Bring on those 'redneck hippies'

 

There's a lot of buzz these days about a "creative class," the discovery of Richard Florida, a professor of economic development at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Florida's ideas are laid out in one of those books more discussed than read: The Rise of the Creative Class and How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life.

What he has identified is an evolving socio-economic group that is, says, our hope for cultural vitality in the 21st century. According to Florida, "if you are a scientist or engineer, an architect or designer, a writer, artist or musician, or if you use your creativity as a key factor in your work in business, education, health care, law or some other profession, you are a member" of the creative class.

His main point is that local economic development is no longer a matter of developing a favorable business climate through building business parks or offering tax incentives. The challenge is to create a "people climate" that will attract this creative class. Once it arrives, Florida says, economic development will follow, both from things the creative people start up and from companies that will come looking for creative people.

Florida's focus is so narrowly metro-urban that he considers Boulder, Colo., to be sort of "rural." But a lot of the restless types Florida describes have been finding their way to the West’s small towns for a long time.

According to Florida, what attracts creative types to a place are technology, talent and tolerance. He tends to think of technology in terms of high-tech industries, and that is not a noticeable strength in most rural communities, although many are developing high speed access to the Internet. Florida sees the presence of a major research university as a huge advantage in the creative economy, concentrating both the technological research and the talent needed to spur development.

Western State College, in Gunnison, Colo., where I teach, is close to being the kind of creative hub Florida envisions. When I came to Western in the late 1980s, the college was charged to develop interdisciplinary programs built around the unique qualities of the college's natural and cultural setting.

Majors in recreation and environmental studies came out of that mandate, but both programs are still fishing for their connection to place so that they truly prepare people for creative lives in the region. Colleges like Western State could be turning the young "redneck hippies" they attract into inspired entrepreneurs. They could then go out to create the restoration economy that other Florida-type think tanks such as the Rocky Mountain Institute espouse: businesses that do well by doing good in the creation of environmentally-friendly products and services.

As for tolerance, Florida noticed that his index of urban places with strong economic development in the 1990s had a high degree of correlation with a colleague's index of gay-friendly places. Not all creative people are gay, of course, but there's probably a higher percentage of gays in the creative class than in American society in general, just as there is probably a higher percentage of malcontents, nerds, obsessives, idiot savants and others who are, by nature or nurture, out of step with what passes for normal in America.

Mountain townies are fond of quoting a journalist who claimed it wasn't love of fellow man that led people to places where people were few. It was more an attitude of indifference — a willingness to let everyone go to hell in his or her own way with neither help nor hindrance. That's tolerable tolerance.

Perhaps Florida is mostly putting a new wrap on common wisdom. In interesting times — including the founding of this country — we have always depended on creative people coming together to strike the flint of their minds against the steel of systems they neither particularly like nor are liked by.

That process usually starts in "fringe" places — dying neighborhoods taken over by bohemians, or decaying rural towns in beautiful places taken over by post-urbanites. But whether you call them a creative class or redneck hippies, I say, let’s bring them on.

George Sibley is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Gunnison, Colorado, and teaches at Western State College.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • HUMAN RESOURCES GENERALIST
    Honor the Earth is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and does not discriminate based on identity. Indigenous people, people of color, Two-Spirit or LGBTQA+ people,...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Colorado Trout Unlimited seeks an individual with successful development experience, strong interpersonal skills, and a deep commitment to coldwater conservation to serve as the organization's...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • DESCHUTES LAND TRUST VOLUNTEER PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Deschutes Land Trust is seeking an experienced Volunteer Program Manager to join its dedicated team! Deschutes Land Trust conserves and cares for the lands...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Now hiring a full-time, remote Program Director for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship! Come help us promote excellence in the professional practice of wilderness stewardship,...
  • WYOMING COMMUNITY PARTNERSHIPS COORDINATOR
    The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is seeking Coordinator to implement public education and advocacy campaigns in the Cowboy State to unite and amplify hunter, angler,...
  • ASSISTANT TOWN ATTORNEY
    Town of Jackson, Wyoming, $66,700 - $88,000 DOQ, full benefits. Law Degree Required. Rental housing options available. For a complete job description and to apply,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...