December 11, 2003
The economics of hip

This is fascinating, from that always fascinating world newspaper, the New York Times:

MEMPHIS

ON a Tuesday night at a downtown lounge here, Ryan Flickinger, 30, was preaching the economics of hip. Specifically, he was talking about young professionals, the most mobile class in American history, who are choosing not to come to this river city despite what seem attractive amenities: cheap housing, good music, excellent barbecue and a major employer, FedEx, with 30,000 jobs in the area.

"I want to start stealing those people from the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Birmingham," he said.

His audience was about six dozen members of Mpact Memphis, a group of 900 volunteers in their 20's and 30's who joined in 2001 to try to help Memphis lure people like them. In marketing terms, their mission is to build a brand.

This brand-building is part of a new wrinkle in urban development, said Anna McQuiston, 33, a volunteer at Mpact and the marketing director for a local real estate developer. "It's turning the formula around," she said. "You create an attractive place for people to live. Then the corporations will come after them."

Memphis, which has just over a million residents and is still scarred from the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is one of several cities that have come to see hip as a bottom line issue. In his 2002 book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," the economist Richard Florida wrote that the healthy cities of the 21st century will be those that can compete not for big companies but for educated, creative young people. This "creative class," he argued, will revitalize downtowns, start new companies, attract other entrepreneurs and build solid tax bases. Mr. Florida, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, says that Austin, Seattle and Portland are thriving in part because they became hip destinations for young talent – offering not just jobs, but cafes, clubs, tattoo parlors, tolerant gay neighborhoods and bike routes. "If places like Buffalo, Grand Rapids, Memphis and Louisville do not follow suit," he wrote, "they will be hard pressed to survive."

It's odd that Memphis, birthplace of rock and roll if I remember my Peter Hall correctly, should need to learn the importance of being hip. I guess all the chaos and insanity that went along with that (see Peter Hall) put them off hipness for about fifty years.

The good news is, as Hall says, they have plenty of hip history to work with.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:23 PM
Category: Music miscellaneousTown planning