October 17, 2006
Sharp eye on Gaydar will keep our Tiger economy in the pinkPosted in Celtic Tiger · 1 comment ·
Can you spot a gay man at one hundred paces? If you had a Gaydar you could. A Gaydar, or gay radar, is a highly sensitive sixth sense which allows most gay people to assess, within an instant of meeting someone, whether that person is gay or not.
It’s an essential instrument on the scene I’m told.
It will also be an essential economic tool in the years ahead.
Already, research in the US suggests that there is a high correlation between cities with a thriving gay scene and economic growth. The reason is straightforward.
A preponderance of gay men in a city tells us something about the underlying economic and social structure of the place. According to evidence from the US, a gay scene usually goes hand in hand with a city being a hub of the “creative economy”.
In our age of globalisation, the creative economy is the most elevated state of grace a region can attain and the more the region scores on what is called a “creative index” the more likely it is to be wealthy.
We are now in the third great era of economic growth, where rewards go to those regions with the highest percentage of creative people, who use their brains rather than brawn to make a living.
For centuries, we all lived in the agricultural era when land, land ownership and the produce of the land determined wealth.
Increase in human wealth came via breakthroughs in land productivity and innovations in cultivation.
So finding new crops, new ways of growing them and new machines to increase the yield per acre determined the wealth of the region.
The second great economic era was the industrial age when hard economics came into its own.
Hard labour was fused with industrial capital to create the industries of the last century, such as railroads, cars, consumer goods and steel works. Initially, the new industrial world was located where energy and labour was cheap, easy to extract and plentiful.
So the industrial development of the world was dictated by geography and, more accurately, geology.
In the past twenty years, this industrial world has migrated to a place where labour is cheap. So, for example, the great ship building ports of the world are now in Korea rather than Europe. We are also seeing the rapid hollowing out of manufacturing in the West as it ups and leaves for China.
Today, the real action for rich countries like Ireland is in the creative industries and the long term way to protect our standard of living is to foster a creative class.
The American academic, Richard Florida, has identified people who work with the creative side of the brain.
He believes, and with some compelling evidence, concludes, that the US cities with a high proportion of these types – musicians, artists, writers, software engineers, architects, designers, entrepreneurs and the like – are the cities with the strongest growth rates, the highest standards of living and the most satisfied citizens.
He suggests that creative people cluster around each other, in tolerant open cities. So over the coming years, a crucial factor in attracting them is to create the right urban environment for this tribe.
In making up their minds about where to live, work and make their talents available, they consider the cultural attractions, the night life, the atmosphere of the restaurants, bars and cafes, the number of pleasant parks and open spaces.
They will also consider the high-arts, the theatres and whether the national concert hall is up to scratch.
And what about the city’s architecture? What about transport – is it efficient and clean?
We are talking about designer cities here – but designer cities with culture, heritage and a sense of difference.
The great advantage that Ireland has as a region, and Dublin has as a city, over many other places, is that we have a brand.
Whether it is justified or not, Ireland has a brand and it is probably our strongest selling point. It has been carefully cultivated and should be guarded at all costs.
It means many different things to many different people, but compared to other countries with bigger populations – like Belgium, for example – Ireland has a much stronger international brand. Therefore, in the future, Enterprise Ireland should build on this to try to attract in both creative industries but also to attract in creative people.
The redevelopment of The National Concert Hall is a case in point.
Many people who might not use the concert hall might see it as elitist and investing in its redevelopment simply serves to reinforce the view that Arts funding is restrictive and ignores popular culture.
However, this misses the point. The big picture is that our State must invest in cultural capital.
A great example of this type of cultural dividend is the Guggenheim in Bilbao. The Basque capital has long been associated with the industrial heartland that is the Basque country.
HOWEVER, in 1997 the city commissioned Frank Gehry, the renowned American architect, to build a new museum based on the Guggenheim in New York.
The ambition was immense, but the statement bigger still. It was signalling to all that Bilbao took its culture seriously. The reaction has been swift: tourist numbers have gone through the roof and Bilbao is now seen as a potential home for Spain’s creative class.
It is important for Ireland to try to do something similar, something that puts us on the cultural map.
The redevelopment of the National Concert Hall is a small step in the right directio.
But it isn’t half enough.
In the next few years, Ireland should become more attuned to its Gaydar because what seems to be effete and frivolous today, will be the nuts and bolts of economic performance tomorrow.