Utilizing ACS and Census Data to examine “Art Cities” and Florida’s “Creative Class”


Amy Foerster, afoerster@pace.edu, Pace University

Learning Goals

Students will receive a basic introduction to reading and interpreting data tables, and will learn to effectively communicate their interpretation in written form. Students will assess how arts and arts-based activities contribute to a city’s economy, will examine patterns of residence for arts and arts-related workers, and will critically engage Richard Florida’s idea of the “creative class” and its role in revitalizing or sparking growth in a city’s economy.

Context for Use

Early in the semester students were introduced to the idea that the arts, arts tourism and arts-related jobs are intrinsic to the economies of many major cities. Readings for this module included Richard Florida’s “Cities and the Creative Class,” Lawton, Murphy and Redmond’s “Residential Preferences of the Creative Class,” and segments of David Halle and Elisabeth Tiso’s New York’s New Edge: Contemporary Art, the High Line and Urban Megaprojects on New York’s Far West Side as well as Elizabeth Currid’s The Warhol Economy: How Fashion Art and Music Drive New York City. Classroom activities (lectures, exercises, discussion) for this module focused on introducing the concept of the “creative class,” examining how the term is defined, operationalized and measured by Florida, and why it has been critiqued as both an analytical category and as an engine of urban economic growth. (Related discussion topics included gentrification, job growth, and economic development.) Prior to assignment submission, instructors conducted an in-class workshop on how to read the data tables, and, perhaps more challengingly, in which students were asked to “tell a story” about American cities by using only the data presented in the tables.


Rubric was used to assess student performance on the ACS/data-based assignment. Weakest student scores were in the third component, which represented their ability to integrate Florida’s work into their paper, and to “engage critically” with it. Assessing whether learning objectives were met, both for the specific assignment and for the larger course, was more difficult. While student performance on the papers indicated that the goal of attaining basic quantitative literacy was met, the ability to “critically engage Richard Florida’s idea of the ‘creative class’ and its role in revitalizing or sparking growth in a city’s economy” was, on the whole, not.

This module was designed for a team-taught interdisciplinary course that pairs a “sociology of art” course with a freshmen-level composition course. Because the course meets several core curriculum attributes, including quantitative and scientific reasoning and technological fluency, emphasis was placed on training students to utilize ACS data to examine the role of art and artists in a city’s economy as well as use of NEH data on arts audiences and their consumption of, and participation in, the performing arts. The composition half of the course also necessarily stressed writing skills; students were meant to gain comfort and familiarity with various styles of writing, including writing about, and reporting on, data.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This course was designed as a first-year learning community, meaning that its content was meant to foster retention and connection between students, promote experiential learning, and provide first year students with an introduction both to college writing and to the discipline of sociology. 25 students were enrolled and represented various majors, with the largest component representing computer science or arts & entertainment management. The module was introduced in the third week of the course, and focused on enhancing basic quantitative literary while giving a “hands on” view of how analysts like Richard Florida use ACS and Census data to create policy recommendations for urban planners and city governments.

References and Resources

Ballantine, Jeanne H. and Keith A. Roberts. 2006. Our Social World: Introduction to Sociology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. (First edition.) Currid, Elizabeth. 2008. The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Florida, Richard. 2003. “Cities and the Creative Class.” City and Community 2(1): 3-19 Halle, David and Elisabeth Tiso. 2014. New York’s New Edge: Contemporary Art, the High Line and Urban Megaprojects on the Far West Side. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Lawton, Philip, Enda Murphy and Declan Redmond. 2013. “Residential Preferences of the Creative Class.” Cities 31(2): 47-56.