'Bohemian Index' Ranks Your City, but Does It Really Count?

bohemian indexAfter my first look at The Atlantic's Bohemian Index of U.S. metro cities, I decided to "bohemian" up. The list of cities for both the top and bottom 10 didn't reflect what I expected, so I figured a dictionary would solve the matter.

After looking up the word and how Bohemian Index results are tabulated, I found that the survey doesn't actually chart bohemian types. Not really. It counts artists, writers, etc., living in urban areas, but the group is, well, less bohemian than one would imagine.

While New York City and Los Angeles unsurprisingly top the list, the rest has some shockers -- New Orleans in the bottom 10?! Salt Lake City in the top 10?!

Let's take a look at the index and what others, including actual bohemians, think of it.

The first definition of a Bohemian in Merriam-Webster's is someone from Bohemia. But there isn't THAT much demand for Bohemian socio-geographical data and Nebraska would be in the top five.

The other definitions seemed to get closer: "vagabond, wanderer" and -- aha! -- "gypsy."
The final entry defines a bohemian as writer or artist "living an unconventional life," usually with others. (Communes and hippies come to mind.) So if you put these definitions together you get a poor, wandering artist.

The index was created by Richard Florida who wrote the book "Creative Class." The Martin Prosperity Institute where he works keeps an updated list of the Bohemian Index -- along with a Gay Index and others. When a reader of Florida's blog inquired about bohemian cities and Florida responded with his top and bottom picks.

Says Florida: "The index charts the concentration of working artists, musicians, writers, designers, and entertainers across metropolitan areas." So it measures only those with art, music or another "bohemian" vocation as a primary job.

It's hard to keep track of poor, wandering artist types, though, which is probably why the Bohemian Index used a gainfully employed group -- and seems so glaringly off.

Plenty of people take issue with Florida's methods and ideas. One of them is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Steven Malanga, who wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Florida's "new age theory of urban development amounts to economic snake oil."

The boho-happy masses can agree with New York City, Los Angeles, Toronto and even Nashville in the top 10, but Salt Lake City and Washington D.C.?
Would you be more likely to stop and watch a street musician in Salt Lake City (near the top of the list at no. 7) or New Orleans (ranked no. 3 in the bottom 10)?

As J.D. Lyons, a longtime New Orleans resident and boxing-ring announcer says, "There are tons of musicians and artists in New Orleans. They're not bohemian because they are not fulltime artists? Are you kidding me?! Pete Fountain is a living legend in the jazz world. But he couldn't have been [considered] bohemian because he had another job? Come on!"

Josh Bloom has promoted bands with his company, Fanatic Promotion, since 1997 and recently started a music label. "I've worked with artists in every city in the bottom 10," he laughs. "Most people who are artists, bohemian types, aren't able to do it fulltime. Every city has its pocket of artist types, obviously, but a bohemian large metro [should] be a place like New Orleans."

Bloom says, "The definition of bohemian is subject to interpretation." But in his view "it's a person with artistic interests not paying attention to standard behaviors. I think conventional and standard is a 9-to-5 job, so if you are artistic and bohemian, you don't do that."

All cities have artists, but the Bohemian Index misses one thing: bohemians. Fulltime writers and working artists might call themselves a lot of things -- "creative class" probably -- but usually not "bohemians." The true bohemian class is important and worth seeking out because from them creativity and invention flow.

But as authentic Bohemian Albert Einstein said: "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

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