Richard Florida recently published The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, the latest installment in his ongoing examination of the factors that add to American cities’ abilities to build more humane, progressive, and sustainable social and economic systems in the 21st century. His meticulous evaluation began almost a decade and a half ago and yielded an analysis that ranked the best and worst cities for innovation and creativity. I haven’t gotten through Florida’s new edition, but his earlier rankings should trouble local folk. Out of 276 cities evaluated in 2005, Louisville ranked an astonishingly low 171 in overall creativity. Of the 49 cities with populations over one million, Metro Louisville ranked horribly in Florida’s “3 Ts”: 45th in Technology, 47th in Talent, 44th in Tolerance, and dead last overall.
Florida makes interesting arguments relevant to our city. For example, Florida’s link between gays, other peripheral populations, and cities’ progressiveness and creativity sticks in the craw of Kim Davis and Matt Bevin types. Florida states, “Social conservatives have gone apoplectic over my finding that places with high concentrations of gays and bohemians (artists, writers, musicians, and other artistic professionals) tend to have higher rates of innovation and economic growth … Conservative critics have accused me of opposing ‘family values.’ They contend that economic growth today is occurring in traditional suburban areas with traditional family values, while urban centers with high numbers of, in the words of one commentator, “singles, young people, homosexuals, sophistos and trendoids,” are in trouble.”
“What’s insidious here is the implication that you can be family-friendly or gay-and bohemian-friendly, but not both. This is divisive thinking and it’s also inaccurate. Many popular lists of America’s most family- or child-friendly cities turn out to be loaded with cities that also score high as homes for gays and artists.” Florida concludes, “I’m not suggesting that gays and bohemians literally cause regions to grow. Rather, their presence in large numbers is an indicator of an underlying culture that’s open-minded and diverse – and thus conducive to creativity.” It logically follows that if Kentucky really wants to grow, it needs to stop persecuting populations that will help Louisville and other cities to do so.
I hope Louisville has risen on Florida’s latest list. If it has, it has done so despite its most daunting, ongoing problem – it is in Kentucky. When Louisville takes one step forward, Kentucky takes three steps back. The latest has been the election of Matt Bevin. Proving that conservative usually isn’t creative, Bevin has been on a tear within months after seizing the state’s reins of government. He rescinded an executive order restoring the vote to non-violent felons who have served their time right out of the gate. Even though former Governor Steve Beshear acted with great cowardice in issuing the order as he exited office, Bevin’s move returns Kentucky to a shameful handful of states that do not automatically return civil rights.
Bevin has also put forward a budget proposal that shows just how little he and the state value higher education. In doing so, he parrots the trendy obsession with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) that shows just how little he and those who lean on it understand what the American university actually does. We are not China, which trains quantitative automatons who can’t go off-script to save their lives. America has a mighty tradition of creating the greatest philosophers, political scientists and sociologists of the modern age. And yes, our French literature scholars have done well too, Mr. Bevin. Interestingly, most U.S. presidents, our most talented leaders, haven’t been engineers – they’ve been lawyers. To be sure, we need more people in STEM but not at the expense of the magnificently complete and productive intellectuals formed by our universities in other important areas.
Finally, Mr. Bevin has signed new legislation making it more difficult for women to exercise their right to choose in Kentucky. What’s next? If Kentuckians keep electing backwards-thinking people like Mr. Bevin, it won’t continue to be a second class state …it’ll be fifth class, and its stupid citizenry will deserve it. I feel sorry for Louisville as it swims against that current. Get your overalls ready as we march into the past, Kentucky. As the Outlaw Poet Ron Whitehead recently wrote, “Gimme back my wig, I gotta get outta this town!” Damn!
Dr. Ricky L. Jones is chair of Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville. He is author of Black Haze and What’s wrong with Obamamania (both from SUNY Press). Follow him on Twitter @DrRickyLJones.