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Developing the Creative Class in Singapore | Investigating the conditions for Development


In this essay I will use the work of Richard Florida on the Creative Class to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of the Singaporean society to attract and grow a creative class.

Firstly I will use Castells work to argue my case for the need of a creative class to exist. Secondly I will discuss the theories and analyses of Richard Florida on the concept of the creative class. I will explain who are in this class, and what their characteristics are. I will also discuss their lifestyle, and what drives their decision to live in certain places, and not in others.

In light of the discussion on the creative class I will discuss the areas in which I believe Singapore can increase it’s attractiveness for the creative class. This will mean allowing individualism to develop in Singapore, with changes in education, family values and policies. I will also discuss how legislation is hindering the development of an environment, which allows ‘otherness’ from the norm to occur. This is also linked to the notion of tolerance, which I illustrate by discussing the racial composition and functioning of Singapore in brief. Lastly I will discuss Singapore’s power of place, which I believe to have a lot of potential. A focus on improving diversity in housing estates, and stimulating cross-racial experiences are important policy considerations. It is also important to communicate the diversity of Singapore to the outside world, instead of focusing too much on as the Marina Bay and the CBD.

Lastly, attracting creative core businesses to Singapore will be easier, when the focus on the development of the individual and nurturing diversity takes hold in the society as a whole.

Attention to developing Technology (the businesses), Talent (the people) and Tolerance (the ‘atmosphere’) are all part in building a creative society.

On global economic context and the need for innovation

Before addressing the notion of the creative class, as introduced by Richard Florida, it is firstly important to understand why it is important for a city, region or nation to see the creative class as an important factor for economic development.

Castells (1) discusses the role of the state within the changing context of the global economy. What is interesting about his analysis is that he argues that the state, because of the interdependency of international (financial) markets is increasingly powerless in controlling monetary policy, deciding its budget, organizing production and trade, and increasing the ‘standard of living’ of its population, unless it assures the competitiveness of its economy in the global context.

Although states as such are increasingly powerless, they can exert a great deal of influence to ensure increased standard of living and a social framework, by focusing on innovation and increased productivity of its population. Exactly in this field the so-called creative class plays an increasingly important role.

Castells goes on to identify two general ways in which innovation and productivity increases can be accomplished. The first is ‘the American knowledge economy’ model, where massive import of highly skilled labor functions as a source of productivity and innovation. The second model is the ‘Finnish’ model (to some extent Northern European) of investing in home-grown, human capital, and improving standards of living that support productivity improvement.

In summary a focus on innovation, productivity increases and renewal enable a higher standard of living. This can be done by attracting innovation talent or by growing the talent internally.

On the Creative Class Florida (2) argues that creativity – “the ability to create meaningful new forms” is now the decisive source of competitive advantage in a globalizing context. Competition on productivity, quality, and the creation of new products and services are critical strategies to increase the standard of living. Creativity is a key factor in gaining a competitive edge in these areas.

The economic need for creativity has manifested itself in the rise of a new class, the creative class (3) . Florida distinguishes a ‘core’ of this class to include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technologies or new content. Around this core the creative class also includes a group of creative professionals in business and finance, law, health care and related fields. Current estimates project that around 30 % of all workers in the USA belong to the creative class.

The key difference between working class, service class and creative class workers lies in what they are primarily paid to do. While working and service class workers are paid to execute according to plan, creative class workers are paid to create and have considerably more autonomy and flexibility to do so.

Before moving into an evaluation of Singapore’s strengths and weaknesses in growing, integrating and sustaining a creative class it is important firstly to understand the key characteristics of this class of people. What are some of the key values, norms and attitudes that prevail in this class, and why do we find concentrations of creative class people in one location and not in another?

Florida clusters the most important values along three basic lines (4). Firstly individuality and self-statement rank high within the creative class. Resistance to conformity to organizational and group norms has become a pervasive value. The second important value is reward based on merit. Working hard, getting ahead based on abilities and effort, receiving respect of peers are the key motivating drivers for creative workers. While the amount of money made does not define the creative worker, it is an important factor in the sense that it may be looked upon as a marker of achievement. The third value strain is diversity and openness. While diversity may be an indication of meritocratic norms at work, I postulate it also indicates a welcoming attitude towards people of different backgrounds, and indicates an openness and interest in other viewpoints.

