I live in Austin, which is to say hipsters are everywhere. You can drive down East 6th Street on a Friday night and find hipsters like you can walk around in L.A. on a Saturday afternoon and find struggling actors. Hell, I'm one of them! I even think some of my corporate clients rely on me because I can help them tap into a world of cool their cubicles and strategy sessions will never reach.
Similarly, Austin is full of people who make up the Creative Class. Richard Florida, the brain behind the ground-breaking books The Rise of the Creative Class and Who's Your City, has written plenty about this large group of people. For more evidence that Austin is a hotbed for his core demographic: Leadership Austin (the organization that seemingly produces our City Council members like cars out of a Ford factory) is bringing Florida to town on Nov. 12.
All this setup is to say that whether you're V-neck deep in hipsterdom or you've been in the Creative Class since your first coloring book, Austin is quite possibly the best city in America for you to be in. [I look forward to arguments from D.C., New York, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.] But while Austin is a great city for either group, the question at hand is what exactly is the difference between hipsters and the Creative Class?
After traveling a fair amount between many of the U.S. cities known for hipster populations and those that Florida studied in his Creative Class research, I feel qualified to break down the two groups. First let me state two things: 1) They are not one in the same, but 2) There is some overlap.
By definition, hipsters are...well, there is no clear definition but the consensus seems to be that people who are hipsters have a positive outlook and people who aren't hipsters have a negative one. So it's pretty much like high school except popularity isn't as important as your interests in clothing, music, travel, etc. Time magazine wrote, "take your grandmother's sweater and Bob Dylan's Wayfarers, add jean shorts, Converse All-Stars and a can of Pabst and bam — hipster." Huffington Post writer Julie Plevin wrote, "whole point of hipsters is that they avoid labels and being labeled. However, they all dress the same and act the same and conform in their non-conformity..." I think that all the definitions I've seen are fairly accurate, but also miss the simplest facet of all hipsters: they identify with one another without saying so directly.
People in the Creative Class on the other hand are fully aware of, and appreciative of, their commonality with fellow Creative Classers. It's not just about downloading the new Best Coast track or picking up those new Vans online for $30 or telling your friends about that time you stayed with a friend in San Francisco's Mission District, Wicker Park in Chicago or Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The Creative Class is a professional sector above all. Sure, being creative is a good place to start whether it's your love of painting or knitting sweaters, but it all ends with the bottom line: can you create your way to a paycheck. Florida says the top two tiers of this segment consist of the Super-Creative Core whose primary job function of its members is to be creative and innovative in nearly everything they do (e.g. graphic designers, writers) and Creative Professionals who have specific knowledge and apply them in a creative setting (e.g. Facebook developers, architects). He goes on to describe this group as "people in design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or creative content."
That's a key difference between hipsters and the Creative Class. Hipsters, by definition, work with their eyes and ears. They're looking for, and sometimes creating, the next cool (and fleeting) thing to wear, hear, say, see and be. The Creative Class, on the other hand, works with their heads and hands; it's made up of the people who are conceptualizing then doing the next cool (and lasting) thing, be it starting the next Facebook, finding ways to improve dilipidated buildings in the wrong part of town or establishing the film community in a mid-sized city like Austin was 20 years ago.
Don't get me wrong, it's not so black and white and easy to separate these groups for three reasons. First, there are pretenders in both groups. There are plenty of people who fake their way into the hip new bars, wear the hip new clothes and like the hip new music...only those hip things weren't new by the time they got to them so they're just jumping on the bandwagon like Texas Rangers fans right now. Similarly with the Creative Class, I've seen plenty of corporate schmucks who hopped on the back of Richard Florida's train and changed outfits and reading lists on their way up to the front. They were eating at Fogo de Chao and PF Chang's every week for dinner and now they're asking you if you've ever been to Rainey Street as if they just discovered the Lower East Side.
Second, there's a ton of overlap in the Creative Class and hipsters because of the people commonly referred to as "bohemians." It started in the 1800s in Western Europe, migrated to the U.S. (by choice) shortly thereafter and eventually helped make household names of mid-20th century American writers like Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Jane Jacobs and even Hunter S. Thompson. The thing all these pioneering bohemians had in common was their literary backgrounds and professional inclinations. Today, thanks to blogs like mine, Facebook and Twitter, we've managed to lower the requirements of bohemianism in order to include a larger swath of young-ish people who maybe have some creative talents and hipster tendencies, but have not yet carved a full path for themselves. Again, I could be talking about myself here.
But the third aspect is what this article in The Wall Street Journal subtly describes in listing "The Next Youth-Magnet Cities" really separates the two, or does it? The article quotes Richard Florida several times indicating the national publication is putting a lot of stock in his Creative Class in creating this top-five list. However, the word "hip" is mentioned just as often as Florida is quoted, leading one to believe that they also put a bit of weight in cities that attract these hipsters (often over-educated, under-paid, nomad-like 20-somethings).
The top five cities? DC (the city I left Austin for) and Seattle are tied for first with New York, Portland and Austin (the city I love) finishing out the top five, which is spot on with cities that have both the Creative Class and formidable hipster scenes. More significantly, however, is the people they interviewed for the story: a 25-year-old, MBA grad who works for the Federal Reserve in DC; a young married couple in Seattle, the wife works for Microsoft as a new product research and the husband is considering a master's degree in computer animation; a recent Middlebury College grad who is working as a legal aide in Manhattan after living abroad in Paris; another recent college grad with a journalism degree who is job-hunting in Portland; a young, unmarried couple who recently moved to Austin from the East Coast based on friends' recommendations.
Where were they moving to those top-five cities from? New Jersey, Vermont, Ohio...places that aren't exactly bastions for both the Creative Class and hipsters. From the descriptions above I'd assert that the biggest difference between the Creative Class and hipsters is that hipsters don't get interviewed for articles in The Wall Street Journal and probably don't know who the hell this Richard Florida guy is, they just know Austin is just about as cool as Chicago, New York and San Francisco and that's reason enough to live here.