The Rise of the Creative Class - Revisited

Why do people move to a city? What Richard Florida says and whether it applies to Hamburg

My aim when starting this project was to find out why people move to Hamburgand to shed a bit of light on whether conventional wisdom – that cities are in competition with each other and need to do all they can to attract mobile, talented people who can move at the drop of a hat – applies to Hamburg. I’m also interested in what cities have to do to attract people.

This is especially relevant as Germany and other countries increasingly find themselves in need of highly-skilled workers, the so-called Fachkräftemangel.

Richard Florida and the Creative Class

One of the major thinkers and writers on this topic is Richard Florida, author of the 2002 book “The rise of the creative class”. A while ago, I got hold of the Revisited version.

From page 183 onwards, you can read the story of a graduate who was recruited from a Pittsburg university by an Austin company. Florida suggests that the real reasons people choose a city. It’s not about impressive buildings:

The physical attractions that most cities focus on building – sports stadiums, freeways, urban malls, and tourism-and-entertainment districts that resemble theme parks – are irrelevant, insufficient, or actually unattractive to them.

As it happens, I was having a chat to friends the other night about whether Hamburg’s hugely expensive world-class concert hall complex, the Elbphilharmonie, will do anything to make Hamburg more visible internationally. According to Florida, it will not. (For more on this, see below.)

What is it that attracts these people? Florida says its more about other people like them, but not too like them – diversity is very important.

What creatives look for are abundant high-quality amenities and experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and above all else the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people. […]

A big part of [the] success [of places where creatives live] stems from that fact that they are places wher creative people want to live.

Does this tally up with my experience? Yes and no

Firstly, “Why Hamburg?” isn’t just about the creative class that Florida describes, but there is a big overlap.

All in all, I very much agree with Florida in terms of what makes a city attractive to internationals: in simple terms, it’s the people. Spouses, friends, recommendations from friends – usually there is somebody who has given the person a nudge to move to Hamburg. Diversity, too, is often mentioned by participants.

However lots of people come here because of work, which Florida says the creative class aren’t so bothered by.

It’s also slightly different with Hamburg, because although other people generally cause someone to come here, it’s usually individuals giving them that nudge for a wide range of reasons. That’s much different from a community radiating an image about a place that attracts more members.

Most interviewees love Hamburg also because of its amenities like parks, lakes, greenness, public transport, night-life etc., which contradicts what Florida says. But I think the group of friends and acquaintances, even a network of like-minded people to do business with, is the most important factor in making people stay.

So was the Elbphilharmonie a big mistake?

Elbphilharmonie
The Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, pictured in 2011.

I mentioned above that Florida says amenities such as big prestige projects aren’t the way to attract members of the creative class. (At one point he says it can even be a turn-off.)

I’m not an expert on this, but I think the Elbphilharmonie can – possibly – play an important role in attracting tourists and creating a buzz about Hamburg. But I’m sceptical about its power to do so on its own, and also think that for attracting long-term new residents Hamburg needs to have people and processes in place to assist people in setting up in Hamburg. (More on that another time.)

However, don’t forget that the Elbphilharmonie is part of the HafenCity, Europe’s largest urban development in terms of size. The HafenCity will only be completely finished around 2025 – and if they do it right it could combine affordable housing, offices, collaboration spaces and more to foster open innovation in a walkable neighbourhood. Until now, it has had a reputation as an extremely expensive ghost town, but it is gradually coming to life as more people move in and the Hafencity University moved its campus there in 2014. I don’t know enough about it yet, but there is a possibility that by 2025 it will be very different and will be home to a community that will be attractive to talented people from overseas.

Possibly more on this topic in a later post.