Richard L. Florida (born November 26, 1957, in Newark, New Jersey) is an American urban studies theorist focusing on social and economic theory. He is currently a professor and head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
Florida received a PhD from Columbia University in 1986. Prior to joining George Mason University's School of Public Policy, where he spent two years, he taught at Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College in Pittsburgh from 1987 to 2005. He was named a Senior Editor at The Atlantic in March 2011 after serving as a correspondent for TheAtlantic.com for a year.
Florida is best known for his concept of the creative class and its implications for urban regeneration. This idea was expressed in Florida's best-selling books The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), Cities and the Creative Class, and The Flight of the Creative Class, and later published a book focusing on the issues surrounding urban renewal and talent migration, titled Who's Your City?
Florida's theory asserts that metropolitan regions with high concentrations of technology workers, artists, musicians, lesbians and gay men, and a group he describes as "high bohemians", exhibit a higher level of economic development. Florida refers to these groups collectively as the "creative class." He posits that the creative class fosters an open, dynamic, personal and professional urban environment. This environment, in turn, attracts more creative people, as well as businesses and capital. He suggests that attracting and retaining high-quality talent versus a singular focus on projects such as sports stadiums, iconic buildings, and shopping centers, would be a better primary use of a city's regeneration of resources for long-term prosperity. He has devised his own ranking systems that rate cities by a "Bohemian index," a "Gay index," a "diversity index" and similar criteria.
Florida's ideas have been criticized from a variety of political perspectives and by both academics and journalists. His theories have been criticized as being elitist, and his conclusions have been questioned. Researchers have also criticized Florida's work for its methodology. Terry Nichols Clark of the University of Chicago used Florida's own data to question the correlation between the presence of significant numbers of gay men in a city and the presence of high-technology knowledge industries. Harvard economist Edward Glaeser analyzed Florida's data and concluded that educational levels, rather than the presence of bohemians or gay people, is correlated with metropolitan economic development. Other critics have said that the conditions it describes may no longer exist, and that his theories may be better suited to politics, rather than economics. Florida has gone on to directly reply to a number of these objections.
Florida's book, The Rise of the Creative Class, came at the end of the dot-com boom in 2002. It was followed by a "prequel", Cities and the Creative Class, which provided more in-depth data to support his findings.
With the rise of Google, the gurus of Web 2.0, and the call from business leaders (often seen in publications such as Business 2.0) for a more creative, as well as skilled, workforce, Florida asserts that the contemporary relevance of his research is easy to see. One author characterizes him as an influence on radical centrist political thought.
Some scholars have voiced concern over Florida's influence on urban planners throughout the United States. A 2010 book, Weird City, examines Florida's influence on planning policy in Austin, Texas. The main body of the book treats Florida's creative class theory in an introductory and neutral tone, but in a theoretical "postscript" chapter, the author criticizes Florida's tendency to "whitewash" the negative externalities associated with creative city development.
Thomas Frank criticizes Florida's "creative class" formulation as one of "several flattering ways of describing the professional cohort," this particular one being "the most obsequious designation of them all." Frank places the creative class within a broader critique of the Democratic Party: "Let us be clear about the political views Florida was expounding here. The problem with, say, George W. Bush's administration was not that it favored the rich; it was that it favored the wrong rich--the 'old-economy' rich.... Florida wept for unfairly ignored industries, but he expressed little sympathy for the working people whose issues were now ignored by both parties."