Richard Florida Watch! | Slag Heap

Richard Florida Watch!

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As part of my ongoing effort to keep you informed of the doings of Richard Florida and his acolytes, I commend your attention to this story from today's New York Times.

The story is about research co-authored by one of Florida's former CMU students, Elizabeth Currid. Along with fellow researcher Sarah Williams, Currid is studying the "geography of buzz" -- surveying cultural "hot spots" in New York and LA as determined by how often a neighborhood hosts concerts, fashion shows, art openings, and film/theater premieres. The researchers even provided visual aids, using some pretty schwank digital-imaging technology to plot where all the action is. The result is a series of images that look like somebody detonated a series of small-yield nuclear devices at every party I'll never be invited to. (Finally!)

The goal of the study, says Currid (who is now at the University of Southern California) was "to quantify and understand, visually and spatially, how this creative cultural scene really worked."

And apparently, it works through a finely honed herd instinct. As Currid defines buzz:

"Artists become hot because so many people show up for their gallery opening, people want to wear designers because X celebrity is wearing them, people want to go to movies because lots of people are going to them and talking about them. Even though it’s like, 'What the heck does that mean?,' it means something."

So ... "artists become hot because so many people show up for their gallery opening"? What a wondrous tautology. Places are cool, because cool people go there. And cool people go there because these places are cool. It's no surprise, maybe, that Currid has written a book about Andy Warhol, who introduced the concept of people who are famous for being famous. 

Nor is it a surprise that Currid sounds quite a bit like R. Florida himself (who she describes as a mentor): "People talk about the end of place and how everything is really digital," she tells the Times. "In fact, buzz is created in places, and this data tells us how this happens." Florida himself has made similar arguments, talking about the "clustering" of talent in the most successful regions.

I interviewed Currid once, when she was back in Pittsburgh. She was smart and had a good sense of humor. And you know, it's kind of useful -- now that we're waking up from the American Dream into a scarily global world -- to realize that there is value in the local, the particular, the unique. All that "world is flat" triumphalism of Thomas Friedman gets on your nerves after awhile. 

That said, I was a little surprised to learn that according to the study, "The buzziest areas in New York ... are around Lincoln and Rockefeller Centers, and down Broadway from Times Square into SoHo."

Broadway? Really? So all the "buzz" this year is about The Lion King and Mama Mia? No mention of Williamsburg or, of what the Times calls "other hipster-centric neighborhoods"? Hmmmm.....

Take heart, you denizens of Brooklyn. These results may be skewed by the data Currid and Williams used to measure buzz: through "thousands of photographs from Getty Images that chronicled flashy parties and smaller affairs." Correct me if I'm wrong, you Florida devotees. (I know you're out there.) But isn't that like claiming you're up on Pittsburgh's arts scene because you look at the pictures in Whirl magazine?

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