The Impact of the Creative Class

Garrett-MacLean-sNew piece in Belt Magazine:

When Richard Florida’s new book came out earlier this year, I saw some of the reviews and was intrigued. It was called The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class — and What We Can Do About It. I was interested in the subject. After the 2016 election, who wasn’t?

My interest, however, ran a little deeper than most. Some reviews billed it as Florida’s “mea culpa,” or his “act of penance” for his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, in which he argued that young, creative workers were the new engines of economic growth and that cities needed to court them in order to prosper. In the beginning, everybody wanted to believe in this “Creative Class” theory. And for a while, so did I. But by 2012 I had serious doubts, and I wrote a critique of Florida’s theory that went viral. Five years later, with the publication of his new book, I wondered if Florida had finally taken my critique to heart.

NUCI didn’t always feel that way. When I first came across Florida’s theory, I myself was a young, creative worker, and I loved the idea that people like myself were economically significant, and that by simply moving to a city we would cause it to flourish. Not long after The Rise of the Creative Class was published, my wife and I moved to Madison, Wisconsin. According to Florida, the city needed us and somehow we were the keys to its future. Yet as a freelance writer, subject to the extreme ebb and flow of income (mostly ebb), I often found myself biking around town, too broke to even afford a cup of coffee. At these times, I wondered: How exactly was I fueling Madison’s economy?

Read the rest here.

See also:

The Fall of the Creative Class

Still Falling: On Chickens and Eggs, Cause and Effect and the Real Problem with the Creative Class

The Price of Everything

 

 

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He speaks for the trees

From the Star Tribune:

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 4.44.50 PM

Dennis Robertson was visiting his wife’s hometown of Medicine Hat, in Alberta, Canada, when he picked up a brochure for the local “Heritage Tree Trail.” There were seven trees on the trail. They drove around the city tracking them down, one by one. There was giant white pine planted by a famous horticulturalist. There was the first cottonwood planted in the city (in 1888). There was a dragon spruce, native to China, that grew well in Medicine Hat’s environment. There were other trees of note.

 

When Robertson got home, it occurred to the retired ophthalmologist that Lake City had some pretty good trees, too, and that those trees had some history. For starters, it had a park filled with unusual species from the Jewell Nursery, which was founded in 1868 and became the largest landscape nursery in the country, if not the world. A heritage tree trail, he thought, would be a great way not only to help people learn about those trees but serve as a bridge to the past. As far as he knew, such a trail also would be a first in Minnesota.

The idea of heritage trees has been gaining in popularity around the world, even if what constitutes “heritage” is open to debate.

Read the rest here.

Festival Season: Upcoming Appearances

It’s festival season again, and over the next few weeks I’ll be speaking at two. First, on Sunday October 29th I’ll be talking about the power of belief at the Chicago Humanities Festival. The following weekend on Saturday, November 4, I’ll be in Madison for the Wisconsin Book Festival. If you’re near either one, please stop by! Details below:

CHF_Logo-No_Tagline_RedThe Geography of Madness
Sunday, October 29, 4 – 5 PM
Chicago Athletic Association, Stagg Court
12 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603

Is there a connection between mental health, disease, and belief? In Geography of Madness, journalist Frank Bures offers a resounding yes. In tracking the delusion that one’s genitals can be stolen—a relatively common complaint in countries ranging from Nigeria to Singapore—Bures sought to uncover the roots of a whole range of “culture–bound syndromes,” and how people’s beliefs about their health shape their physical experiences of health. Join Bures for a conversation about penis theft, placebos, and the intersection of Western and Chinese medicine.

main_logoThe Geography of Madness
11/04/2017, 4:00pm
Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, DeLuca Forum

The Geography of Madness is an investigation of “culture-bound” syndromes, which are far stranger than they sound. Why is it, for example, that some men believe, against all reason, that vandals stole their penises, even though they’re in good physical shape? In The Geography of Madness, acclaimed magazine writer Frank Bures travels around the world to trace culture-bound syndromes to their sources–and in the process, tells a remarkable story about the strange things all of us believe.

Presented in partnership with the Wisconsin Science Festival.

How To Be Wise

Cutler2017007-2 copyMy latest column from The Rotarian:

Recently I was looking through some of my grandmother’s things and came across her tattered, softcover Bible. As I paged through it, a yellowed newspaper article fell out. It was from a 1966 edition of the Minneapolis Star, written by a certain Dr. Walter C. Alvarez. It was titled “You Can Grow Old Gracefully.”

Nowadays, that sentiment is not very widespread. Growing old has become something to be dreaded, feared, and, if possible, avoided. This is partly rooted in America’s youth-oriented culture, which differs from that of places like Japan or parts of Africa, where older people are seen as repositories of wisdom and authority.

