“Mobile creatives” / Hansjürgen Schmölzer

Hansjürgen Schmölzer - Kulturunternehmer, Journalist und Dokumentarfilmer

The places that attract creatives

— Hansjürgen Schmölzer

The competition over “the creatives” has become global. Every city, every region, every country is trying to persuade them to move there. These people are also highly mobile. The question therefore arises as to which framework conditions locations must be able to offer in order to be attractive to “creatives”. Can they still be tempted at all with promises of jobs and money? Or are there very different factors that play an important role, such as freedom of speech and the media, open, democratic and multicultural societies, urban planning, building culture or the music scene in a city? One thing certainly appears to be the case: already, “Silicon Valley” is no longer the top location it once was.

When the former mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, said in 2003 that “Berlin is poor but sexy”¹, he was referring not only to its socio-economic state and zeitgeist at that time. He incidentally also found the briefest possible formula to characterise the astonishing power of attraction exerted by Berlin on creatives all over the world.

His description consolidates almost all the elements that the American economist and political scientist Richard Florida identified in his publication “The Rise of the Creative Class”², which has now been promoted to a standard work, as the determining parameters for the power of attraction of cities for creatives: an open, tolerant, multicultural society, a lively culture scene with a high density of creatives from a wide range of different areas, and uninhibited access to modern technologies. Florida calls this the three T’s: tolerance, talent and technology.

Put in extremely simplistic terms, the attractiveness of cities for creatives, according to Florida, can above all be gauged on the basis of two key indicators: how lively is the music scene in this city? And how tolerant is the city towards its gay community? It is now more than a decade since Florida’s book was first published and Wowereit made his claim. During this time, both the socio-economic framework conditions and the dominant cultural values within the milieu of these “creatives” and the society that surrounds them have altered considerably.

The global financial crisis, fundamentalist terror and – particularly from a European perspective – the current major migration movements have led to a split and a polarisation within societies in the economically more highly developed countries, which in some places has also taken on some clearly anti-democratic features.

It doesn’t require much imaginative effort to picture a situation in which cities such as Warsaw or Istanbul that just a short time ago were still regarded as having a potentially dynamic future as creative cities³ will not be particularly attractive to creatives in the near future, when freedom of speech and the media, free research and teaching, the independence of the judiciary, and thus an open and democratic society overall, are coming increasingly under pressure.

The global financial crisis and the Snowden revelations have considerably considerably widened the already latent critical distance between the financial, economic and political elites on the one hand and the intellectual creative milieu on the other.

At the same time, right-wing populist and nationalist movements, both in Europe and North America, are driving the ruling politicians in the western democracies before them – in a direction that also alienates the vast majority of this creative milieu.

These developments are not without impact on the competition to attract creative minds, which has now taken on global proportions. It is precisely those countries with few raw material resources that regard the creatives as being one of the most important factors for success for their economic and wealth development in the future. Creatives as means of production, as it were – but means that cannot simply be purchased for money.

In considering the framework conditions that locations must provide in order to attract “the creatives”, clarification is first needed as to which groups of people are actually meant.

If one views creatives as being not only those individuals who are active in the cultural, artistic and creative industry fields in the narrow sense, but instead broadens the term to include all those who spend their everyday lives in creative activity or who earn their living by producing their own mental or creative output, from scientists, software developers and engineers to journalists and those who are still training for these professions or are studying, then their share of the growing population in many urban and metropolitan regions in the industrialised countries is often more than 50%.⁴

Creatives are highly mobile

Richard Florida describes this group of people as the creative class. These individuals have an above-average level of education and are above all mobile to an above-average degree. However, the socioeconomic background is so broad that the use of the term social class as defined by Dahrendorf⁵ or Bourdieu⁶, for example, is not practicable. I therefore suggest that they be described as mobile creatives⁷ below, since they are the most mobile group among the global population. Their reasons for being mobile are very wideranging and of different longevity: alongside a quantitatively high number of private journeys, they also include participation in conferences, project work and engagements, research residencies, visiting semesters, tours, research trips, further training, studies abroad, etc. through to the temporary or permanent relocation of their residential base.

