One of my favorite summertime getaways are trips to Toronto. It's a quick and easy flight. There are plenty of affordable places to stay and no limit to interesting things to do.
Canada is enough of a foreign country to make a visit feel exotic. Imagine: In Toronto, I can watch HBO's Sex and the City on free TV. Back home in Cleansville-on-the-River, Citizens for Community Values troop leader Phil Burress might threaten lawsuits at any hotel offering easy access to Sarah Jessica Parker's wiggling butt.
Getaways are just that — well-deserved opportunities to blank out Cincinnati annoyances. Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen's sermonizing, Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken's wobbly leadership and the Cincinnati Arts Association's (CAA) bullying lawsuit against the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati over their ongoing "Artists of Conscience" boycott are just some of things I'd like to forget for at least a few days.
But Cincinnati came crashing down on my Toronto weekend when I read a column in Toronto's National Post titled "Why Boston is cooler than Pittsburgh." The article's topic is familiar to anyone within earshot of Cincinnati politicians, downtown business leaders and Chamber of Commerce types this summer.
In the piece, Richard Florida, Carnegie-Mellon University professor and author of The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life, explained his theory behind thriving cities. Basically, Florida believes that companies have a better chance attracting creative workers — computer programmers and graphic designers, for instance — when they're located in cities known for their diversity, tolerance and cultural richness.
Florida made these points clear to Cincinnati leaders at a June seminar (see "Cool Is Money," issue of June 20-26). Still, it's hard to say if his words have made any lasting impact here. "The creative class" is this summer's favorite catchphrase for Cincinnati movers and shakers, but I have a hard time seeing Florida's words put into action.
Before boarding my flight to Toronto, I spoke at length with Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune. The main reason for our conversation was an attempt to guess the outcome of the CAA's lawsuit against the Coalition for a Just Cincinnati. Portune made his stance against the CAA clear in a June 23 letter asking CAA President and Executive Director Steve Loftin and CAA Chairman of the Board of Trustees Dudley S. Taft to drop the lawsuit. I think my own writings show me to be a supporter of the coalition's "Artists of Conscience" boycott.
"How do you think Judge Thomas Nurre will rule regarding the CAA's lawsuit?" Portune asked me.
I told him I wasn't optimistic for the coalition. Conservative business and political leaders stick tightly together in this town. In their eyes, coalition activists are rabble-rousers out to ruin our white-bread city.
These Cincinnati suits claim they support Florida's call for tolerance. Actually, they're squelching any voices and opinions that are different from their own.
"The creative brain drain in this community is huge," Portune said. "My wife and I talk about it all the time. You have Cincinnatians and Greater Cincinnatians leaving town the moment they become an adult and are able to make their own decisions."
Get this: Toronto, a city bursting with ethnic neighborhoods, a thriving downtown, clean mass transportation system and rich cultural scene, embraces Florida's ideas as the next big political thing. I guess that Toronto has its share of civic problems and wants to improve the quality of life for residents with more art galleries, improved neighborhoods and inexpensive housing.
If Florida were to include Canadian cities on his list of "cool" places, I'm confident Toronto would place high — certainly a lot higher than Cincinnati. Yet Toronto politicians are paying close attention to Florida's book.
In Cincinnati, Florida's "creative class" theories are also a popular topic among cocktail chatterers. What's unclear is whether those words will ever result in action.