21 July 2012


My thanks to the ever-resourceful Andrea Kuszewski for the link to Richard Florida's insightful piece, The Psychology Behind Why Creative People Cluster.  Florida tracks several studies whose results coalesce ~ creative, open-to-experience personalities "significantly associated with a metro's share of the creative class and college grads, and even more so with concentrations of foreign-born people, gays and lesbians, and high-tech industry.

"  .... It is not just that people sort themselves into places where they can find work.  They seek out environments where they can pursue their personal interests as well.  Clusters of open-to-experience personalities are associated with innovation because the jobs at the center of innovation ~ such as design, engineering, science, painting, music, software development, writing, and acting ~ appeal to individuals who are curious, creative, intellectual, imaginative, inventive and resourceful.  These professions are primarily concerned with exploring, developing and communicating new ideas, methods, and products.  People who are high in openness are also adventurous.  They are likely to generate new perspectives on old issues and are comfortable with and adaptable to change.

"They are also more likely to move to pursue their interests and follow their dreams.  It's not that they do this by design, the process occurs gradually and in an ad hoc way over time.  But over time they seek out and find other similar personalities and begin to cluster in particular communities.  These communities then take on a certain level of openness which draws in more open people and enhances its openness to new people and ideas, and ability to harness creativity and generate innovations.  Openness comes to be imprinted on their psychological and cultural DNA."

Among the nation's major metro areas, the following cities contain the highest proportion of open-to-experience people (in descending order) ~

  • San Francisco
  • Los Angeles
  • Austin
  • New York
  • San Diego
  • San Antonio
  • Nashville
  • Las Vegas
  • Tampa
  • Denver
In case you're wondering, here are the cities with the lowest proportion of open-to-experience people ~
  • Detroit
  • Minneapolis
  • Cleveland
  • Columbus
  • Pittsburgh
  • Indianapolis
  • Kansas City
  • St. Louis
  • Memphis
  • Cincinnati
So what are the implications for urban economic development?  Whatever a city's traditions, industries, or way of life, if it wants to attract highly skilled, educated, or talented people, it would do well to nurture its own cultural diversity, and to nurture a welcoming environment for the kinds of jobs which attract creative, open-to-experience people.  "The type of skills economists are interested in implies something that can be acquired with proper training, talent, motivation, and resources .... openness influences people's ability to acquire new skills relatively quickly."  In short, model your community's culture on that of San Francisco over Detroit.

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