Creative heaven or crappy little trading post?

Auckland and Wellington enjoy a healthy rivalry for themantle as the arts and creative capital of New Zealand.   The tussle is nottrivial.   Both cities recognize that a vibrant arts and creative community isnot just a nice to have but is essential for growing their economies.

The link between the creative arts and economic development,especially in the areas of high technology, was articulated by ProfessorRichard Florida during his time at the Carnegie Mellon University in the US.   He challenged the notion that it is amenities and infrastructure that attract peopleto a city and argues that a vibrant artistic community is a necessary conditionto attract talented people to fuel the knowledge economy.  

Florida calculated a Bohemian Index for the 50 major citiesin the US which measured the proportion of the workforce who are involved increative and artistic pursuits. His analysis showed that there is a strongcorrelation between the proportion of Bohemians in a city and the strength ofits high tech industry.   Ten of the top 15 bohemian cities also number amongthe nation’s top 15 high technology areas.  

His theory extends beyond just the arts. He sees aconnection between a city’s level of tolerance for a range of people, its ethnicand social diversity, and its success in attracting talented people. Accordingto Florida people in technology businesses are drawn to places known fordiversity of thought and open-mindedness.  

Florida shows that the relative size of a city’s gaypopulation is positively and significantly associated with both the ability ofa region to attract talent and to generate high-tech industry.   He asserts thatstraight men and woman look for a visible gay community as an indication that acity is likely to be an exciting place to live.

Gays can be thought of as canaries of the knowledge economybecause they signal a diverse and progressive environment that fosters thecreative and innovation necessary for success in high tech industry says Florida.   Not only does a high concentration of gays predict a high concentration ofhigh-tech, they are also a predictor of its growth. Cities with highconcentrations of gays in 1990 experienced rapid growth in their high techindustries during the following decade.

Florida also showed that areas with high concentrations offoreign born residents rank high as technology centres.

Florida’s research has important implications for New Zealand.   We know that the growth of high tech industries such as informationtechnology and biotechnology are crucial for our quest to lift our productivityand move back into the top half of the OECD wealth table.   To retain andattract workers for these industries we need vibrant cities with a healthycreative class and open and tolerant attitudes.

The competition between Auckland and Wellington for themantle of creative capital encourages both cities to lift their game. As thehome of the Royal Ballet, State Opera and New Zealand Symphony OrchestraWellingtonians love to claim the title for themselves.   But Aucklanders wouldargue that their city has more cultural institutions than Wellington, moreevents and much bigger audiences.

Our own Bohemian measure shows that Wellington pips Auckland in the size of its creative class relative to its total workforce.   About 1% of Wellington’s workforce is employed in creative occupations such as artists, musicians andfilm directors, compared with 0.9% of Auckland’s workforce.   Both New Zealand cities have higher proportions than Sydney and Melbourne (see chart).

A larger proportion of Wellington’s workforce may beemployed in creative pursuits but in absolute size Auckland leaves Wellington standing.   Fewer than 2,000 people are employed in creative occupations in Wellington compared with more than 4,500 in Auckland. And Auckland is a far greater magnetfor immigrants.   About 40% of Auckland’s population is foreign born comparedwith 25% in the capital city.

Auckland has outperformed Wellington in attracting highlyskilled jobs over the past decade.   During the current decade Auckland has beenable to significantly grow the proportion of its jobs which are located inknowledge intensive industries whereas Wellington has been treading water.   Thiswould tend to support the northern city’s claim to be the cultural hub if Florida’s theories are indeed true.

Although Christchurch lags behind the other two major citiesin the bohemian and foreign born measures it has also invested considerableresources in its creative sector.   It has a working theatre, opera, a symphonyorchestra and shiny new art gallery.   Sir Gil Simpson, the founder of JadeSoftware Corporation, has spoken about the ‘cultural infrastructure’ that madeit possible for him to get skilled people to work at the end of the earth in Christchurch.   He is quoted in an Auckland City Council report: "If you don’t take care tonurture and where necessary support a cultural sector, you’re just a shittylittle trading post at the bottom of the Pacific."


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