Richard Florida’s index of the least bohemian cities

by on June 4, 2010 at 10:49 am in Data Source | Permalink

He measures Los Angeles as the most bohemian city in North America and the five least bohemian are the following:

1. Riverside

2. Hartford

3. New Orleans

4. Memphis

5. Birmingham

The lists continue at the link, along with a very interesting discussion.  I'll accede to some version of this more-scientific-than-my-intuition list, while noting that my picks were different in part because I restricted my attention to much larger population centers.  Florida also remarks that Stockholm measures as quite bohemian, while I wish to note I'm familiar with the Goth culture of Santiago, Chile but not so impressed by it as true bohemianism.

Addendum: Here's the start of Florida's definition: "The index charts the concentration of working artists, musicians, writers, designers, and entertainers across metropolitan areas."  I had something in mind more about the "feeling of the place," so I see L.A.'s "Downtown" as quite bohemian in spots but the city as less bohemian overall than Florida's index will indicate.

Thomas Mullaney June 4, 2010 at 11:00 am

Based on “the feel of the place” Hartford has to be the least bohemian, just like the swamp yankees want it.

phil June 4, 2010 at 11:06 am

Yes, I am surprised to see New Orleans listed as well.

DSmith June 4, 2010 at 11:17 am

I just got back from a 7 month stay in New Orleans, and I can think of several US cities I’ve stayed in that were less Bohemian.

Nick L June 4, 2010 at 11:19 am

So basically two of the most significant cities in the history of American music (N.O. and Memphis) are lacking in artistic presence, according to Florida. That makes sense…

tgrass June 4, 2010 at 11:25 am

If a bohemian can be indexed, are they truly bohemian?

Mesa June 4, 2010 at 11:28 am

If Salt Lake City is measured as “bohemian”, the ruler is broken.

Pepe June 4, 2010 at 11:30 am

Los Angeles also strikes me as a little odd, because most assessments of “Bohemianism” would evaluate the type of “artistic” work that people are doing and the general culture of the place. Sure, Los Angeles has a lot of areas that people would consider Bohemian, but the city as a whole certainly does not have that feel. I certainly associate it more with a sort of corporate entertainment industry that’s certainly not Bohemian.

Patrick June 4, 2010 at 11:34 am

The reason is that the index measures only those for whom arts, music, and other bohemian vocations count as their primary jobs. No one doubts the bohemian bona fides of New Orleans, where many pursue artistic creativity outside of their primary occupation.

Everyone in certain neighborhoods of New Orleans is a landscaper or a lawyer by day, but a drummer or a painter by night.

Pepe June 4, 2010 at 11:39 am

@Patrick

I understand that that’s the explanation, but to me that should seem to make N.O. a more Bohemian city. It’s a failure of the index to account for part-time jobs, hobbies, and the general character of places.

Alexandre June 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm

from Richard Florida’s discussion: “(…)the index measures only those for whom arts, music, and other bohemian vocations count as their primary jobs.”

it breaks out most of the index relevancy imo, the fact that some cities have a bigger proportion of professional artists, singers, composers, painters might tell little about how bohemian a city actually is. It might be telling just that these cities have less opportunities in other industries, compared to artistic fields, what doesn’t make it a bohemian city per se. As an alternative explaining variable i’d opt for variables like proportion of bars, restaurants, theaters, what else you conceive of typical “night-life” events per population.

I imagine this would change the rankings a lot, with cities like NY, New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle on the top… a guess, since i’ve not been in any of these – i’m not American.

Scondren June 4, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Paul Zrimsek- I’m both impressed and horrified by that comment.