What attracts these people in particular?

The high level of willingness to move location among creatives has led to the assumption that they only need enough money to hand to enable them to combine the relevant technologies, training facilities and job offers and “cluster” around creatives at any random location. Then, they jazz up their newly-founded company with a relaxed corporate culture that resembles a student style of working, and that’s it, no more effort required. The Silicon Valley of the past few decades acts as a role model here. Indeed, business delegations from provincial regions throughout the world make the pilgrimage to Silicon Valley on a weekly basis in order to copy what they see there.

Yet they are probably already studying a model that belongs to the past: many creatives are no longer interested in relocating to “the Valley”, or are moving away from it, even though they have the opportunity of earning far more there they they would in Berlin, Auckland, Barcelona, Vienna or Graz. Why?

Core values have changed

Core values have shifted considerably in the last ten years. Even the prospect of more stock options on some start-up company and becoming a multi-millionaire in your late twenties after flotation on the stock market is no longer sufficiently attractive. Finance and industry managers fixated on numbers and bonuses, as well as politicians, have difficulty in understanding this change. Since the bursting of the dotcom bubble and the financial crisis, the speculator’s dream has become discredited, and is now only of interest to a minority of “creatives”. Instead, individual fulfilment has become increasingly important, as has an inspiring environment sustained on the ground by a broad range of cultural offerings and a high degree of diversity among subcultural milieus and lifestyle concepts that are not merely oriented around financial success. This by default also requires dense, multicultural urban structures which the greenfield projects in Silicon Valley are unable to offer with their campus-like company complexes and the largely socially homogenised sleepy bungalow settlements that surround them.

Christoph Kerschbaumer is one example of the exodus from Silicon Valley. He ranks among the leading software developers in the world for browser content security, and has quit his highly-paid job at Mozilla in California in order to return to Austria, because the quality of life and leisure time, social climate and cultural offerings there are far more attractive to him than at his former place of work. However, because Mozilla is unwilling to simply let one of its best minds go, it has set up a company in Europe especially for Kerschbaumer, with the sole purpose of keeping his knowledge and skills for itself.

This is just one, albeit extreme, example of how conditions have begun to reverse. While formerly, creatives moved to those locations where the most attractive employers had their major business bases in their field, now companies are in competition with each other to attract the best talent, and are increasingly moving to the places where these people themselves would like to live – and where they can also survive financially.

One of the main reasons for this turnaround in the dynamic – in light of the precarious financial situation in which many creatives currently live, it would probably be euphemistic to talk of a turnaround in power relationships – is that in the creative milieu in particular, the notion of a longstanding, perhaps even lifelong relationship between employer and employee, with which we became familiar from the industrial era, has largely vanished.

The “digital natives”, who are now in their 20s, 30s and 40s, and who largely constitute the milieu of the creatives, grew up in an age where they no longer experienced a long-term relationship between employers and their employees.

The “work placement generation” has now become the “project commission generation”. At the same time, not wanting to commit themselves in the long term is also an expression of an inner need to work creatively per se, and is part of a way of living that has been very consciously selected by many creative people. Constantly changing constellations, work tasks and team structures are ultimately also a source of inspiration and the basis for their own further creative development.

These circumstances also influence the question of where creatives make their home. While it used to be enough for one single attractive employer to draw creatives to a certain location with a specific job offer, for the creatives of today, this is no longer the case, purely for practical reasons. Nowadays, “fixed employment” has been increasingly supplanted by often very short-term project commissions and freelancer jobs.

In order to be able to survive financially in such an environment, these creatives are dependent on finding the ideal balance between several factors. One of these is a sufficient number of clients and project partners on site, so that there is a prospect for a reasonably continuous flow of orders for various different temporary project orders. Another factor is affordable living and accommodation costs, so that creatives don’t have to worry about not being able to survive during periods when contracts are thin on the ground.

Locations with high living costs or few dominant clients are therefore becoming increasingly less attractive. In pricey London, this pressure to move out is already being clearly felt in some areas of the creative industry.

