Positive or precarious? The creative economy has its critics

A noted observer of the Toronto visual arts scene says Ontario’s plan to replace the province’s traditional manufacturing-based economy with a knowledge-base one, won’t work.

This year the McGuinty government received a report from urban planner Richard Florida. His “Ontario in the Creative Age” plan advocates investing in knowledge-based industries at the expense of declining ones, such as manufacturing.

Florida envisions a creative city that will house creative workers, who work in idea factories. The creative worker will live, work and derives inspiration from cities like Toronto. These creative cities, according to Florida, will prove integral to the growth of the Ontario economy.

Toronto writer and editor Izida Zorde disagrees.

“The creative city model fuels economic growth, but it overlooks the fact that it also causes massive upheaval and the rupturing of familial and cultural networks,” she said Izida Zorde.

The result, according to Zorde,  is a new post-millennial uncertainty for economic losers, and an increasingly uniform city core. Zorde fears that recent gentrification projects in Liberty Village and Queen West West foreshadow a total creative transformation of Toronto.

“We’re turning downtown into an exclusive gated community,” she said. “We need to figure out to renew cities and ensure that their composition remains mixed.”

Zorde, feels that the defenders of the “Creative Age” initiative failed to explain how such cities will sustain themselves in the long run.

“Creative jobs are precarious jobs,” she said. “Richard Florida’s ideas are… easy to embrace because (they’re) positive and don’t require the government to do much social spending or to consider why neighbourhoods are in the condition they’re in.

While the provincial economy stands at a crossroads, Richard Florida still sees the downturn as an opportunity for a new economic direction.

“The current economic situation… provides great opportunity… to attract global talent….” Florida wrote in his report co-authored by U of T professor Roger Martin. “At a minimum, we need to think of these people as ambassador-residents, connecting Toronto and Ontario to the world.”

The American- born academic is the champion of a new economic class which creates the new worker that Florida believes will transform Ontario’s existing manufacturing base with an economy based on creative products and services, such as research, analysis and art.

Creative cities, Florida and Martin insist, will drive regional development, transforming urban corridors into super-sized creative zones that will compete with the cultural output of other great global cities.

But that vision for is not shared by the individuals who they say stand to benefit the most from the vibrant creative city: the creative workers themselves.

These individuals fear that a creative city will increase gentrification as the process of rebuilding low-income neighbourhoods drains communities of vital resources. Heather Haynes owns and operates the Toronto Free Gallery.

“(Outsiders) come in (to an area) and take from it. They’re not interested in the layers and the dynamics of the neighbourhood,” she said. “They go to the bars and restaurants. They take stuff and they leave.”

Haynes fears that long-time residents of her neighbourhood of Bloor and Lansdowne will be dispatched to areas with less community resources That will affect the most vulnerable members of a community, such as street-people and immigrants.

Florida’s and Martin’s report, however, has convinced the McGuinty government. In March, Ontario’s provincial budget contained billions of dollars for urban infrastructure.

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan even stated during his budget speech that much of the increased spending was intended for Toronto consolidate its position as a global city that could attract the best and brightest from across the world.

Filed by Rahul Gupta

One comment:

  1. Provocative piece. I wonder to what extent Florida’s creative class really creates anything. In truth, they may just repackage the creativity that bubbles up from the grittier places of life — those very same street people, farmers (peasants), working folks, disenfranchised ethnic communities, etc., who will probably be shoved aside by the drive for a creative city. Cuisine, fashion, music, film — they’ve all drawn heavily from the lower echelons for their substance over the past two centuries. How many of Toronto’s artists trace their origins to trendy Toronto, for instance, as opposed to small town, suburbs and other declasse locations. This needs further study and thought.

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