22 September 2005
Almost literally tragically hip
Joel Kotkin has been critical of Richard Florida's "creative class" notions, suggesting that catering to hipsters and such, emphasizing cultural amenities and some vague aura of "tolerance" over other attributes, as Florida recommends, is no way to run a contemporary city.
Perhaps there is no more searing evidence of the limitations of a culture-based economy than New Orleans. Once a great industrial and commercial centre, the city despite its huge port has roughly half the US average of jobs in manufacturing and wholesale trade. Other, more business-focused cities, notably Houston, have taken the lead in the high-paid service jobs connected to trade, such as finance, engineering and medical services. The energy industry, once the linchpin of the local economy, also decamped, primarily to Houston. All this happened despite New Orelans being a city that was heavily gay, very cool and extremely hip.
By the time of the flood, tourism and culture, along with a huge social service bureaucracy, was driving the economy. The problem, of course, is that tourism pays poorly; a 2002 study for the AFL-CIO showed that nearly half of all full-time hotel workers could not earn enough to keep a family out of poverty.
Lost in the ghastly images of New Orleans's poor is the fact that the city's whites, about 27 per cent of the population, are wealthier and more educated than their counterparts nationwide. They, of course, welcomed the new nightclubs, coffee shops and galleries that dotted their grander neighbourhoods. New Orleans epitomised the inequality of the hip cool city. While the national gap between black and white per capita income stands at about $9,000, in New Orleans it is almost $20,000.
I hear occasional rumblings from yupsters to the effect that this town is dull, repressive and soul-sucking. (The presumably temporary ascent to "major-league" status won't make the slightest bit of difference, the NBA being bourgeois entertainment for persons of insufficient brow elevation.) There is a common complaint that development in Lower Bricktown, under the aegis of Randy Hogan, is insufficiently brickulous: big-box things like the Bass Pro Shop and Toby Keith's theme eatery, they say, could have been built out in the 'burbs, making more room available for the sort of urban chic they desire. After wandering around the Northeast for a few summers, I'm inclined to think that the single most effective way of creating "urban ambiance" of this sort is to cut the street width by forty percent. Imagine how well that will go over.
There is some evidence, though, that Oklahoma City has some semblance of a clue. After all, they're spending twice the price of MAPS to spruce up an urban school district; it's clear that they're not going to cede the middle class to the second ring of suburbs without a fight. And what kind of a city has an uppercrust, an underclass, and nothing much in between?
(Found at Tinkerty Tonk.)Posted at 11:17 AM to Almost Yogurt