Another interesting trait of the creative class is the quest for ‘experiences’. Psychologist Carl Rogers (5) discussed the, in his view, necessary connection between creativity and the openness towards experiences and new impressions. In today’s world the ‘experience’ is perceived to be a money generator, and hence in many cases it becomes commercialized. This can be a pitfall of the experiential world. Experiences are then often perceived to be – and are – inauthentic. Creative class people tend to shun these commercial venues and embark on a quest for authentic, indigenous or organic venues.

With the rise of the new global economy many have argued that place is no longer important. With telecommunications and internet connecting people it is no longer necessary for people working together to actually be together. Sassen (6) argues that social connectivity and the availability of central functions are two main reasons for concentration of activities. Arguably, and backed up by reality, this is also valid for the concentration of the creative class in certain places.Florida (7) however argues that it is not the location of businesses,which drive the choices that creative class workers make on where to live. Creative workers tend to go where other creative workers are, and where they can find a lifestyle with which they can identify themselves.

Lifestyle, social interaction, diversity, authenticity and identity are key characteristics of a place in determining whether or not it will attract creative workers. In contrast this is not believed to be dependent on the location of businesses or other infrastructural elements. The power of any place is determined by what is there (the combination of built and natural environment), who is there (diversity of people, access to communities) and what’s going on (street life, café culture, arts, music and people engaging in outdoor activities).

Florida (8) summarizes his analysis in his so-called human capital theory, which states that, in order to attract creative people, and generate economic growth through innovation, a place must have the 3 T’s: Technology, Talent and Tolerance. Not only is it important to have a high concentration of (high) tech firms, but it is equally important to have a large pool of talent (people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher). Florida’s findings show that both innovation and high-tech industry are strongly associated with locations of the creative class and of talent in general. Lastly the locations of the creative class are strongly correlated with the location being a ‘diverse’ environment. The Gay Index (the % of Gay people in a region) and the Bohemian Index (the % of writers, designers, musicians, actors and directors, painters and sculptors, photographers and dancers in a region) turns out to be excellent indicators for the presence of a creative class.

Having said all of the above the next section of this essay will focus on how Singapore performs on the above measures. In addition to it’s ability to attract creative class workers, I will also focus on Singapore’s ability to grow it’s own creative class. In addition to the 3 T’s, Education is, in my view, a critical element here.

On Singapore’s ability to attract and grow a creative class

In his trilogy ‘The Information Age, Economy, Society and Culture’ Castells (9) states that ‘at the roots of the rise of Asian Pacific economies (including Singapore) lies the nationalist project of the developmental state’. Castells (10) identifies the massive inflow of capital into Singapore as the most important factor in it’seconomic growth. Two main sources were tapped here: 1) direct foreign investment, and 2) an exceptional rate of gross national savings, much of it generated by the public section through the Central Provident Fund (CPD).

The Singapore Government actively took a role in guiding national firms and multinational corporations through each stage of it’s development. Creating a society conducive to attracting foreign investment did this. Low labor cost, social peace (after dismantling labor unions), an educated labor force, largely English speaking, business friendly social and environmental legislation, excellent transportation and communications infrastructure supply of industrial land, stable fiscal policy and political stability. The Singapore Government also foresaw that this would not be sufficient to create a sustainable economy. To a large extent it also needed to attract (externally) the professionals to work in these industries.

This approach allowed Singapore’s economy to develop from traditional services (regional trade) to manufacturing (mainly electronics assembly), then to advanced services (offshore finance, communications, business services).

In parallel to attracting the needed foreign talent Singapore is investing in educating it’s population to play an increasingly important role in these industries and companies. For a number of industries (mainly finance and business services) this is working very well.

In conclusion to the above I would argue that Singapore is quite successful in attracting and educating certain categories of creative professionals, for instance in Finance, Accounting, and Legal Services.

Increasingly now the focus is shifting to the creative core, the innovation power of Singapore. For instance the low level of homegrown technology patent filings indicates Singapore’s innovation power can be improved. Investing in growing the creative core is needed to do this.Florida (11) argues though that, in order to fully benefit from the potential of the creative class it is not sufficient to focus on just a few types, you need them all. The reasoning here is that all creative professions to a certain extent strengthen each other. They ‘cross fertilize’.

