Give the Elites Some Credit

In the current issus of Flow, Tim Gibson writes about urban gentrification in the contemporary American sitcom:
Indeed, one of the reasons that revitalization guru Richard Florida commands big lecture fees is that he tells city officials exactly what they want to hear. If you want to attract growth and prosperity, he argues, you need to turn your city into the kind of place that “the creative class” enjoys (and by “creative class” Florida means highly-skilled professionals very much like city officials themselves). Once you attract the creative class, Florida argues, high-end employers—who are always searching for deep pools of creative talent—will soon follow.
I'm a Florida-sceptic myself and therefore am happy to see resistance and debunking of the creative class thesis. But the implication that city officials only are able to think in class-narcissistic terms ignores the high likelihood that political elites are engaged actively and sincerely in trying to steer the economies and cultural lives of their cities in new, post-industrial environments. We may not agree with their diagnosis in this, but neither is the diagnosis completely unrooted in the experience of some cities seeing virtuous circles of cultural and information economy. Urban policy schools of thought are ideology but not merely ideology.

All that said, Gibson's reading of the shift in televisual urban imaginary (yeah, I'm dissatisfied with that word, too, but it fits here) is spot on. And he proposes the novel possibility that the utopian vision of these newer television shows has a spillover effect to the specific policy circles of city governments. The question I have is what popular representations could have a beneficial effect in ideologically figuring (or cognitively mapping, if we prefer Jameson) a more optimal urban policy.


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