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Mod Mobile 10 Under 40 – Class of 2012

27 Dec 2012

written by Valso

Mod Mobile 40 Under 40 - Class of 2012

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:

Dan Anderson:  Photographer and videographer for Lagniappe and Mod Mobilian


Courtney Dreher Matthews: Artist; makeup artist; owner of Lunatix & Co.


Elizabet Elliot: Artist; founder of the Rumor Union.


April Hopkins:  Artist; co-proprietor of PortAl Studio.
Zach Depolo: Artist; co-proprietor of PortAl Studio.  Founder of the Downtown Creative and Wellness Foundation.


Carson Kennedy: Filmmaker and Program Director for the South Alabama Film Festival.


Brent “Pluto” Parker:  Musician/rapper and entrepreneur (owner of Club Infinity)


Thomas Smith: Director for Mobile’s Fighting Owl Films.
Erin Lilley: Actress for Mobile’s Fighting Owl Films.


Heath Underwood: Singer and songwriter for El Cantador; contributor to Tributaries 2012 anthology.

Jesmyn Ward: Author, winner of the National Book Award for Salvage the Bones; Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Alabama.


Bravo, Valso! Sounds like something I could have said. Well, actually…

“When onstage with Yo-Yo Ma, Duany tossed out casual references to other places, South Beach, Manhattan, the Left Bank of Paris. What he never expounded upon was how the tolerance and opportunity already in place enabled those bohemian enclaves to thrive. It’s hard to keep the ‘risk oblivious’ in place when the struggle to survive is too steep, when they feel too alienated or too poor.

“Mobile’s only barrier to injecting greater life into downtown is between the ears of its residents. I know a colleague, someone who easily falls into the ‘let’s be positive,’ Chamber of Commerce/booster description and he constantly tells me that everyone who lives in West Mobile is petrified of venturing east of The Loop for fear they’ll be set upon by bands of marauders. The critical mass needed to jumpstart downtown can’t occur while that lives.

“More so than building codes or easily proffered compliments, that’s where the elusive answers lie. A visiting prophet can’t get you that, only an infusion of local bravery and a commitment to change can.”

Little of what you say in your rather apt post is new, Valso. Still accurate, just not anything unknown to those of us who see the world beyond Mobile. Of the three Ts you list, the first two are the ones our town needs to make the most headway toward improving.

I’m also glad to hear someone else brave enough to say outright that we bear the hallmarks of a Third World Economy. That’s been the case for a long time, since the South started pilfering textile mills from the Northeast.

Perhaps what might be of use would be to ask some of these folks listed above what their experiences elsewhere have taught them about Mobile’s strengths, weaknesses and possible goals. Dan Anderson is from Memphis, Gideon Kennedy is from Atlanta, elizabet elliott has lived in New Zealand and on Puget Sound. What do they see that we should heed?

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