The European Creative Class – theory and reality

The creative class. Could be said that the term is Richard Florida‘s brain child. He put forward the theory that there is a new class in the wide pool of the workforce: the creatives. In this case, the creative class points to the multitude of professionals that are involved in: the creative industries (obviously), science, research and development, high-tech industries. In short, the majority of knowledge based industries, which rely on the highly educated and skilled individuals, and their ability to create (I use the term loosely, as it can range from writing books and articles to high-tech solutions).

The creative class, in theory

Florida’s theory (mainly constructed on evidence of American cities, and which has received some vehement criticism I might add) revolves around the fact that creatives are attracted by and thrive in certain environments. An URBACT project in Europe (i.e. Creative Clusters in Low Density Urban Areas) called these environments creative ecosystems. What this means? It means that in order for the creative class to move to a region or a city, certain conditions have to be pre-exist. Some of the conditions identified by Florida in US cities, which also apply in Europe are: cultural and ethnic diversity, tolerance, night life, quality public spaces, accessibility and amenities. The reason behind these have-to’s are actually seen as originating from one single change in democracies. The social move from family life to individual life. It has been proven time and time again that highly educated and skilled professionals postpone having children, thus having different priorities. It is then not uncommon for them to search for places which can satisfy their social needs, specifically social needs of their individualistic life style.

Is it important?

The European creative class is not much different than that of the US. Highly educated and skilled individuals seek the perfect environment in which to thrive. It has to be noted that in the EU the creative class (workforce) has a slightly lower percentage then in the US, however in 2008 it still accounted for 7% (19 million) of the EU labour force. Recent ESPON studies have showed that compared to other categories of the workforce, the creative workforce increased in size three times faster between 2001 and 2008. These numbers and the recent shift to a service oriented economy show that the creative class is growing in size (and probably still grow in the next period) and its role and contributions are more and more important for the current economic markets.

Where is the European creative class going?

The EU creative class has however some very interesting features. While the basic place-dependent conditions regarding lifestyle, amenities and accessibility observed in US cities are still valid conditions in terms of attractiveness of cities and regions, the EU regions experienced a slightly different trend. Urban amenities and accessibility still make metropolitan areas attractive hubs for creatives (9.2% increase in the 2001-2008 period), however rural and peripheral areas have experienced a larger increase in creative workforce (12.6% increase in the 2001-2008 period). This has been largely attributed to the large wave of migration from post-industrial regions to rural ones (Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, Bulgaria).

Recent developments in Central and Eastern Europe (fall of the Iron Curtain, EU integration, development of the market economy) made the region very attractive for the creative workforce, and a clear relation between a rise in GDP and the concentration of creative workforce can be identified. However, Western and Northern Europe still concentrates the highest concentration of creative workforce.

To attract or not to attract?

European studies show that inclusiveness and sustainability are two key conditions for the European creative workforce. The ATTREG project emphasizes this find by pointing out that cities promoting these concepts have managed to raise their attractiveness level. Although, considering individual strategies of the cities, not all of them have specific targets when considering attractiveness. It is my honest opinion, that general overarching policies will not be able to attract the creative workforce on long term. In the end this might not be a bad thing. After all, not all regions are meant to be or can be creativity hubs. But it is pity that those that have the potential would miss out on this opportunity.

Developing cities through the EU policy for knowledge and innovation is an important piece of the Europe 2020 puzzle, however a closer look at this creative class might show different patterns of development (e.g. 1, 2), than those known at the moment. I think that besides the obvious question of: how we attract them to our city/region, the next question should be: how long can we hold on to them?