Still, I liked the headline of Dr. Alvarez’s column, even if the useful advice in his article was limited to exhortations to read widely, be friendly, and try to cultivate an interesting persona in youth and middle age. If you become a good and interesting person when you’re young, he wrote, you will be a good and interesting person when you are old.

My grandmother did, in fact, age gracefully. She never become bitter or isolated or hopeless, even though her husband died – after falling off a ladder – just four years after she cut out that article. For as long as she could manage, she played bridge, went to water aerobics, and worked the crossword puzzle, and she always seemed able to see the humor in things. That she kept that article – in her Bible no less – meant that she must have had some faith that aging gracefully was something she could do.

Read the rest here.

The Kiwis’ Edge in America’s Cup: Drones

From the New York Times:

Nick Bowers heard his phone ring at 5 one morning in September 2015. He struggled out of bed and answered. On the line was a boat maker from Holland with an urgent request: Could he be in Italy that night to shoot video of the A-Class World Catamaran Championships?

Bowers, who lived in Lake Geneva, Wis., where he ran a small video production company, packed his drones and hurried to the airport in Chicago.

Word of Bowers’s dramatic sailing footage had been spreading through the sailing world. It was gorgeous and mesmerizing.

Bailey White, president of the United States A-Class Sailing Association, who recruited Bowers for the race in Italy, remembers his first impression. “I had never seen anyone be able to shoot the angles he was shooting,” White said. “While the boat was up in the air foiling, he was getting so low flying this drone that he was actually below the boat, so you got a sense for exactly how the boat was performing and how the sailors were doing.”

Bowers, whose work would earn him a spot with one of the two teams currently racing in the finals of the 2017 America’s Cup, came on this style almost accidentally. At first, he started filming without a monitor because he couldn’t afford one. He learned to work by watching the drone instead of watching the video feed. But he quickly found this gave him both better control and better footage.

Read the rest here.

 

Ill Winds: On Fan Death

lead_960Had a nice interview with Katie Heaney for her story at The Atlantic:

Is My Electric Fan Going to Kill Me in My Sleep?

When I was a kid, someone told me that running a fan too close to my face was dangerous to my health, and I’ve kind of believed it ever since. For the 20-some years since, I’ve assumed that person was one of my parents, but when I mentioned this to them recently, neither had any idea what I was talking about. “That doesn’t sound like something I’d believe,” my dad said, and he’s right, it doesn’t. But I know someone in my home once told me to move my fan further away from my bed so I wouldn’t get sick overnight, and if it wasn’t my parents, then who was it? My best guess at this time is a paranoid babysitter. No matter that I never encountered any substantiating evidence; the idea of a fan’s concentrated breeze making me sick held enough intuitive sway in my childhood psyche that it stuck there. Even though I know now that it isn’t exactly true, I wonder if there’s something to the idea—it had to come from somewhere. Right?

In fact, many cultures across the globe have their own stories of wind-based illnesses, says Frank Bures, author of The Geography of Madness. In his book, Bures writes that some ancient Chinese medical texts warned readers of “wind insanity” and even “wind stupidity.” Variations on these beliefs persist today, too; in Italy, people wear scarves around their necks to protect against colpo d’aria (a hit of air), and in the Czech Republic, some people fear the wind from air conditioners and refrigerators, believing they cause rheumatism, among other health issues. Most (if not all) Americans have been told not to go outside with wet hair lest we “catch a chill”—a belief in a cause-and-effect model with little scientific backing. Perhaps the most extreme form of these supposed illnesses can be found in Korea, where they call it something else: fan death, or the belief that running a fan in an enclosed room will actually kill you.

Read the rest here.

 

Teaching a Stone to Fly: The World Rock Skipping Championship

From Minnesota Monthly:

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us—my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10—set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition—the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

“Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won’t win?” she asked.

I threw the stone.

“Four,” she said. “But it caught a wave.”

My shoulders sagged.

“Don’t doubt yourself, Daddy!”

Her younger sister looked at her. “But you doubted him,” she said.

“That’s different.”

Prepared or not, I knew I had a knack for skipping. Some years earlier, I’d been driving through the mountains when I stopped at a roadside lake. The water was smooth as glass. I bent down, picked up a wide, flat stone, and sent it skimming across the water. It went on for what felt like forever, until it finally hit the rocky shore on the other side.

Behind me, a young boy spoke up.

“Wow,” he said. “You must be the world-champion rock skipper.”

I wasn’t. At least not yet. But I’d been skipping stones my whole life, ever since I was around my daughters’ ages, always getting better and better. There was almost nothing I loved better than the feeling of knowing—even before it hit the water—that you had a perfect throw, one that defies nature by making a stone both fly and float.

Mackinac, I had learned, was the place where such things were decided. These were my people—the ones who could spend hours on a beach looking for just the right stone, who would fill bags and boxes with skippers from secret locations, who would throw until their arm gave way, lost in the simple sorcery of stone skipping.

Read the rest here.