A Class Act

In June 2003, Richard Florida, author of the hot-hot-hot Rise of the Creative Class, was speaking to a group of despairing alternative-newspaper types when one asked if Florida had any hope for the political future.

Yes, he replied. In Denver, where John Hickenlooper had just been elected mayor.

Two years later, Denver's still looking good to Florida, who'll be observing the town firsthand during Culture Commerce Community, a two-day conference that's billed as both a think tank and a practicum, designed to help local leaders stimulate civic and commercial life through the arts. Not only is this city in a perfect position to do just that, but it must, says Florida, whose new book is titled The Flight of the Creative Class. Because now cities in this country are competing not only with each other, but with cities around the world.

"Denver is one of the places that's on the cusp, not quite a San Francisco or a Seattle, but it's right on the cusp," Florida says. "San Francisco is no longer the place for a young poet or writer or group of people with a garage band or garage startup. So Denver has a very, very positive future. And John is one of two or three young mayors in the country who get it -- and when I say Œget it,' it's not about building a yuppie, latte-swilling fern bar, but a creative community."

Although the Washington, D.C.-based Florida is doing a booming business in Creative consulting, he hasn't sold everyone on his theories -- including Joel Kotkin, author of The City: A Global History. The two will face off with a "keynote conversation" during a kickoff lunch in the Seawell Ballroom at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, May 20. That discussion should generate enough heat to fuel another day and a half of panels and debates. But Florida could do that all by himself.

"There's a fear of the future," Florida says, describing the "class divide" he discusses in his new book. "People who are being left behind are finding no way to attach to this creative engine. They look at Hollywood, they look at Boulder, they look at Colorado College, and they see a country moving away from them." And Colorado, with a capital city that ranks high on the creative-class index, is at the epicenter of the action.

"I'll be interested to see when I visit how far folks are willing to take it," Florida says. "It's not simply growing the innovative economy; it's extending the reach to everyone."