Boston Area Stacks Up Well in “Creative Class” City Rankings

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The MIT Stata Center, home to MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems Source: Finlay McWalter

by Lenny Pierce, Research Analyst

In his 2002 book “The Rise of the Creative Class”, author Richard Florida rated and ranked U.S. Metro Areas in terms of how much of their workforce was made up by the “creative class”. The creative class, as defined by Florida and his team at the Martin Prosperity Institute, includes knowledge workers employed in science and tech; arts, culture, media and entertainment; business and management; and healthcare and education. All in all, the creative class is made up of over 40 million workers–a third of the national workforce. More recently, Florida created a similar list for individual cities instead of entire Metro Areas. Four municipalities in the Greater Boston area made the top 20 list: Brookline, with a 74.2% creative class workforce percentage, Cambridge with 67.9%, Newton with 67.5% and Arlington with 61.1%.

Rank City Creative Class Share of the Workforce
1 Cupertino, CA 76.90%
2 Palo Alto, CA 76.40%
3 McLean, VA 75.50%
4 Bethesda, MD 75.10%
5 Brookline, MA 74.20%
6 Potomac, MD 73.40%
7 Cambridge, MA 67.90%
8 Newton, MA 67.50%
9 Arlington, VA 66.70%
10 North Bethesda, MD 66.50%
11 Hoboken, NJ 65.10%
12 Redmond, WA 64.90%
13 Dublin, OH 64.70%
14 Santa Monica, CA 64.20%
15 Sammamish, WA 64.10%
16 Reston, VA 63.60%
17 Ellicott City, MD 63.30%
18 Berkeley, CA 62.40%
19 Mountain View, CA 61.40%
20 Arlington, MA 61.10%

Source: CityLab.com

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The “D” Branch of the Green is one of the three lines, along with the “B” and “C” branches, that are accessible in Brookline. Source: Kinkisharyo

Alex Plaisted, a broker with CBRE/New England’s Suburban team, feels that the appearance of Brookline and Arlington on this list is due to their wealth of semi-urban housing options with close proximity to job centers like Cambridge and Boston. “Brookline and Arlington offer a great quality of life for the creative class worker and are still located close enough to Boston and Cambridge to afford residents a relatively easy commute” Plaisted says. Brookline is accessible by three different Green Line branches and Arlington borders Cambridge, making it a prime residential destination for MIT and Harvard faculty. Brookline also has the advantage of bordering the Longwood Medical Area, a major employment center for those creative class workers in the healthcare industry.

Shire plc's campus in Lexington Source: John Phelan

Shire plc’s campus in Lexington Source: John Phelan

Newton’s place on the list is likely aided by its placement along Route 128, a factor that has made it a center for not just creative class workers but creative class employers. CBRE Research estimates that 220 businesses within Florida’s creative class grouping have locations in the region. According to Plaisted, “Route 128 West affords Newton accessibility from pretty much anywhere, something Brookline and Arlington definitely don’t have.” The highway means that these creative class workers are able to drive within Newton to their jobs, or drive a few exits away to jobs in Waltham (563 creative class businesses), Lexington (188 creative class businesses) and beyond.

Cambridge’s Kendall Square, one of the most strongest life science clusters in the world. Source: Shinkuken

Cambridge’s Kendall Square, one of the strongest life science clusters in the world. Source: Shinkuken

While Newton has its share of employment opportunities for the creative class worker, the city on this list that is strongest in this realm is certainly Cambridge. CBRE Research estimates that 886 businesses within the creative class grouping have locations in Cambridge–many of them falling in the life science and technology categories. Adam Brinch of CBRE/New England’s Urban Brokerage team says this is due to the fact that much of the intellectual property behind science and technology is not just born at institutions like MIT and Harvard, but is fostered into commercialization by said organizations thereafter. “If a student develops intellectual property under the intimate guidance of their professor at MIT, its natural for that student-turned-entrepreneur to want their professor involved in the commercialization of their product, and the early stages of their company,” says Brinch. “This is easiest to do if they set up shop in close proximity to where these professors live and work.” Brinch added that remaining in close contact with tech transfer programs at the various schools is another initiative that makes finding a Cambridge address all the more practical for these groups. The locational magnetism caused by these fundamentals is compounded by the general affinity that technology and life science groups have to cluster around each other–meaning that even those science and tech companies with no immediate connection to Cambridge’s universities will still put a premium on moving there. The eventual result of this dynamic has been a modern Cambridge that is arguably the strongest technology and life science hub in the world.

The four Boston-area cities that made the cut were joined by two predictable geographic competitors: Bay Area and DC area cities. The top two spots on the list were occupied by Cupertino, CA (76.9%) and Palo Alto, CA (76.4%), followed by Maclean, VA (75.5%) and Bethesda, MD (75.1%) before Brookline at the fifth spot (74.2%). Though these four particular cities were just ahead of the highest Massachusetts location, Cambridge and Newton were well ahead of the other Bay Area cities like Berkeley and Mountain View and stacked up comparably to DC area locations like Arlington, Virginia and Potomac, MD. Overall, the Boston area’s competitiveness with DC and Bay Area cities on this list reaffirms the notion of our region being one of immense creative intellectual capital and thus, fertile ground for the birth and growth of creative class businesses.

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