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Rise up, bohemians; economy rests on you

sandra thompson
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© St. Petersburg Times
published June 8, 2002

Tampa has made another list, and while I tend to think these things are silly, I'm not above using them when they suit my purposes. This is not the most simple kind of list to understand, but then it's not for simple people. It's the Creativity Index, which one egghead now is saying is the most important barometer of economic growth.

And to score high on the Creativity Index, a city needs -- in addition to the economically useful techies and patent-holders -- a healthy class of gays and bohemians.

Yes, bohos and gays mean money! Get the word out.

I didn't know there were any actual bohemians left. I mean, Birkenstocks went mainstream years ago, but, in this instance, "bohemians" means, in a broad sense, artists. In his book, The Rise of the Creative Class, Carnegie Mellon professor Richard Florida says that large concentrations of these types of people set up a place for an economic blast. That's because high-tech types (ie., nerds, weirdos, if you compare them to, say, the average accountant) like to live in places that have an atmosphere of creativity, openness, diversity and tolerance. No surprise San Francisco is No. 1 on the list of the 49 cities with more than 1-million population. No surprise Silicon Valley is right outside guess what city.

I feared Tampa wouldn't make the list at all (They forgot us!) or would be numero 40-something, but, in fact, we're No. 26. The whole metro area must have been taken to get us into the million-plus area, but there we are, nowhere near Austin (No. 2), San Diego or Boston (tied for 3), but at least we beat out Orlando (32) and Miami (29).

What got Tampa ahead of the likes of, say, Salt Lake City (27)? Our gay population, for one thing. On the Creativity Index, diversity and tolerance -- qualities demanded by techie-types -- is measured by the number of gays in a place. (The author has it all figured out.) Tampa ranks 26th out of 268 regions of all sizes on the gay index, way above its rank in the other three criteria: technology, Creative Class (percentage of people who think for a living) and Innovation (patents per capita).

So, wow, in upping us on the list, gays have done a lot more for our civic good than providing great designer ties at South Tampa yard sales. But after my initial relief that we're not at rock bottom, I have to admit, 26th out of 49 is not a number to be really happy about, especially with a large university to boost our numbers.

Well, downtown's cultural arts district will change all that, don't you think?

Uh, no. Not as it stands now. The new art museum, yes, in a sense. The building, designed by internationally regarded architect Rafael Vinoly, will bring Tampa recognition for a significant piece of architecture. And, right downtown, it will have high visibility, an immediate signal that Tampa is hip to the arts and design.

But while the people who attended the open meetings for the arts district originally envisioned just the kind of place that would attract artists -- real, working artists -- and other bohemian types, none of that kind of thing has gotten on the drawing boards. A history museum? I don't think so. Expensive high-rise condos with boat slips? Nah. What these people want is someplace interesting to live that's affordable.

But, in Tampa, everything new seems to be going for the upscale: Harbour Island, downtown, the new projects in the Channel District.

Bohemians don't make that kind of money. If they live on their art, and that's not likely, they're paid by the piece or the performance: a painting, a poem, a concert. A lot of them are teaching to support themselves; you already know what that pays. Which is why it seems that all the bohemians in Tampa live in the far reaches of Seminole Heights, where no one who comes to town on a convention will ever see them, or know they're here.

Or that we're number 26, not 49.

-- Sandra Thompson is a writer living in Tampa. She can be reached at City Life appears on Saturday.

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