3 min

Bohemians good for business

Queers disappear in Ontario research

Credit: Jan Becker

Could queers be good for a city’s economy?

A US study says we are – though researchers who followed the same model for Ontario dropped lesbian and gay people from their data.

Richard Florida, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, says a city’s gay population is the strongest indicator of the level of tolerance and diversity. Cities with a high population of homos create an environment that fosters creativity, and that attracts people, especially university graduates sought after by the high-tech sector.

A study released in December by the Institute For Competitiveness And Prosperity, an economic research group funded by the Ontario government, echoes Florida’s findings. But it traded in the queers that were the focus of the original report for bohemians and artists.

The Ontario report shows that cities with a high percentage of people in the arts also have a high percentage of people with a university degree and rank near the top of the tech-pole index, a measure of technology-intensive employment.

“We’ve tended to view the arts and culture as luxuries or frills. This work is showing a much closer connection between that side of our lives and the economy than we ever imagined before,” says University Of Toronto professor Meric Gertler, co-author of the Canadian study.

Vancouver has the highest percentage of people in the arts, followed by Toronto, Victoria and then Montreal. Toronto ranks third when it comes to university degrees and second on the tech-pole.

“It was probably a big shock to Montrealers that they didn’t come first,” says a laughing Gertler.

Gertler says they didn’t use the gay index because they didn’t have the information, not because of any aversion to reporting the bene-fits of a city having homosexuals. The data on same-sex households in Canada from the 2001 census was not released until the fall, after the research for the paper had been completed.

“I think that if we were to do an analysis of the gay index in Canada and its relation to the other variables, we’d find pretty much the same relationships as Florida found in the US,” says Gertler.

The other wrinkle is that 2001 was the first year the Canadian census had questions about same-sex households. The US has asked the question twice, and the reporting rate almost doubled the second time the question was posed. Gertler says he doesn’t believe it’s because of massive changes, it was just that people had a higher level of comfort answering the question. He didn’t feel Canadian data would be accurate enough to compare with the US results.

“We’re still very interested in producing something like a gay index for Canadian cities because Florida and Gates made a pretty convincing case that that was the best indicator for tolerance and diversity of all of the different social indicators that they used,” says Gertler.

Hard data aside, Gertler says that within Canada, there does seem to be strong relationships between the gay population and other measures of economic dynamism.

Florida says he got the idea for the original study after the high tech firm Lycos, which originated in Pittsburgh, moved to Boston because there was more talent available there. Other cities, including Minneapolis, also experienced companies leaving for cities that could offer more. Florida began to wonder if the key to economic development wasn’t where companies decided to locate, but where people chose to live. He took a list of high-tech cities assembled by the Milken Institute in California and compared it with a list of cities with large gay populations – the lists looked the same, with Boston, Washington, DC and San Francisco all near the top of the lists.

One of the differences that came up when data from the US and Canada were compared is that the national approach to immigrants is quite different. The US is more of a melting pot where people are expected to assimilate.

“Toronto remains a place that welcomes and accepts newcomers,” says Gertler. “Newcomers can maintain a distinct identity for a long time in this country.”

As well, Gertler says we’re a much more immigrant-based society now than the Americans are. In fact, the figures for Canada were more than twice as high than they were for the US.

City for city, Gertler found that as a country, Canadians by profession are more creative than their US counterparts.

“I think that that reflects to a very large degree the results of several decades of cultural policy that have supported the arts and culture in Canada, in Canadian content regulations, in broadcasting, in television, radio and other active forms of support for the arts,” says Gertler. “If we had done this 50 years ago, I think we would have found a much lower bohemian index for Canada than the US.”

* The report Competing On Creativity: Placing Ontario’s Cities In North American Context can be found at