Creative workers’ segregation and why city-level rankings annoy me

Richard Florida ran a series on the Atlantic Cities on various types of economic segregation in cities, and while it’s a good idea, I don’t really understand what he’s doing, and ranking indexes makes my eyebrows do that pinched thing they do when I am not happy. They find that LA is #1 in segregation of creatives. And while Florida (thankfully) doesn’t go there, somebody will: this is MORE PROOF that sprawl is bad. Because LA = must be sprawled = must be bad.

I will spare you the theory about why economic segregation makes sense, and that there are few reasons to a priori assume that economic segregation is a problem. Suffice it to say that there are good reasons for industries and their employees to cluster.

So here’s the post on creative class segregation. They use a dissimilarity index. DIs tend to be very good at showing segregation between two groups: they were designed back in the day to show residential segregation between binary race categories: white and black. We find with DIs that aggregating them causes them to behave oddly, as does having multiple categories. Those things can be dealt with, and it may be that Florida and his coauthors have done so.

Still, I am looking at the actual index numbers with my head tilted and thinking: so what? LA’s number #1 here, and the DI is 0.344, with 1 being perfect segregation. What does 0.344 even indicate? The range in the DI for the top 10 goes from 0.344 to 0.281. When we are looking at that small a range, exploding those differences by setting up rankings to represent what are, in fact, differences in hundredths in an index grossly distorts the concepts being measured. The income segregation numbers, shown in one of Florida’s prior columns, go up to 0.70. THAT is enough to get my attention. But while the map is nice, all I see here is meh: places that still have some hard industry left and have creatives come up an intense navy blue, one of my favorite colors no doubt, but awfully intense-looking for what are, in reality, tiny segregation numbers.

Can anybody who studies economic geography tell me why the rest of us should care about these DIs? Are they good news? Bad news? Because I kind of think they are “whatever” news.