Anthony June 4, 2010 at 1:39 pm

By ranking major metroplitan areas, Florida’s index is obscuring a lot of local variation. For example, the Bay Area is ranked relatively high, but that’s pretty much all in San Francisco and Oakland. The South Bay is probably among the least Bohemian areas in the country, and even San Francisco is living off its reputation – Oakland is the new place to be for experimental arts (because San Francisco is *so* expensive, even in its run-down areas).

agnostic June 4, 2010 at 1:50 pm

This whole discussion (this post and the earlier one) shows how corrupted the term “Bohemian” has become. Apparently it now means artistic / intellectual, perhaps libertine, or even cosmopolitan — its exact opposite.

So for most “Bohemian” city in history, we’re led to something like Samuel Johnson’s London. Except that was an epicenter of the Enlightenment, not of Romanticism, of which Bohemianism was an outgrowth. Do people not even remember the Beat Generation? They couldn’t have cared less about belonging to an intellectual circle, nightlife, or high-fiving each other based on how many different ethnic cuisines they’d mastered.

Florida’s method is flawed because it equates Bohemian with artistic, but it gave a correct answer nonetheless: Salt Lake City. Having been there a few times, I notice several things:

- Cheap land

- Only developed-world city with an age pyramid stacked in favor of adolescents and 20-somethings rather than 30+ (and all that youth vs. middle age entails)

- Lack of desire to fit in with the larger host nation, but not loudly flouting those conventions (which would be boring performance artist posing)

- Emphasis on tightly knit communities. Google shows the 2nd result overall, and the 1st related to a particular state, for “buy local” is Local First Utah. Google Trends shows that people from Utah are most likely to search for that term as well.

- Mountain states in general have the highest rates of arts attendance according to the NEA.

Maybe you could’ve been Bohemian in New York or Los Angeles back when there was still cheap land in the East Village or near the Sunset Strip, and with the Baby Boom to supply an unusually high concentration of young people into the otherwise graying modern world.

After the Baby Boom wore off during the mid-late ’80s, though, you’d have better luck wandering through that town in Twin Peaks.

Ed June 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm

I’ve not been to Salt Lake City, but agnostic makes a convincing argument.

I’ve tried to come up with my own criteria for a “bohemian” city and have settled on four factor:

1. Cheap cost of living. If rent and taxes are too high, you have to get a real 9-5 job and work and spend most of your time on that.

2. Weak police presence or little harrassment by police or neighbors. You are mostly left alone to do your own thing.

3. Despite the cheap cost of living and the weak police presence, the city is still functional. Bohemians still need money, so the economy has to be able to generate some sort of jobs. They can’t be in a situation where they have to arrange protection from the local drug gang.

4. There are other educated non-conformists around, and you can meet them. Otherwise you might as well be holed up in a cabin in the mountains.

A couple years ago in New York (in Brooklyn no less!) a cop arrested someone for drinking beer on his own stoop. New York lost any claim to be a bohemian city for that reason alone, but anyway the cost of living is much too high.

Someplace like Detroit doesn’t qualify for reason #3. Lots of second tier cities don’t qualify for reason #4, they are places to work normal jobs and raise families and there is not much space for much else.

The U.S. as a whole is not a bohemian friendly country. Housing costs are too high across the country, the culture is too conformist, the education system too spotty, and there are too many police (highest inceration rate in the world). But the U.S. is a big country and produced three bohemian cities, New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. But New York has gone mainstream and its increasingly looking like New Orleans may have to be abandoned.

Steve Sailer June 4, 2010 at 2:54 pm

In general, Richard Florida suffers from Malcolm Gladwellitis: he’s obtuse when it’s time to perform reality checks on his own ideas. For example, he pushed the idea that the best place in America to be a single woman looking for a husband was … the Los Angeles metropolitan area, based on Census data showing the largest surplus of single men over single women. It never occurred to him that illegal immigrant males are the primary cause of the differential (gay males being another reason), and that the kind of single women who read his books aren’t really looking for a Mixtec-speaking roofer.

A simple sense of reality would make clear that if a lady isn’t quite good-looking enough to snag a husband in Peoria, well, then Los Angeles ought to be the last place she ought to move to find a mate. The entertainment industry has imported four generations of good looking women to LA, so competition is extremely high.

