Chicago: Creative Capital of the Universe?

Fast Company has released the 2008 Fast Cities report. Chicago and London are its cities of the year.

What intrigued me was the statement that Chicago is the creative capital of the universe (at least for 2008, presumably).

The article then offers discussion as to why this is from “creative” residents, including Grant Achatz (business person) who insists that an environment in which people will take risks is key, as workers but also as consumers and in life generally.

“People perceive New York as the most creative place, but it’s not as lively as it is here. More risks are taken here. You have a community that’s willing to embrace food for what it is, look past preconceived notions, and not be scared to try something new.”

The attitude behind this bold statement fits Richard Florida’s assessment of Chicago’s personality as being one of an extrovert. Interestingly enough, however, in Florida’s research Chicago did not come through as a place particularly open to new experience.

Others thought that Chicago’s grit gave it an authenticity as well as the edgyness that makes people think.

Chris Ware (Graphic Designer):

It’s an honest city, and because of that, it has a grim, refreshing isolation to it.”

Brad Morris (Second City Comedy Ensemble Member)

A great creative place has to have great art, great food, and a combination of beauty and grit to be inspired by. Chicago has all of that.”

While Chicago no doubt has lots to offer and tons more potential as a city, the creative capital title seems a stretch. But, if the point is to get everyone thinking differently about Chicago, and re-thinking any older images they may have had — then it worked for me. (Calling the Bay Area or New York a creative capital would hardly have been newsworthy.)
Here are some economic facts about Chicago, some of which really surprised me.

  • Chicago has a faster growing economy than either New York or Los Angeles, at 1.9%.
  • In 2007 it had the 7th fastest growing population among US cities (not sure if this is the metro area or Chicago proper, presumably the latter).
  • 29% of downtown Chicago residents have graduate degrees (over 3 times the national average)
  • Chicago is the number one city for business investment and expansion according to Site Selection Magazine.
  • 30 Fortune-500 companies are based in the Chicago Metro, second only to New York in the USA.

addendum: highly recommend a read of the post on the same topic by Brendan at Where Blog.

3 comments

  1. KenF says:

    I lived in Chicago from the late 60s to the early 80s, and even then I felt Chicago was a very creative place. However, I often felt that many creative enterprises started in Chicago, and then moved on to New York for recognition.

  2. Brendan says:

    From what I gather, that still happens a lot, and it’s not just a Chicago thing. I think that probably has something to do with NY being head and shoulders above the rest of the pack in this country for finance. You start out somewhere else where you can actually afford to, and the wheat separates from the chaff, rises to the top, and heads for Manhattan. The point has been argued so many times, but I’ll say it again for posterity: New York is not where good ideas come from, but where they go to for funding.

    Oh, thanks for the addendum, Wendy! :-D

  3. Mose says:

    Chicago has a faster growing economy than either New York or Los Angeles, at 1.9%.

    In 2007 it had the 7th fastest growing population among US cities (not sure if this is the metro area or Chicago proper, presumably the latter).

    Right, but what they’ve done is to cherry-pick using percentages in the first figure and gross headcount in the second. Take its gross economic increase and its percentage metro population growth, on the other hand, and the surprise disappears. It is easier for a smaller economy to grow by a larger percentage without really saying anything, just as it is easier for a geographically enormous census tract to register high #s than high %s.

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