For example, “poor but sexy” Berlin has succeeded quite well in recent years in enticing a significant market share of post-production and visual effects orders, a steadily growing branch of the film industry, away from the Thames and towards the river Spree, because the highly qualified key employees who are needed prefer – and can afford – to live in Berlin. Large contract volumes for Hollywood productions have also emigrated across the Atlantic to Berlin – and not just as a result of individual tax incentives. However, the shortage of residential accommodation in Berlin and the rise in living costs that result will perhaps soon trigger new pressure to move on to other, cheaper, cities.

Creatives are looking for places offering cultural diversity

The increasing disappearance of classic full-time employment in this segment has gone hand in hand with a shift in attitude towards one’s own role and role setting in the creative field, which is also moving culturally further away from the traditional, linear career patterns in the industrial and service sector. Pursuing different activities and working on several different jobs at the same time is not just a consequence of financial necessity, but increasingly also reflects an interest in personal fulfilment. Graphic designers pursue their singer-songwriter music projects, communications consultants open up microbreweries on the side, journalists set up their own fashion beverage label, university lecturers hire themselves out as DJs to create a life balance, and casting agents found urban gardening groups and organise flea markets to inject new life into the inner city areas where they live.⁸ Sharing economy concepts, the do-it-yourself and repair economy, the independent appropriation of public space for creative activities, and the resulting integration of social cohabitation are forms of expression of this cultural milieu, which needs a culturally diverse urban environment, one that can be independently moulded, in order to develop.

Place matters.

When the Styrian state government decided several years ago to remove creative studies programmes from Graz and relocate them to the provincial town of Kapfenberg, which was suffering from a chronic lack of students, a wild storm of protest broke out among both students and teachers in Graz.⁹ They were adamantly against the idea of “shrivelling dry in Kapfenberg”¹⁰, where “there is almost nothing except a station”¹¹. Ultimately, the politicians were forced to concede that creative minds cannot simply be forced to relocate to places that do not meet their lifestyle expectations, and finally dropped the proposal. However, it is not just the diversity of urban cultures that plays a role when it comes to the question of where creatives want to live.

Creatives avoid intolerant places

Nationalism, culturally and intellectually rigid social orders which restrict freedoms of belief, have hegemonial or even theocratic features, and are highly discriminatory towards minorities, as well as towards ways of living and forms of expression that are alien to the majority population, fail to provide creatives with the living conditions offered by an open society that they need. Richard Florida refers to this when he cites the visibility of the gay and lesbian community as being an indicator for the attractiveness of a city for creatives. After all, this is a manifestation of the structures that dominate politically overall. What in Vienna, Berlin or San Francisco might be an inherent part of society leads to near panic attacks among the political caste in Moscow, Abu Dhabi or Montgomery/Alabama.¹²

Creatives are drawn to places that offer democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of the media

Dictatorship, autocracy, control of the media and restrictions on freedom of speech are of course obstacles to the dynamic free development of creativity. On the one hand, it is true that precisely in societies that are strongly controlled by the state, particularly creative forms of subversion of the state control systems have frequently been developed. Such forms of creative civic resistance – from the Samisdat movement in the former Eastern Bloc countries to the “El Paquete Semanal” USB stick network, which trounced the state censorship of the Internet in Cuba using weekly data packages with news and films that were passed from hand to hand, to the online activists avoiding Internet surveillance in China or Russia through electronic means – might promote solidarity within the groups in question. However, they lack the necessary element of freedom in order to be able to generate sufficient innovation and creative exchange processes that reach deep into everyday life and ultimately also into the economy of these societies.

This is also not something that can be successfully simulated through creativity that has been bought in at international level with an injection of large amounts of capital and central state planning. While for some architects, it might be an interesting challenge to design city districts or even entire cities according to a master plan and without the irritating obstacles presented by the cumbersome citizens’ participation procedures characteristic of western democracies, such ready-made concepts, from China to the Gulf States, have until now not really succeeded in establishing a dynamic, multi-layered, creative environment in these places. Sterile marble or glass palaces do not engender a bubbling, dynamic creative community.