This will mean that, in addition to the states’ focus on the nuclear family, and maintaining a societal framework with arguably paternalistic characteristics, a move is now needed towards improving the environment for a creative class to grow. Examples of what will need to be done lie in the area of education, family values, legislation, housing, tolerance and strengthening the ‘power of place’.

On Education, Family Values and Mindset

Castells (12) mentions that in Asia the cornerstone of the society is the family, instead of the individual.The focus on the group and group cohesion is also the cornerstone in education. Anna Craft (13) mentions the importance of conflict avoidance and group cohesion by emphasizing discipline and conformity to tradition, and the expectance to respect and obey elders / teachers.

In order to grow a sustainable and successful creative class, it’s people will need to develop their own inquisitive mind-set. This means developing the characteristics as described earlier in this essay by Florida, individuality, meritocracy, and diversity and openness. This is in contrast to the current emphasis on the group, seniority, and conformity.

I see overcoming this Confucian mindset, of group and hierarchy over individuality and equality, as the main, and perhaps most difficult, factor to be addressed in order to grow a creative class in Singapore.

Talent development (the right talent) does not solely lie with the educational institutes. It needs to be a part of the mindset of society as whole, supported by policies to stimulate this.

On Legislation and Policy

‘ Singapore established itself, against all odds, as the showcase of the new developmental process, building a national identity on the basis of multinational investment, attracted and protected by a developmental city – state.’ (14) One of the ways in which the government did this was to put stringent legislation around what was deemed acceptable behavior in this multi-ethnic society. Known as the FINE city, Singapore has projected an image to the outside world of a clean, orderly and developed nation.

The downside to this is that virtually everything is regulated by the state, which gives the nation an ‘artificial’, non- spontaneous feel. ‘Otherness’ to the norm of the prevailing conservative family values is discouraged by policies or forbidden by law, and enforced by hefty fines and jail sentences. Having said that I realize that Singapore is very diverse racial society in practice, with an abundance of otherness to experience. From a state perspective though this is not something that is actively emphasized.

While gay pubs are now reluctantly allowed in some areas, gay rights groups are still actively stopped from organizing themselves officially. Another example is the transgressional behaviors that can be witnessed in some places, like break dancers in the MRT station near the Esplanade concert hall (not allowed as indicated by very large signs on-site).

In summary, while legislation is still quite stringent to enforce conformity, it appears that some first steps are being made to allow for diversity in lifestyle to occur (albeit in a very modest way). The Singapore government will need some time in order to feel more comfortable with emphasizing ‘otherness.’ The first step is the realization that it actually benefits the nation economically to do so.

On Tolerance

Singapore’s society, consisting of a majority of Chinese, and significant minority groups of Malay and Indians has been able to overcome the racial riots of the sixties by providing equal opportunities to its citizens, and actively mixing racial groups through its public housing program. What is interesting though is that the ethnic groups develop themselves along established racial lines, having their networks, wifes/husbands and professions within their racial group.

Improving tolerance amongst ethnic groups, but also for other groups (like gays, women, disabled) in society will require a long-term vision, and persistence. Getting rid of the ‘us and them’ viewpoint is something that needs constant attention and awareness.

On the ‘Power’ of Place

In my view Singapore as a place has a lot of power, diversity and potential. The diversity that exists in the different parts of Singapore is overwhelming. Comparing Little India, Kallang, China Town, the Central Business District and other parts of Singapore to each other, makes for a diverse and vibrant city-state.

The interesting discussion on place for Singapore is firstly around the role of public housing and the quality in living environments it brings to its population. Secondly the question is whether the attracted or homegrown creative class actually makes use of the existing diversity in place.

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) was founded in the early 1960s to address the nations urgent housing crisis. In addressing the issues efficiently and effectively the HDB took a full service approach to public housing, including land purchase, land preparation, design, building, maintenance, management etcetera. A conscious choice was made for high-rise typology for reasons of speed, cost and density. Until now the HDB has had the lead in realizing public housing for Singapore’s citizens, resulting in more than 80 % of the population to be housed by the HDB in (mainly) high-rise typology.

While the pressing need to house the population has been effectively addressed by the HDB, this has resulted in satellite cities with quite interchangeable characters. In short, while the old parts of Singapore provide diversity, the masses of Singaporeans are living in well maintained, but boring high-rise apartment blocks. The need for diversity in living environment, and having the choice to move there, are important issues for the HDB to address, when talking about improving the ‘power of place’. Introducing a bigger role for private developers in housing the population may do this.

