to the original urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s. As mass suburbanization spurred the expansion of industrial capitalism, stoking the demand for cars, refrigerators, television sets, washing machines, and dryers coming off the Fordist assembly lines, once-great urban centers, including my own native Newark, New Jersey, declined.17 With the rise of the knowledge economy, cities were reviving and coming back to life. I had long been frustrated by the way leading theories of industrial and regional development put firms and industries at the center of the story, viewing cities as little more than containers for them. In my view, cities were becoming the basic platforms for innovation and capital accumulation. Furthermore, where Marx saw the factory floor as the axis of class conflict, I saw the city itself becoming its central nexus. In the first edition of this book, I called attention to the heightened conflicts over gentrification in leading high-tech cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. This trend has only increased since then as conflicts over gentrification and displacement, over class division and inequality, and over the colonization of urban centers by the affluent and by large finance and high-tech firms have grown and deepened.

But writing at the dawn of the new millennium, there were a number of things I could not fully anticipate. The first was the velocity and ferocity of the subsequent urban revival. The limited urban resurgence I anticipated and hoped for in the original edition of this book went into overdrive in the two decades that followed its publication.18 The urban revival, which was mainly limited to cities like New York, Boston, Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Seattle when I wrote the first edition, spread rapidly to cities like Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami, and more. Pittsburgh, which I had dubbed my “base case” for Rustbelt urban revival in the original edition, is now a model for high-tech urban revival. Even Detroit has seen a growing influx of business, and the Creative Class is revitalizing its downtown core.

The second thing I did not fully anticipate was how the back-to-the-city movement would turn out to be a double-edged sword. As it brought urban centers back to life, it led to growing economic and geographic inequality. In doing so, it brought with it a new and more insidious geographic divide, which I dub a “winner-take-all urbanism”—a small number of winners and a much larger number of losers among places.

By the mid-2010s, it was clear to me that America and its cities were experiencing a new urban crisis, and in 2017, I published a book with that phrase as its title. That book explored these issues in depth and took my lifelong intellectual project full circle. Whereas the original urban crisis of the 1960s and 1970s had been characterized by economic decay and loss of function in the urban core, the new urban crisis was more a crisis of “success.” There was a dark side to the comeback of superstar cities and leading tech hubs: they were beset by rampant gentrification, skyrocketing housing prices, and deepening inequality and class divides.19 As the Creative Class colonized the most advantaged and desirable areas of the cities, the Working and Service Classes were being pushed farther and farther away from areas of economic opportunity. The great middle-class neighborhoods that once defined the American Dream were being eviscerated as our country and its cities were transformed into small islands of concentrated economic advantage surrounded by much larger areas of concentrated disadvantage spanning cities and suburbs alike.

Ultimately, I theorized that today’s urban crisis is more than a crisis of cities; it is a broader crisis of knowledge-based capitalism writ large. As more and more people and economic activity cram into smaller and smaller slivers of urban space, land—that most basic of resources—has reasserted itself as a central force of production, with more and more of the economic surplus taken up by those who own and control it. The very same clustering of Creative Class activity that has powered technological innovation and economic growth has simultaneously carved deep economic and political divides that have spurred a populist political backlash.

The third thing I did not anticipate was the depth and irreconcilability of the contradictions of postindustrial capitalism. The economic crisis and Great Recession of 2007 and 2008 were more than a crisis of Wall Street, of wanton financial speculation, and of an economy that had binged on housing and consumer debt, though all of those things were implicated. They amounted to a more fundamental crisis that signaled the death of the old Fordist economic order and the way of life it engendered. At bottom, it was a product of the vexing and painful shift from an old industrial economy based on raw materials and physical labor and organized around giant factories and corporations to a new postindustrial economy powered by knowledge and human creativity and organized in and around cities.

Today, we find ourselves in an interregnum comparable to that of Great Depression of the 1930s, or to the deeper Long Depression of the late nineteenth century, a transitionary period when an old order has died and a new one is not yet fully born. Such periods—which I dub Great Resets—are distinguished by their economic inequality and instability, by severe class division and conflict, and by heightened political polarization.20 New economic and social orders do not spring magically to life of their own accord. Ultimately, they are the outcomes of struggle. The great social compact that emerged after the New Deal and World War II, for example, was the product of a century or more of labor organizing, class conflict, and progressive political mobilization.

Like all periods of great change and transformation, our time is fraught with hardship and challenge. It may even seem like the arc of history is bending backward. Indeed, the ever-prescient Jane Jacobs tellingly titled her last book, published in 2004, Dark Age Ahead.21 It may seem as if we live in dark times, but ultimately, I remain optimistic. Although my perspective has now been tempered by the stark realities of the present, I continue to have faith in the long run, for one simple reason: human creativity is the most spectacularly transformative force that is ever unleashed. The connection between human potential and economic prosperity has never been clearer or more aligned than it is now. In the long view, the logic of history is on our side.

Yet even as it is driven and molded by fundamental economic logic, our fate is ultimately the product of our own actions and agency. The political organizing of the great Working Class formed the backbone of the union movement and of the left-leaning social democratic and labor parties, whose heroic struggles led to higher wages, greater job protections, and better working conditions for blue-collar workers and created the social welfare states that together helped to create the large and relatively prosperous middle class of their day.

