12.20.2005

Predicting 'It' city status

A tongue-in-cheek piece in the latest issue of Canadian magazine Maisonneuve offers an interesting critique of the whole Richard Florida/Creative Class argument. In the article, writer Edward Keenan declares Milwaukee the new "It" city for hip music. To reach that conclusion, he drew on several factors. First, he analyzed a New York Times article from last February in which David Carr declared Montreal the new "It" city, and determined what made Montreal the new king.

"Being the biggest destination in a region almost guarantees an influx of musically inclined, disaffected young people to both play in and listen to bands. Bad weather helps, because it keeps songwriters inside and bands rehearsing. And perhaps most important, a nascent musical scene requires lots of cheap real estate for musicians and their fans to hang out and play in," Carr writes.

Keenan also applies the Richard Florida indexing model to things, adapting the economists "Bohemian" index to create his own "It City" index from these categories: "population; industry; proximity to water; winter and summer weather conditions; number of universities and professional sports franchises; average income, rent and housing prices; relative importance of city to its region."

The one city in North America that best fit the ideal "It" city criteria? Milwaukee.

So far, so good. His analysis is interesting, if not scientific. His critique comes in next, when he dissects what Milwaukee has to offer musically: not much. The bands aren't particularly cutting edge, and no one seems to mind driving south to Chicago to find truly interesting bands, clubs and culture. What he points out in this round-about way, is that all of the number crunching in the world isn't going to make your city an arts & entertainment and/or culture and/or talent magnet. Having the right things in place helps, no question. But it takes people with energy and ideas to catalyze things. Having the right ingredients in the right-sized pot helps, to use a tortured metaphor, but you need some cooks to get things cooking. It can't be an either/or thing. So while Keenan might laugh at the notion that Milwaukee is the next big thing, what he has done is point out that with the right stimuli, it very well could be.

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