March 14, 2004

"Want to lure creative folks to Michigan? Try tolerance"

Rick Haglund has an interesting article in today's Ann Arbor News. Here's the full text:

"Could an effort by state lawmakers to enact a constitutional ban on gay marriage hurt Michigan's economy?

I didn't get a chance to ask him, but after listening to "The Rise of the Creative Class" author Richard Florida recently, my guess is that his answer would be a resounding "Yes."

Florida criss-crosses the country telling community groups, business organizations and government officials that the key to success in their cities is capturing the young artists, bohemians, entrepreneurs and professionals - the creative class - who will be driving the 21st century's knowledge-based economy."

" Lately, he's taken some flak from the political right, which disputes his notion that there is a strong correlation between a city's ability to attract the creative class and its economic vitality.

But cities that Florida considers the best in attracting the creative class, such as Boston, Minneapolis, San Diego and Austin, Texas, also tend to do well in economic rankings by most mainstream business publications.

One of the things that makes some suspicious of Florida's work is his controversial view that homosexuals are an integral part of the creative class. He's even created a gay index that gauges how welcoming cities and regions are of gays and lesbians.

In a recent talk to the community group Create Detroit, Florida noted that his views on the value of gays in the creative class have been less than welcome to some.

"Everyone puts me in a box and says I have a gay agenda," Florida said. Many people he comes across think he's gay, although he's a heterosexual.

Many are uneasy with the idea of gay unions, and some find it morally repugnant. But Florida says the creative class, which economic development leaders around the country are wooing, doesn't much care.

They want to live in vibrant cities and larger regions full of people from diverse backgrounds and demographic slices - even 1950s-style nuclear families.

"People in the creative class say they want a town that's good for everybody," Florida told the Create Detroit crowd, which included artists, gay activists and mainstream business leaders.

While some may see cities that welcome gays as being bad for families, Florida says that's far from the case. The top three places in his ranking of child-friendly cities - Portland, Ore., Seattle and Minneapolis - also rank near the top in his gay index.

Florida said cities and regions need three ingredients to be economically successful: Talent, technology and tolerance. The toughest to achieve could be tolerance of gays, which he sees as the major civil rights issue of this century.

Gays and lesbians face a particularly difficult battle because some of the most ardent religious and political supporters of civil rights for women and African-Americans are opposed to any expansion of rights for homosexuals.

But Florida says gays will eventually win all the rights that heterosexuals enjoy. And the quicker communities accept that, the better off they'll be, he said.

States and cities competing for young talent that aren't tolerant of gays might as well "hang a giant banner in the window, saying 'gay people go somewhere else,' " he said.

They may as well go to cities such as Seattle, where Mayor Greg Nickels announced Monday that the city would recognize the marriages of gay city employees who tie the knot elsewhere.

Nickels, who doesn't have the power to marry people, said he was opposed to gay marriage just a few years ago. But he told the Associated Press that he's changed his view and that he believes gay marriage is a matter of fairness.

"(P)eople who are willing to make a commitment to one another, who love one another, and who are willing to take on the responsibilities of marriage ought to be able to, regardless of their gender," Nickels said.

His move will likely be good for Seattle's economy, as well. According to Florida's index, the city ranks third among 331 metropolitan areas in its attractiveness to the creative class.

Go to www.mlive.com/business/ for audio interviews with Rick Haglund. Contact him at (248) 540-7311 or e-mail him at rhaglund at boothnewspapers.com. "

What do you think? Is Ann Arbor "tolerant" of all people? Is Ann Arbor tolerant of students?

Posted by robg3 at March 14, 2004 05:55 PM