Today, the Creative Class must take on a similar progressive role. “It’s time for the Creative Class to grow up and take responsibility,” is how I put it in the first edition of this book. Some of that has begun to happen since I wrote those words. Over the past two decades, the Creative Class has become more politically active. The cities and metros where it makes up the largest share of the workforce, for example, are the most liberal and progressive.22 But this new class must do more. It must work to forge a cross-class coalition with members of the Working and Service Classes to fight for more inclusive and equitable development.

The rise of populism and Trumpism in recent years has done much to convince me that the nation-state is too dysfunctional to be the locus for the progressive change we need. Our cities are the nexus for it. Even with their recent gentrification, they remain cauldrons of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity, which registers in their politics and serves to push them in a more progressive direction. By and large, our biggest, densest cities and metropolitan areas, those with the greatest concentrations of the Creative Class, have the most progressive politics and lead in forward-looking policy and civic innovation. These are the places that are acting on climate change. They are the sanctuary cities that offer immigrants the greatest protections. They are setting the tenor on the move to more equitable and inclusive prosperity, taking the lead on affordable housing and homelessness, instituting higher minimum wages, and upgrading low-wage service jobs. But they are hamstrung by backward-looking national policies, state efforts to preempt them, and a lack of resources. The time has come to devolve power from the dysfunctional nation-state to diverse and dynamic cities, giving them control over their own economic resources and tax bases so that they can best address these great challenges and lead the way to a better, more dynamic and equitable future.23 Of course, such a shift will take time. Just as the urban revival was the outcome of decades of hard and persistent work by local actors and stakeholders, so, too, will the shift to more empowered, engaged, and equitable cities come from local efforts and actions.

If the rise of the new Creative Class and the new economic order of which it is a part poses great challenges and contradictions, it carries with it the seeds of their resolution as well. A truly Creative Economy is one that extends far beyond the Creative Class. Only when we unleash that great reservoir of neglected and underutilized human potential—when every single person’s talents are fully cultivated, their true passions are harnessed, and they are appropriately rewarded for their full contributions—will we truly enjoy both sustained economic progress and a better, more meaningful, and more fulfilling way of life.

“What do we really want? What kind of life—and what kind of society—do we want to bequeath to the coming generations? This is not something we can leave to the vagaries of chance, to the decisions of political leaders, or even to the most forward-looking public policy. Nor is it a question that the Creative Class can any longer afford to ignore.” Those words from the first edition of this book ring even truer today.

The pages that follow incorporate the revisions and updates I made to The Rise of the Creative Class


  • "[Florida's] ideas about revitalizing cities by attracting artists and high-tech workers have influenced a generation of urban planners."—Time
  • "Florida's book leaves the reader not just with some interesting ideas but with a new perspective for understanding our culture....Well worth reading if you're seeking a greater understanding of the sociological and economic changes taking place in our culture today...interesting, provocative, and smart."—Boston Globe
  • "An important book for those who feel passionately about the future of the urban center. [Florida] changed the framework for discussing social and economic inequality."—New York Times
  • "Ten years later, [Florida's original] book seems prescient. For the first time, being different is more prized than fitting in and black-and-white thinkers are being left behind."—Business Insider
  • "Prof. Florida's book is an intellectual tour de force, scholarly yet colorfully written, with interest to members of the creative class."—Globe and Mail
  • "Florida draws a vivid picture of what it takes to make a great 21st-century city."—Denver Post
  • "A vibrant and fast-paced romp... Florida's research and experiences over the past decade have given him the foundation on which to build a new view of business reality..."—InformationWeek
  • "A pioneering cartographer of talent."—Fast Company
  • "A smart and interesting book that takes a well-known cultural phenomenon...the critical massing of technology and creative workers of talent in certain cities...and mixes in some new elements about why they cohere."—AlterNet
  • "A powerful, insightful book that reveals the core of regional advantage in the knowledge economy. Never before have I seen anyone capture so succinctly the values and desires of the new 'creative class' and the essence of human capital and the creative ethos. This is a book you will read cover to cover and feel enlightened by every chapter."—John Seely Brown, Former Director, Xerox Palo AltoResearch Center (PARC), and co-author of The Social Life of Information
  • "The Rise of the Creative Class is an insightful portrait of the values and lifestyles that will drive the 21st century economy, its technologies and social structures. To understand how scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other self-motivated, creative people are challenging the traditional structures of the 20th century society, read this book. It will convince you that success in the future is not about technology, government, management or even power; it is all about people and their dynamic and emergent patterns of relationships."—Lewis M. Branscomb, John F. Kennedy School ofGovernment, Harvard University
  • "Few people provide greater clarity on the importance of place in the knowledge-driven economy than Richard Florida. The Rise of the Creative Class provides critical insights in how we can build 21st-century cities and regions around the emerging economy."—Robert D. Yaro, President, Regional Plan Association,New York

On Sale
Sep 3, 2019
Page Count
512 pages
Basic Books

Richard Florida

About the Author

Richard Florida is university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, a distinguished visiting fellow at NYU’s Schack Institute of Real Estate, and the cofounder and editor at large of the Atlantic‘s CityLab.

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