On Friday night I had the pleasure of attending a talk given by Richard Florida. This is how he describes himself on his website:
Richard Florida is author of the global best-seller The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City? a national and international best seller and amazon.com book of the month. His new book, The Great Reset explains how new ways of living and working will drive post-crash prosperity.
My own introduction to Florida was when a friend lent me Who’s Your City? Living in Vancouver certainly makes this a very relevant and fascinating read. So my wife and I jumped at the opportunity to see him speak in person, even if it meant a bit of a drive. The talk was part of the Distinguished Speaker Series put on by the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus.
Florida spoke for just over an hour, without notes and could probably have talked for much longer. Much of his content was familiar, if not in detail then in spirit. The use of stories to illustrate his points was very effective and I enjoyed watching and getting a better sense of the man behind the writing. Looking around the room I am guessing that there were between 700 and 1000 people in the room. The average age of the audience seemed to be around 50 and this surprised me for a number of reasons.
Firstly, as our hosts, UBC Okanagan, had been mentioned both in the introductory remarks and by Florida himself as growing successfully from 3,500 students five years ago to 7,500 today. Whilst I do applaud this progress, if I had been Dr. Cynthia Mathieson or Dr. Doug Owram – both UBC Faculty, I would have been disappointed. To my eyes there were very few students at the talk. I accept that the new semester may just be getting under way but looking round I could only spot a small class room full, let’s say 20 or so of the audience who looked like students.
This is doubly surprising when I consider a core part of the Florida’s writing: the Creative Class. A big proportion of this group are under 30 and to my mind at least, student age. I know little about the structure of UBC in the Okanagan but if I were an instructor of pretty much any class I would have been encouraging my students to attend. Another thing that troubled was a little disconnect between my previous understanding of Florida’s writing and what he addressed in his talk.
One of his ideas I relate to is around the ability of the creative class and it’s mobility. Florida talked about a company in Pittsburgh that moved to Boston to be amongst the pool of talented and creative people there. What he didn’t talk about was how these talented and creative people are themselves likely to up sticks and move where they want to. I understand that UBC and the City of Kelowna are keen to attract people to come to the Okanagan but I wonder what they are doing to encourage them to stay. If they are locals and have the opportunity to express their creativity will they not, newly emboldened, decide to move away themselves?
Working as I now do with students in Surrey and Burnaby I found this all very very interesting. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the Creative Class but Florida’s suggestion that we have to nurture and build on the creativity in every single one of us really resonates with me. I notice on the UBC Okanagan website that a few of their previous speakers have been recorded and made available online. I hope Richard Florida gets added to the list so that more people, especially students, get a chance to hear what he had to say.