Ryan Vann June 4, 2010 at 3:05 pm

“When counting musicians, do they include hip-hop artists? If so, would a place with a lot of them be a Bohemian Rap City?”

Well done.

thehova June 4, 2010 at 3:34 pm

“It’s almost like Richard Florida just makes shit up and passes it off as social science. Which he does.”

yes, I get that sense too.

Miguel Madeira June 4, 2010 at 8:27 pm

“The nerds who invent the new gizmos and the golf-playing business people who sell them tend to be relatively monogamous and family-oriented”

My idea is that nerds tend to be “anogamous”; then, even if their lifestyle is totally different from “artists”, they will live in the same kind of “habitat” (apartment buildings)

(this is only a theory, of course, specially because I live almost in the other side of the planet)

Miguel Madeira June 4, 2010 at 9:54 pm

“And, sure, booms and bohemians tend to correlate, but who really attracts whom to a metroplex? Do the engineers and salesguys actually pursue the gay art dealers and immigrant restaurateurs, or are Dr. Florida’s footloose favorites more likely to follow the money generated by the pocket-protector boys?”

Reading his paper, it seems that Florida’s theory is that the same conditions create bohemians and high-tech industry, more than one being the cause of the other.

Miguel Madeira June 4, 2010 at 10:01 pm

In a way or another, I think there is big similarity between cultural industry (the “bohemian index” of Florida is in reality a “cultural industry index”) and high-tech industry – both are industries with high fixed costs and low variable costs.

Perhaps, by some mechanism, this similarity of cost structures made these two industries to locate in similar places?

Bock June 5, 2010 at 1:11 am

bohemians are artists who DONT make a fucking living at it. what Florida is thinking of r called yuppies.

PQuincy June 5, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Unmarried Man, how kind of you to diss an entire region so comprehensively.

To be sure, Riverside is not on most people’s list of hip places (though is it less so than San Bernardino? What criteria are in play here…only cities over 250K?)

I think you’d find in general that mid-size cities at the edges of metropolitan regions are not going to be highly bohemian, because the population with bohemian tendencies will find it easy to participate in the larger metropolitan center, whose larger size leads to critical mass in various enterprises. Riverside is 65 miles from LA, making it a relatively easy drive for ‘real’ arts and culture, and probably clubs, which may suppress local efforts. Small towns out in the country — especially college towns — may have more going on, because there’s nowhere else to go for participants and audiences.

Hartford is in range of New York, in that respect, and some smaller cities not listed here would also probably fall in this category: Worcester and Providence, New Brunswick and Richmond (maybe too far from DC?), and so forth.

Idiot Patrol June 6, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Given that Florida runs a research institute in Toronto, he should know his index is flawed. Most of the “artists” and “entertainers” in this town work in advertising. If you make $100K shilling for Molson’s and Labatt’s, you are not a bohemian. Even if you do have a tattoo on your chest and eat brunch on Dundas West.

To keep the focus on Canada, the median Vancouver resident is around 40 years old. The city’s large developers celebrate its emerging status as an urban resort for retirees. Spend a day there. It clearly fails Cowen’s smell test. If most of the “creatives” in Toronto are advertisers, most of them in Vancouver are gofers on film sets. A slight exaggeration, but these two cities bear no comparison with LA, NYC, Portland, Montreal, etc.

vanya June 7, 2010 at 11:23 am

“If Salt Lake City is measured as “bohemian”, the ruler is broken.”

Um, no. I take it you have not been to SLC in the last 5-6 years. It’s no Boulder, but it’s also no longer a very LDS city either.

Riverside should not count – has anyone not from California ever heard of the place? I think Tyler was right that there should be some size cut off.

http://www.nicecoachhandbags.com August 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

One of the many annoying things about this Richard Florida person is that whenever someone discusses his ideas, at some point I start to think that they are talking about the state of Florida.

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