The ‘creative city’ — the city of tolerance and cycle paths, gays and galleries — is qualitatively different from the creativity that Jacobs alludes to. The impulse to quantify the former is, unfortunately, usually to the detriment of the latter. In striving to climb to the top of the league tables, cities focus on how they can create the conditions that stimulate creativity quickly and cheaply (although it rarely ends up being either), missing or neglecting the role that individualised, neighbourhood creativity plays; and which is often already present in the city. ‘Creativity’ has been hijacked as a pseudonym for the promised land of economic prosperity, in effect reduced to marketing a city, creating a competitive city brand.
A thick city labour market allows for better matching between workers and jobs and there are two models in the literature. Helsley and Strange (1990) showed that a large city allows for a better match between different workers and firms’ job requirements and this enhances efficiency. On the other hand, Duranton (1998) argued that a large market allows workers to become more specialised and, therefore, to be more efficient. Either way, the better matching gives rise to increasing returns and growth. The cheerleaders for the importance of the creative class are thinking about these benefits and specifically for a subset of the labour force in high-skilled, high-value added occupations. There is enough evidence that innovation and creative destruction are key drivers of growth.
However, local policymakers’ efforts to foster the creative class are often flawed. There are clear external benefits to having the creatives in your city, but will you be able to crowd them in with a flagship opera house or a bike sharing scheme? The relationship between creative places and agglomerations of technology, talent and tolerance probably runs both ways. But in a South African economy, competing on the world stage, it won’t hurt to have good bistro’s, or maybe some bike paths!