Tampa needs to spend less time being creative

I am 27 years old, and I hate living in Tampa. Any other city might brush such a statement off, but in Tampa’s case, it doesn’t bode well, as it also casts a damning shadow over the city’s most recent strategy to market itself to would-be citizens.

In recent years, Tampa has been attempting to re-brand itself as a “creative city,” a trend to be seen in many cities that face an identity crisis after an economic downturn. This tactic often follows the theories of Richard Florida – a man who is half urban planner, half rock star.

Florida coined the phrase “creative class” in the late ’90s in an attempt to describe a mystical group of people who do not hesitate to move across the country in pursuit of not only cool jobs, but also cool locations.

Florida claims that expensive large-scale city renovations are unnecessary. As long as the city manages to attract creative people, more creative people will follow, and in time, companies looking for such a workforce will also follow, making coffeehouses and art scenes more important than public housing or public transportation for the poor. Or put differently: If you ignore the problems of your city long enough and focus on its “creativity,” the problems will go away by themselves.

That Florida is making five-figure sums from appearances in locations such as Tampa, is – or so he claims – mere coincidence.

Florida has been writing books and journal articles on the subject for years and has been issuing rankings that aim to list cities according to their “creativity.”

Naturally, he also claims his strategies will help cities rise to the top of the very rankings he is issuing. This gives the city an edge in courting the elusive, creative 20-somethings he claims are more important than the nuclear family of two parents – that’s a guy and a gal, to be precise – two kids and a dog, which cities have traditionally attempted to attract as new citizens.

Suffice it to say, Tampa is not faring well in any of these rankings. However, the city is one of many that are attempting to implement the author’s guidelines in an attempt to jumpstart its economy.

Tampa has, for example, founded Creative Tampa Bay, a group following Florida’s teachings so closely that a quote from Florida’s book, Rise of the Creative Class, is prominently displayed on its Web site, Creativetampabay.com: “Cities and regions that attract lots of creative talent are also those with greater diversity and higher levels of quality of place.”

Florida’s main thesis is that the creative class constitutes roughly 30 percent of the entire U.S. workforce, in some areas more than others. Those areas with a higher percentage of creative people attract them because of what Florida calls the three T’s: Technology, Talent and Tolerance – the latter is where Tampa is quickly failing.

While Tampa is home to many “minority” groups, including homosexuals, the city’s community is hardly a beacon of tolerance. Local leaders, such as Hillsborough County Commissioner Rhonda Storms, are hardly heroes in the circles Tampa is supposedly wooing.

Florida is somewhat vague on the definition of which jobs entitle someone to be called a member of the creative class. Accountants apparently are; maybe Florida is thinking of Enron? I would venture the guess that because I am about to graduate from college and am making a living with writing and editing jobs, I myself am squarely in that bracket.

So why am I making plans of moving away from the Tampa Bay area this coming summer? It is precisely because of strategies such as Florida’s.

I find it obscene that a community would put the interests of those who are better off – which would include my wife and myself – over those who require help merely because this seems more convenient than actually confronting problems.

In Tampa, money is spent on attracting those that can afford to move here, while those who cannot afford to go elsewhere are neglected. But what’s even worse, the city may face a lost cause as many who move here will likely not stay very long once they realize Tampa’s pitch is more false advertising than an honest attempt at creating a tolerant, artsy city.

I have no doubt that one of these days Tampa’s citizens will notice that a new coat of paint will not solve problems any more than yet another lane on Interstate 275 solves the city’s transportation crisis – but I doubt that I will still be around when that happens.

Sebastian Meyer is a senior majoring in political geography and a former Oracle opinion editor.