Architecture, urban planning and urban development policy play a crucial role in the development of creative milieus – but in a different way to how the city planners with their beloved master plans, as well as some architects who are convinced of the effectiveness of their comprehensive design concepts, might imagine. The sterile lifelessness of the failed experiments of many of these supposedly highly successful, centrally controlled urban district development concepts can be visited in numerous cities in democratic countries – from the Hafencity in Hamburg to La Défense in Paris, to the Seestadt Aspern in Vienna. You can talk these places up as you will, but creatives simply don’t want to move there.


Creatives want to be involved in shaping the city in which they live

Creatives are looking for spaces which they can continuously redesign and mould with their ideas.

The many European city centres in particular that have grown organically over many centuries offer a type of natural habitat protection for creative lifestyles. Structures such as these change in small steps and do not lend themselves to grandiose master plans – unless entire old urban districts are suddenly torn down.

As a result, they also offer space for small-scale creative and economic experiments, as well as for a multi-layered, diverse, constantly changing cultural scene. Multiculturalism in all definitions of the word is also one of the most important sources of inspiration for creative processes.

From the perspective of a European optimist, it is possible to venture the following prognosis: more than anywhere else, European cultural cities in open, tolerant, democratic societies have the potential to be of particular benefit to creatives. I say “have the potential”, since this requires shrewd policies that succeed in preserving this open, pluralistic, tolerant and democratic society in the future.

The author

Hansjürgen Schmölzer is a cultural entrepreneur, journalist and communications consultant. He is editor-in-chief and publisher of the culture magazine CREATIVE AUSTRIA and as a TV journalist and documentary filmmaker covers socio-cultural, cultural and contemporary history topics. As a communications consultant, he was responsible for the marketing and communications concepts of numerous major
international cultural projects (Graz 2003, Linz 2009, Wiener Mozartjahr, Haydnjahr 2009, etc.) For his work, he has been awarded the Austrian State Prize for Marketing and the Globe Award for the bestcommunicated culture project worldwide (Graz 2003).

1 Klaus Wowereit in einem Interview in Focus Money, 6. November 2003.
2 Richard Florida: The Rise of the Creative Class. New York: Basic Books 2002; Richard Florida: The Rise of the 
Creative Class Revisited. 2. vollkommen überarb. Aufl. New York: Basic Books 2014.
3 Vgl. Yigit Evren, Zeynep Merey Enil: Towards a creative city. Online URL: http://www.mmnieuws.nl/article/
towards-a-creative-city/ 2012; http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/24724/1/10-creative-ci
ties-to-leave-the-country-for (Stand: 09.09.2016).
4 Vgl. US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey, 
2010. Online URL: http://www.bls.gov/oes/. Analyse von Kevin Stolnarik. Zitiert nach Florida, 2014.
5 Vgl. Ralf Dahrendorf: Soziale Klassen und Klassenkonflikt in der industriellen Gesellschaft, Stuttgart: Enke 
1957, insbes. S. 231.
6 Vgl. Pierre Bourdieu: Die feinen Unterschiede. Kritik der gesellschaftlichen Urteilskraft. Frankfurt am Main: 
Suhrkamp 1982, insbes. S. 31, S. 162.
7 Vgl. Hansjürgen Schmölzer: Living Cultures and Creative Societies – Mobile Creatives and policies to attract 
these people, Case Study Creative Austria. In: UNWTO/UNESCO Conference Report. Tourism and Culture – 
Building a New Partnership, Siem Reap 2015, S. 82f.
8 Die genannten Beispiele stammen alle aus dem persönlichen Bekanntenkreis des Autors.
9 Online URL: http://derstandard.at/3032420/Kampf-um-Kapfenberg (Stand: 09.09.2016).
10 Online URL: http://wittenbrink.net/lostandfound/in-kapfenberg-v/ (Stand: 09.09.2016).
11 Online URL: http://diepresse.com/home/bildung/bildungallgemein/331685/StudentenMangel_Ungelieb
te-FH-Kapfenberg (Stand: 09.09.2016).
12 Das Webportal http://www.spartacusworld.com/gaytravelindex.pdf erstellt jährlich eine weltweites 
Gay-Travelindex Länderranking, das 14 Kriterien bewertet und eine erstaunlich hohe Korrelation aufweist.