On his recent visit to Mobile, urban planner Andres Duany made it clear (see Robbie McClendon’s article) that for Downtown Mobile to prosper it needs to attract the Creative Class – artists and musicians. These “colonists” begin the development that eventually leads to professionals – “dentists from New Jersey” – patronizing and investing in the neighborhood.
Economist Richard Florida of the University of Toronto described the Creative Class as “people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content.” The Creative Class is critical for the prosperity of post-industrial cities. The class not only creates new ideas and content that directly contribute to the economy, but their efforts create arts and entertainment that are essential for attracting professionals and entrepreneurs to a “real city.”
Florida stresses that to succeed a city must possess “the three ‘T’s”: Talent (educated/skilled population), Tolerance (for diversity), and Technology (infrastructure and knowledge). Leaders in this regard are Chapel Hill, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Austin, Atlanta, Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Lexington and Milwaukee. Think Apple CEO Tim Cook (who is from Robertsdale) and hundreds of other young, educated Mobilians who have fled to these cities. Within Alabama, Huntsville (and to a lesser degree Birmingham) have been successful in developing these as well.
“Florida and others have found a strong correlation between those cities and states that provide a more tolerant atmosphere toward culturally unconventional people, such as gays, artists, and musicians (exemplified by Florida’s “Gay Index” and “Bohemian Index” developed in The Rise of the Creative Class), and the numbers of Creative Class workers that live and move there (2002).”
Most of Mobile – both the citizens and “leadership” – have practically no concept of the importance of the Creative Class in the modern knowledge-based economy. Airbus is a blessing for Mobile, but if we don’t build a solid, cosmopolitan downtown around it we could easily slip into decline again. Unless the populace and leadership change their mindset Mobile will waste this opportunity. We need to use Airbus to attract intelligent and educated people to build businesses based in Mobile. Without a diversified economy – a “Plan B” – Mobile will suffer from the “Dutch disease” and will be at risk for local depressions at the whims of commodity prices and the decisions of the Boards of major employers (remember Brookley?). With a reliance on incentives, cheap labor and resource exploitation (i.e. a Third World economy) it is not a coincidence that Mobile has per-capita income significantly below the national average.
Mobile’s “young leaders” too often engage in unproductive or even counter-productive behavior. Watching college football, hunting and fishing are the accepted pastimes of most young Mobilians and are enjoyable for sure (we enjoy them ourselves occasionally), but the fact is when those pursuits occupy all our free time they do nothing to advance the community vis-a-vis the cities mentioned above. Even worse, we have encountered racism and other forms of intolerance and bigotry in some of our “young leaders.” (Mobile’s “Country Club Rednecks” are killing us in this respect as they are most likely to express these views in front of visiting and newly arrived executives, entrepreneurs and professionals.) If we are dependent upon “leaders” of this type Mobile is sure to remain mired in poverty and ignorance.
So we feel it is critical to recognize the young, creative people who are putting their efforts into actively bettering Mobile with their talents. You will find them spending their weekends building businesses Downtown and creating works of art. If Mobile is ever to catch up with Birmingham or Huntsville or New Orleans or Atlanta or Chapel Hill or even Austin, to any degree, we are dependent on these young men and women. We hope to see their role appreciated by all Mobilians.
Unfortunately these people are still far and few between in Mobile – diamonds in the rough.
We hope to name 10 or so people (plus or minus – we counted one couple together) to the Mod Mobile under 40 for the first four years until we have “40 under 40” and then we hope to build to a rolling 40 members after that. They will receive recognition during Arts Alive/SouthSounds weekend (April 12-14).
We are proud to announce the following people as members of the 2012 class of Mod Mobile 10 Under 40: