Bohemian Like You

Art Life Mar 22, 2004 No Comments

So we’re bohemian after all! Perusing the pages of The Sydney Morning Herald we discovered an item headlined Bohemian Rhapsody Puts Economy on song in which the following claims were made:

Richard Florida rates cities on a “bohemian index” and he reckons that by his measure Sydney is up there with the top two cities in the US.

Professor Florida, an economist, academic, best selling author, developed the index as a benchmark of creativity, counting a city’s artists, poets, musicians and thinkers. Sydney he says, “rates off the chart.” Even he admits the measure is a bit rough and ready but economists like to have such numbers.

Professor Florida’s more serious message is that creativity will drive economic growth in the post-industrial economy, not stores of resources such as coal and iron ore. It is a message that is being heeded by governments, planners and corporations around the world, as they grapple with the factors that will drive economic growth and put their city or nation ahead in the global economy.

We think this is lovely. In fact, when we say the story we thought, “How lovely that finally someone has officially recognised that Sydney is bohemian.” We also knew that at last we were more obviously bohemian than Melbourne because even if they have all the good music, they can’t be boho since there are no gay people living there. Everyone knows that. It’s a fact.

And we were also thrilled to bits that the Professor had an index. It makes a huge change from people coming to Sydney and saying that it isn’t nearly as bohemian as they thought but having nothing but airy fairy opinion to back up their opinion. Now Sydney residents can point to the index and say, rightly, that they have the empirical data to prove their boho worth.

We became concerned as we read the story that Prof Florida’s message may not be getting through. It’s all very well to say that his ideas are being taken up by “government”; it’s another thing altogether when you discover exactly what the book is being used for.

Florida met senior Carr Government ministers, who wanted to hear what the Professor of Economic Development at Carnegie Mellon University had to say.

Florida was in Sydney for the Year of The Built Environment 2004 Lecture and was being glad-handed all over town. Up in Macquarie Street, meanwhile, Deputy Premier Andrew Refshaugue was using the book to take the piss out of Premier Bob Carr, the government’s “boring egg head” who uses weekly Labor party caucus meetings to urge his fellow and less abstemious MPs to read instead of grogging on.

Professor Florida says that more than 50 per cent of Sydney’s population is engaged in the creative economy already, and it is a city which is home to artists, scientist thinkers, musicians. He says he has also found a strong correlation between places with a large gay population and cities that attract high-tech industries.

“Our first theory, which wasn’t great, was that the ‘gay fixer-upper’ theory – that the gays were doing up the buildings -was attracting the creative workers. But through interviews with people who live in these creative hot spots, Professor Florida has concluded that it is rather about cities with a “vibe” – and which are inclusive, tolerant, open and open to immigration.”

There you have it people, the Gay Led Recovery theory; students move into a rundown residential or light industrial area (cheap rent, lots of space); a few years down the track you have cafes and galleries and bookshops where there was once just butcher shops, old barbers and a pub or two. Fast forward a few more years and the gay men move in as the students move out, do the place up and, a year or two later sell out to would-be bohemians moving in for a bit of the “vibe”. The galleries close (or become crap), the bookshops go mainstream and the vibe dies faster than you can say “Backyard Blitz”.

In the same way that Newtown was once boho and now isn’t, in the same way that St. Kilda was once boho and now isn’t, or indeed, the way Paddington in Sydney was once boho and now no one can remember when you could buy actual groceries on Oxford Street, the inevitable shift from run down bohemian ghetto to up market swankathon is unavoidable.

If you’re curious as to what this index actually looks like, Florida has a good example at The Washington Monthly, featuring the classic subhead The Rise of The Creative Class: Why Cities Without Gays and Rock Bands are Losing The Economic Race

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