Keep Talented People Here.
So here's the big picture. The future of any city depends substantially upon its ability to sustain an environment where young, talented professionals want to live and thrive. In Charleston, that environment is taking shape; recently, we have experienced a creative and economic renaissance through local contributions to the arts, cuisine, nightlife, business, and the tech sector. Thanks to this evolution, Charleston is no longer just a city with a rich history – it is becoming a haven for cultural trailblazers.
This is not a fringe concept. Cities across the country are bending over backwards to attract creative talent – and that means creating the appropriate environment:
"In recent years ... analysts who study municipal trends — city and regional planners, sociologists, and economists — have found the connection. They are seeing a dollar value in luring young, smart, creative people to communities as a way to attract business to the region. Local governments are becoming aware that their area’s future economic development depends on developing the right environment where creative people want to live and work. In other words, when the arts flourish, communities flourish.
Cities such as Boston, Santa Fe, Asheville, and Austin have figured out that fostering a strong arts scene, a lively nightlife, and an engaged metropolitan university contribute to the city’s economic prosperity."
-UALR Magazine, "The Dollars and Sense of Culture," Linda Holzer, Fall/Winter 2007, Vol. 3 No. 2.
Likewise, the New York Times recently stated in "Where Young College Graduates Are Choosing to Live": “There is a very strong track record of places that attract talent becoming places of long-term success,” said Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard and author of “Triumph of the City.” “The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain [young] smart people and then get out of their way.”
Bottom line? Figure out what elements of the local cultural environment make creative people want to live here, and promote those elements. Richard Florida states in The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community, and Everyday Life: "[T]here are no magic bullets. Growing an organic ecosystem is an organic process. Each place has unique assets to do this.”
Maintaining Charleston's burgeoning renaissance means carefully cultivating a wide variety of highly volatile and interconnected variables – even when that means simply not interfering with what young creative professionals are building. Many readers may be familiar with that all-too common scenario of the active, gifted musician, artist, or innovative business person who gets tired of trying to make something happen in Charleston, and so moves to Austin, Chicago, Brooklyn, or any other usual suspect viewed as more hospitable to ambitious creative types.
Charleston's Evolving Cultural Brand.
So what does that vibrant, creative environment look like? The answer could very well be Charleston. The city has captured lightning in a bottle: a true creative, ambitious community connected by the unmistakable sense that something exciting is happening.
"Fast-forward more than a decade and you'd hardly recognize [Charleston]. A booming tech start-up economy and a thriving arts and restaurant scene have helped this old Civil War tourist magnet do something that places across the USA have been trying to do for decades: attract young, college-educated workers and keep them there as they start families."
-USA Today, "Post-College Towns Brim With Youth, Jobs," April 27, 2014 (emphasis added).
As our spokesperson Elliott A. Smith states: "City officials should not be afraid to understand younger culture and adapt to it. This may sound abstract or new agey, but it doesn’t have to be. If you want to engage/attract/retain YCPs [young creative professionals], then you have to understand them. The fact is that YCPs have different interests – and different ideas regarding an ideal quality of life – as compared to past generations and demographics. Cities should first commit to understanding and embracing those interests. In my observation, experience, and reading, these interests include authenticity, diversity, social justice, transparency through technology, inclusive discussions, intellectually honest debate, open-mindedness, forward thinking, art, music, culture, cuisine, and a vibrant nighttime economy."
The New York Times again echoes this perspective: “'[Young professionals] want something exciting, culturally fun, involving a lot of diversity — and their fathers’ suburban lifestyle doesn’t seem to be all that thrilling to many of them,' Mr. Glaeser said."
Please understand – an evolving young culture does not require forsaking Charleston's authentic charm or architectural brand. In fact, those elements are an integral aspect of Charleston's draw to young professionals. To treat the two as mutually exclusive is a disservice to both. Rather, the evolution is in changing concepts of quality of life and culture. Nationally recognized local cuisine, a sophisticated and established art and music scene (including home town heroes on a national stage and a truly remarkable crop of local talent), active creative professionals, award-winning non profits uniting local businesses, a vibrant midtown nightlife attracting a professional post-college demographic, marked tech sector growth, and national conferences like DIG SOUTH have all combined to enrich Charleston's landscape with a fresh, unique local identity – an evolution from the more quaint and limited "Civil War tourist magnet" brand to which many may be accustomed.
Connecting Culture and Civics By Engaging Young Professionals in the Local Political Process.
With all due respect, any looming chilling effects threatening to draw talent to other cities may be due to the generational misalignment between (A) those making policy and (B) those making culture. BACE League hopes to advocate the idea that young creative professionals cannot stop at making cultural contributions – they must also become engaged in the local political process. Otherwise, local policies will tend to be disaligned with local culture. As Smith stated in a recent interview for the Municipal Association of SC:
"At a basic level, local policy and regulation are meant to reflect and support our community’s interests and value judgments. Therefore, if young, creative professionals expend energy in creating culture and developing ideas but do not get involved in local politics, then culture and policy can become misaligned, and frustration sets in. That is when young professionals become unmotivated and either stop creating or move somewhere else."
Ultimately, BACE hopes that through these efforts to increase participation among young professionals, business owners, and the creative class, we can begin to cultivate policies that attract and retain local creative and entrepreneurial talent. That means, just to name a few:
• Clearly written, well-studied, well-designed regulations that incentivize ambitious, creative individuals to invest in the city;
• A diverse, dynamic cultural environment;
• More local venues and creative outlets;
• A thriving nightlife scene;
• A forward-thinking, transparent, and inclusive local government; and
• Policies that embrace a local brand that more fully incorporates grassroots culture, nightlife, music, and art.
Stay tuned – we're doing some stuff.