The second question to be answered is whether the diversity, which is available, is actually used by the citizens, or whether race differences prove to be an ‘implicit’ barrier. Little India is the place to go for Indians, China Town for the Chinese and Kallang for the Malay. Obviously there are ‘common’ grounds like orchard road, however these places are very ‘developed’ and planned, to a large extent ‘inauthentic’.

For the foreign creative workers the Singapore government should make an effort though to expose the diverse places in Singapore more to this population group.

On Technology

Florida (15) argues that just providing a good infrastructure and attracting creative businesses will not work if the creative class will not consider living there. It follows that if the Singapore Government is able to make headway in the above fields, attracting creative core businesses will be a logical outcome. If creative people are there, and find it an interesting place to live, the businesses will follow. The focus for the Government needs to lie primarily on creating a ‘people’ place in Singapore.


In this essay I have discussed Castells analysis on the need for innovation as a means of improving the standard of living of a nation’s population, in light of the globalizing economy. Hence the need exists to attract and grow creative workers. I moved on to discuss the theories and analyses by Richard Florida on the creative class. I have discussed who are in this class, and what separates them from working class and service class workers. I have discussed Florida’s characteristics of the creative worker to be individualism, merit oriented, and divers and open. I have also discussed the concept of the Experiential Life Style, the Power of Place and the 3 T’s, Technology, Talent, Tolerance.

I have added education as a factor for homegrown creative talent, in addition to attracting the necessary talent externally.

On Singapore I have discussed the crucial role of the Developmental State in driving the transition of the economy to increasingly higher value added activities. I have concluded that Singapore has attracted a large amount of creative professionals from certain job groups like finance, accounting and law. I have also concluded that Singapore is lacking workers in the so-called creative core. In further improving Singapore’s innovation power, I have used Florida’s argument that creativity cross fertilizes, and hence you need all types of creative workers, to fully unleash the power of creativity.

To attract and develop a creative class in Singapore I have discussed the notion of individualism and mindset of it’s people. I have discussed education, family values, and a focus on developing the individual as possible considerations.

I have also discussed Singapore’s current legislation in allowing ‘otherness’ in life styles to occur and flourish. In the area of tolerance I have discussed the issue of race separation. The different races of Singapore’s society have equal opportunities but do not tend to mix and mingle. I have identified this as an opportunity to increase the experience of diversity in Singapore’s society.

Lastly, the Power of Place in my view is definitely there. Local Singaporean creative workers need to actively seek out this diversity in order unleash Singapore’s creative potential in this respect. For foreign creative workers it is important to be aware of the existing diversity that is available. I have concluded that the HDB can assist in improving the power of place by investing in diverse living environments, and providing choice. Also allowing singles to apply for housing will assist in the creation of a more individual mindset.

I conclude that with a focus on creating a ‘people’ place in Singapore more creative core businesses will want to set-up shop in Singapore. This includes R&D facilities, but also design firms, architecture firms, and for instance music/film studios.


1 Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity, page 315

2 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 5

3 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 8

4 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 77/78

5 Carl Rogers, “Toward a Theory of Creativity”, in On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy

6 Saskia Sassen, Global Networks, Linked Cities, page 21

7 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 218

8 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 249

9 Manuel Castells, The Network Society, page 198/199

10 Manuel Castells, End of Millenium, page 259

11 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 67 and on

12 Manuel Castells, The Network Society

13 Anna Craft, Creativity in Schools, Tensions and Dilemmas, page 88

14 Manuel Castells, End of Millenium, page 260

15 Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, page 218


– Manuel Castells, The Network Society , Blackwell Publishing, Malden, 2000

– Manuel Castells, End of Millenium, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, 2002

– Manuel Castells, The Power of Identity, Blackwell Publishing, Malden, 2004

– Anna Craft, Creativity in Schools, Tensions and Dilemmas, Routledge, New York, 2005

– Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class, Basic Books Publishing, New York, 2002

– Saskia Sassen, Global Networks, Linked Cities, Routledge, New York, 2002

– Carl Rogers, “Toward a Theory of Creativity”, in On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1961

Course: AR0044 – Singapore Design Studio

Tutors: Gregory Bracken / Gerhard Bruyns

Author: Peter de Ruijter

Date: May 26, 2009



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