Pratt Center

June 29, 2016

Addressing Inequality By Diversifying NYC's Creative Sector

Originally published by Crains New York on June 29, 2016


To the Editor:


The headline of a recent blog post by Greg David was “NY thrives on inequality,” but that is true only if you confine your definition of thriving to tax revenue. If you look at the cost of inequality and how it affects people’s everyday lives, it’s not such a great strategy.


Today’s growth is driven by the “creative economy,” which is mushrooming. Employment in many of the creative sectors, from film and television production to architecture and advertising, and tech sectors such as the design and operation of computer systems to internet publishing and broadcasting, are growing at rates 50% to 100% faster than the overall growth rate.


The continued growth of the creative sector is essential to the well-being of the city’s economy, but simultaneously threatens our city by exacerbating both income disparity and the bifurcation of neighborhoods. Blacks and Hispanics make up more than 50% of the city’s residents but hold only 20% of jobs in the tech sector.


An economic-development strategy that capitalizes on New York’s extraordinary wealth of creative entrepreneurs can spur business and job growth, but it can also lead to higher housing costs that wipe out the economic gains for the other sectors. Research by Richard Florida, who coined the expression “creative class” and inspired cities across the United States to try to attract creatives through land-use strategies that promote amenity-rich neighborhoods, has recently expressed that not all economic boats are lifted evenly: “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits … While less-skilled blue-collar and service workers also earn more money in knowledge-based metros, those gains disappear once their higher housing costs are taken into account.”


The combination of a creative-class strategy and lack of diversity or inclusion in the creative sector is contributing to the segregation of cities. To continue to reap the benefits of innovation-inspired growth, cities must develop strategies which build a truly inclusive pipeline reflecting the diversity of their residents.


The de Blasio administration has already taken some critical steps: Universal prekindergarten and programs such as Computer Science For All are essential investments in our residents’ futures. But the city needs to up its game throughout the Department of Education and improve the quality of STEAM teaching, not just computer science. It needs to ramp up exposure and access for low-income residents to opportunities in the creative economy through vastly expanded business involvement in the schools, mentorships, internships and summer jobs.


The city could replicate the model developed for the film industry which includes not only a mayoral office to help the industry but a public-relations campaign to increase awareness of opportunities in the film industry and underwrite training and placement to help residents, particularly people of color, seize those opportunities.


Finally, the city needs to vastly expand partnerships with New York’s wealth of design schools, which drive much of the growth. Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, New York University, the School of Visual Arts and Cooper Union award more than 4,200 degrees in the design disciplines each year, which over the long term can build a more inclusive creative economy.


Adam Friedman



Pratt Center for Community Development