Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Richard Florida on Montreal’s Street-level Creative Energy

Read more articles by

Journés de la Culture sur rue Ontario

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class and Who’s Your City?, published an epic, upbeat editorial in the Gazette yesterday, putting Montreal ahead of the curve in terms of North American cities with the creative energy to overcome the pending financial crisis:

With credit tight and in some cases unavailable, the real economy, real people and real creativity replace finance capital as the new coin of the realm. Montreal has this in spades.

My research shows that more than a third of the region’s workforce comes from the creative class – scientists, technology workers, entertainers, artists and designers, as well as managers and financial types – putting it in the top 10 per cent of all regions in North America, and a global leader as well. Nearly a fifth of the Montreal region’s workforce forms a super-creative core made up of the techies plus cultural and entertainment types.

…Montreal also benefits from its dense, compact geography. Most experts agree that innovation and productivity are driven by density, and Montreal ranks third among all North American cities in average population density.

He also looks at some of the problems facing Montreal: for one thing, our city has one of the highest rates of high-school dropout and one of the lowest levels of post-secondary education despite being home to 4 universities and having the lowest tuition in Canada. He also has some relevant insight into how local government can stagnating burgeoning creativity:

Governmental structures in Montreal … are fractured and fragmented and filled with contradictions – complicated and clumsy. Hardly anyone who isn’t involved full-time can understand them. In Montreal, there are local boroughs, municipalities, the agglomeration council, and a regional administration as well.

…It leads to what people in Montreal call “immobilisme” – the tendency for nothing significant to happen because governments, business, social groups and unions are so at odds and so stuck in their ways that no one can provide clear direction and make anything happen.

And then there is the inevitable ups and downs of Montreal’s “legacy of linguistic and cultural tension.”:

On one hand, bilingualism is a huge advantage in the global economy. On the other, language laws and the threat of separation have scared people and businesses away and continue to discourage some companies from investing.

Many artist friends have told me that they find Montreal to be an inspiring, nurturing community, yet there is no money to be made from the arts in Montreal. I think that this is partially a language issue: the local audience available for English arts is tiny; yet the global reach of French media is also a small pool. Consequently you have Anglos singing in French to score some radio time, and Francophones grumbling about the lack of grants for English language arts in Quebec. Meanwhile, everybody still needs a day job, and if they are not fluently bilingual, it is probably uninspiring work.

I am about to go put this question to Richard Florida’s blog, Creative Class. I’ve always perceived there to be a great transience among creative Montrealer (especially Anglos.) The Arcade Fire story is emblematic of Montreal in more than one way: students and artists from around the country flock to Montreal to find that spark of creativity – and then move on when it becomes time to enter the “real world.” Even born-and-raised Montrealers will often stay in the city out of love rather than any great opportunity.

Is transience characteristic of other creative cities? What impact does this have on the city’s ability to get ahead of the curve?

Image: Montrealers paint on old doors in a park on Ontario street as part of the city’s Journés de la Culture last month.



  1. A good indicator of a “successful” city is when the children do not move off when they reach “adulthood.” By this measure, Montreal seems to be doing reasonably well – the majority of my friends are Montrealers, born and raised.

    On the other hand, the city does seem to have a problem *retaining* many of the graduates from the fine educational institutions here. Many come here to study, but not so many remain. Perhaps the anglophone institutions don’t prepare them sufficiently well for life in a bilingual city.

    Perhaps one reason that Montrealers rank so poorly in ‘post-secondary’ education is that there is a relatively strong culture of creative arts and manufacturing here. One does not necessarily need a university degree to become an artist, a musician, or even to get into the fashion/design industries. As for being an artist in Montreal, I have heard that Montreal is a comfortable city if one is already established in a particular field, but it is not easy achieving wide-spread recognition from here.

  2. I can’t say anything about the other `creative classes’, but it’s hard for scientists to choose where they end up, at least if they want to be professors. Having grown up on Montreal, I’d love to have a job in Montreal, but I don’t seem to have a job at any of the Montreal universities.

    It’s hard for any city to do anything about that problem, though.

  3. But Arcade Fire are still living here, no? They bought a church in the Eastern Townships to record in, and I see them hanging out in Mile-End. I would put them into the “successful retention” column.

  4. I think the question of talent retention is something Florida doesn’t consider for Montreal, whether you see Arcade Fire having a latte in the Mile-End or not.

    My main qualm with Richard Florida is his constant claim that a “creative class economy” based on Cirque de Soleil and The Arcade Fire can somehow buoy Montreal and give it some competitive advantage in this period of global economic turmoil. More than ever before, his faith in “creative energy” of computer programmers, “scientists” and the Arcade Fire seemed misplaced. Creative energy, as far as I know, cannot be harnessed for real energy needs, which will most certainly play a big role in Montreal’s destiny in the next 10-20 years.

    But the main problem with Florida’s writing is that it’s all so easy; using gay village indexes he proves to us why such intuitively great cities like New York, San Francisco and Montreal do so well. But wait? a gay index? Can you actually measure, sort and correlate sexuality or creativity?

    I’m worried this kind of thinking is wooing politicians away from more pressing energy issues that will likely only become pronounced in this current economic epoch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *