Honolulu’s High ‘Creative Class Density’

Our cost of living is high, our wages are low, and our barriers to business are substantial. But smart and creative people? We’ve got those in droves.

Honolulu is among the top ten metropolitan areas in the nation when it comes to the density of its “human capital” and “creative class.” This according to University of Toronto management professor Richard Florida, author of the forthcoming book, “The Rise of the Creative Class.”

Florida is writing a series of articles on “The Power of Density” for The Atlantic. He explains:

Density is a key factor in innovation and economic growth. The dense geographic clustering of economic activities was true of the industrial behemoths of the past – steelmaking in Pittsburgh and automotive production in Detroit. And, despite advances in communications technology, it applies even more so today: from high-tech firms in Silicon Valley to film producers in Los Angeles and recording studios and record labels in Nashville. There’s no doubt: The geographic concentration of firms, industries, technologies, people, and other economic assets plays a powerful role in innovation and economic growth.

In studying “human capital,” or highly skilled people, Florida looked at the number of adults with college degrees per square kilometer, rather than the percentage of college graduates among the overall population. He found that Honolulu had a human capital density of 73.42 per square kilometer, compared to an average density of 7.4 among all U.S. metros, ranking us ninth (between Washington, D.C. and Chicago).

As for the “creative class“? Florida describes its members as workers in scienece, technology, health care, law, arts, design, media, culture and entertainment, altogether representing about a third of the total work force. And while the median density across all U.S. metros is 8.4 creative class members per square kilometer, Honolulu had a creative class density of 77. That ranks us eighth (between Washington D.C. and Philadelphia).

In both lists, it’s nice to see Honolulu listed among cities like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston.

To be sure, Honolulu’s high ranking is boosted by the constraints of island geography. When these specific categories are adjusted for overall population density, Honolulu drops off his “Top 10 Overperformers” lists. And density is just one of many factors that determine whether a city or region will thrive. For example, Florida focused on regional wages as well, and I’ll venture a guess that incomes in Honolulu lag considerably, especially in relation to cost of living.

Still, whenever someone dreams that Honolulu could become “the next Silicon Valley,” or the next hotbed of innovation in any field, it’s encouraging to see that we might indeed have a few things going for us besides great weather.

Chart by Richard Florida for The Atlantic.

3 Responses

  1. Will L says:

    Wow, those are some low salaries for the State Senators and Representatives. They must make up for it in other ways.

  2. Denna Jones says:

    Great article. I would not have guessed Honolulu would rank in top 10 (but glad to see she did!), Nevertheless, I think Hawai’i is a hidden gem when it comes to clusters of the creative classes. And as someone who knows Honolulu well but lives in London, similar to Manhattan, London is at a real risk of losing its creative class due to increasingly high rents and the impossibility of most creatives to purchase flats or find studios. This is why I’ve realised its time tor me to re-emigrate to a city more welcoming to its creative classes.

  3. Patrick says:

    An excellent blog post. Per square foot, Hawaii generates an amazingly high level of talent in many areas, from technology to the arts to education, sports, and entertainment. We seed the mainland with our best and brightest. It’s great to see the recognition.

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