[This article originally appeared on March 23, 2005.]
I've written before on the foolishness of Gov. Jennifer Granholm handing out $100,000 grants to turn places like Grand Rapids into "cool cities" . Guv Jen's inspiration is that if we turn G.R., Kalamazoo, and Livonia into little Manhattans, then these towns will be flooded by hipsters with dynamic companies following to hire them. Hmm. The cause-and-effect sounds a little dubious to me. At least Guv Jen has the excuse that it's not her idea.
Like a lot of ideas that enamor policy wonks and impoverish the taxpayers, this one is an ivory tower product unmoored from reality. Awhile back Prof. Richard Florida of Carnegie Mellon University invented the notion of a "creative class" that was the economic and cultural engine for high-growth cities during the 1990's. He thinks that if humdrum cities cultivated or imported their own "creative classes" -- i.e., became "cool" -- they would evolve into economic dynamos as well as hip places to live. (An aside: I note that from the pictures like the one above displayed at the "Cool Cities" website that the cool are neither fat, old, or ugly.)
One big problem with Prof. Florida's (and Guv Jen's) "cool city" scheme: There's no truth to it. During the past twenty years it has been the uncool cities of North America that have created more jobs than the purportedly cool ones by 60 percent. Boring things like good government and low taxes were the best predictors of a city's potential for job growth. In fact, the latte-lappers of the "creative class" were mostly found in economically moribund cities.
For more about the fallacy of "cool cities", I recommend Steven Malanga's recent article published at City Journal's website. Finally, a tip of the hat to John LaPlante of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, whose column in Monday's edition of MiBizWest is a solid reminder of why we shouldn't let the wonks play with our tax dollars.