Masterclass examines the creative class theory

1 Feb 2012     Last updated: 20 Jun 2014

The Centre for Economic Empowerment held its fourth masterclass in the series on Friday 27 January. The seminar examined the Creative Class theory developed by Richard Florida and its potential implications for economic policy development in Northern I

The masterclass was addressed by Dr Nick Clifton, a Reader in Economic Geography and Regional Development at the Cardiff School of Management, and Mr Tony Macaulay, a consultant who provides research, management, facilitation and developmental support to community, voluntary and statutory organisations committed to creating positive social change.

Richard Florida’s theory of the Creative Class, at the basic level, suggests that creative people, or the ‘Creative Class’ drive economic growth; creating jobs and development. Due to the globalised nature of the world economy, the creative class is mobile and can often choose where to live. Richard Florida’s theory suggests that, rather than people following jobs in today’s gloabilised economy, jobs follow people. This means that the quality and standard of place matters. Broken down, Richard Florida suggests that the success of any region or city’s economy can largely be attributed to attracting or developing talent, technology and tolerance.

Lisa McElherron, NICVA Head of Public Affairs, outlined why NICVA was interested in exploring this theory. Speaking after the event she said:

This theory is not without its critics but NICVA, through the Centre for Economic Empowerment, considers that it holds specific relevance for Northern Ireland and is worth exploring. This is especially true if we look at the Executive’s draft economic strategy which is currently geared towards making Northern Ireland an open economy integrated into global markets through increased FDI and exports, grounded on a drive in innovation, R&D and creativity. However, it appears that the strategy currently makes the assumption that generating economic development will significantly help in tackling our problems of segregation and intolerance. However, as this seminar explored, in a globalised world, if we are to create a successful economy, we need to tackle these social problems and assist the areas within which they are most prevalent, as part of our economic strategy.

NICVA of course believes that tackling a lack of inclusivity, segregation and inequality is right in and of itself, but there are clear economic arguments that make the lack of progress on the Cohesion Sharing and Integration Strategy and the general inclusivity of our society potentially damaging to the Executive’s economic strategy”.

Dr Nick Clifton examined where the creative class is located in England and Wales, whether that accumulation of the creative class is linked to the openness and quality of place and whether the creative class is linked to improved economic outcomes. Building on this, Dr Clifton gave an initial examination of how the Belfast region fares with regards to these questions, comparing Belfast to cities across the UK and Europe. It became clear that whilst Belfast fared comparatively well in a number of areas to similar cities in the UK, it is behind in areas of migration (numbers of and attitudes towards) and education and quality of living.

Tony Macaulay gave a very entertaining and thought provoking presentation, which examined the nature of prejudice and the relationship between Northern Ireland’s historical divisions and how a culture of specific intolerance can manifest itself in intolerance towards numerous groups who are perceived as different. He then explored how Northern Ireland’s current performance with regards to openness may have an impact on the economic priorities of the Executive and why the causal relationship between economic development and social stability may need to be re-examined.

Commenting on the successful event Lisa McElherron said:

This was an extremely thought provoking masterclass and I hope that those who attended were able to take something away from it. As the day progressed it became clear that there is a need to do more research and work in this area, specifically with regards to examining the relationship between the Creative Class theory and regions that are emerging from conflict and division. This was a view shared by our speakers and through the Centre for Economic Empowerment, we are exploring the possibility of carrying out future work in this area.

We need to examine further the idea that if we want to create an open and integrated economy, tackling problems of inclusivity, social deprivation and segregation can no longer be considered as a potential outcome of economic development but an integral part of it". 

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