>Plug and Play: Western Tribune Column 5-27-09

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This is my column from The Western Tribune this week. (Images added for drama)

Is Bessemer a “plug and play” community?

Are we a community where everyone fits in and where newcomers can find opportunity and a support system while being themselves?

I have been a close observer of Bessemer over the past decade and still can’t answer that.

Richard Florida, a professor of economic development at Carnegie Mellon University, believes that it is important to be such a community to attract what he calls the creative class.

Florida’s research focuses on larger cities, and suburbs are always linked to their big sisters even when we would rather not be. Birmingham ranked number 9 out of 23 medium cities on the Creativity Index developed by Florida in a 2002 study.

But we are not Birmingham. If Bessemer wants to be the hub of the area, we need to keep and attract our own creative class and here is why.

The creative class that Florida writes about includes creative professionals such as lawyers and health care providers and business managers that have to use creative problem solving in their daily lives. But also included are university professors, writers, editors, artists, analysts and opinion writers and such.

People who are creative in their daily work also bring that ability home and into their neighborhoods. In general, they enjoy outdoor life, and desire walking trails and parks but also cultural venues such as art galleries and theaters and concert halls. When these things are in place, according to Florida, people don’t try “to get away from it all,” they want “to get in to it all, and do it with eyes wide open.”

Graphic credit Randi Wolfe, Northern Illinois University

Diversity is valued by the creative class because they value a mix of influences. One measure cited by Florida is the “Gay Index” developed by a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon. They found that the hot spots of high tech industries and talented people correlated well with concentrations of gay people. When they applied statistics, they found high correlation between the gay index and several other measures of high tech growth.

All this boils down to: if Bessemer wants to be the hub, and wants to retain and attract talent both for the arts and for industry, we need to become a diverse and inclusive community that values all of its residents and recognizes the contributions of all. At this point, I am not sure that Bessemer does.

(End of column)


Flag Wars is a documentary about…well, you can read. Flag Wars. Maybe this should be aired in Bessemer.

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