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Fast Cities by the Numbers

How did we come up with our list of “Fast Cities”? Read on for insight into our methodology.

To compile our Fast Cities list of emerging hubs for creative talent, Fast Company partnered with Richard Florida, Hirst Professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy and author of The Rise of the Creative Class (Perseus, 2002) and The Flight of the Creative Class (HarperBusiness, 2005). At the root of Florida’s work is the idea that the creative class, composed of a broad range of professionals like doctors, artists, and entrepreneurs, “is the crucial wellspring of economic growth.”

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Like most builders of lists, Florida and his colleague, Kevin Stolarick, an assistant professor with the Information Systems Program at Carnegie Mellon University, started with numbers. Lots of them.

Their Creativity Index is based on the three core elements that attract the creative class and ultimately drive economic growth: technology, talent, and tolerance. To be considered, cities had to score relatively high marks on all three. Cities like Pittsburgh, which registered high in technology but low in tolerance were eliminated. Colorado Springs and Salt Lake City, with their below-average scores for tolerance, made the cut because of their superior rankings in talent and technology.

To measure just how tech-savvy a city is, Florida and Stolarick plugged in rankings from the Milken Institute’s annual Tech-Pole index, a measure of high-technology industry concentration and growth, and the average annual-patent growth per region, based on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. For talent, they sifted through the 700-plus occupations tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ “Occupation and Employment Survey” separating creative-class professions such as designers, managers, and software coders from manufacturing and service-sector jobs. Thus, each region’s talent measure is the percentage of the workforce in the creative class.

The third slice of the numbers pie, tolerance, is the most innovative–and controversial. Using data from the U.S. Census, Florida and Stolarick devised a catalog of soft-sounding indices that are founded on hard numbers. The Tolerance Index is based on four distinct measures: the Gay Index (the percentage of gays in a given region’s population), the Melting Pot Index, (the concentration of foreign-born people in each city, compared to the national average), the Bohemian Index (relative concentration of artists, musicians, and entertainers), and the Racial Integration Index (a measure of how well races and ethnicities are distributed throughout a city). The underlying philosophy behind each index is what Stolarick refers to as “outsider friction”–the energy generated by outsiders fitting in.

Florida goes on to emphasize that it’s not necessarily that gays or immigrants are more creative than anybody else, but their presence alone signals an openness to diversity and “an underlying culture that’s conducive to creativity.” Taken together, populations of gays, artists, foreign-born people, and racial minorities are indicators of the critical factors–tolerance and diversity–that build and mobilize creative capital for long-run prosperity.

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