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ANNA SMITH: We should nurture the burgeoning creative class in Bakersfield

Creatives approach life differently. They’re participants, not just spectators. Innovative and drawing on the creative process to solve problems, they’re not wired to look at a place through the lens of status quo. And our city should attract and embrace more of them.

Dave and Erica Bantz spent the last decade living in the hip walkable neighborhoods of Silverlake and Highland Park in Los Angeles — he as an architect working for a large firm, and she as a fashion merchandiser. By many accounts, they were living a charmed life. But, to the surprise of some friends, they recently relocated to Bakersfield. (Some asked if they would be living on a farm, only able to picture their new life in scenes visible from the freeway.)

With the arrival of their darling, blue-eyed daughter Piper, they were tempted by the opportunity to be close to her grandparents and escape what increasingly felt like a rat race. After exploring downtown on weekend trips to visit family, they “fell in love with the historic Westchester neighborhood and the burgeoning creative and entrepreneurial community in Bakersfield,” Dave explains.

The Bantzes fit squarely in what author Richard Florida describes as the “Super-creative core,” a group of professionals so filled with creativity that it pulses through their veins. It’s obvious as the couple describes what they love about this place in a series of quality-of-life amenities - not a big, cheap house in the suburbs but the ability to carve out and create an exciting life in an unexpected place. They’re putting down roots, choosing to invest in this community and already dreaming of ways to give back.

Florida explains that his 2002 book, "The Rise of the Creative Class," “was — and is — my attempt to explain the key forces that have been transforming our economy and culture over the past several decades. Our world, it seemed to me, was changing as dramatically as it had since the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It wasn’t just the internet, or the rise of new technologies, or even globalization that were upending our jobs, lives, and communities, though all those things were important. Beneath the surface, unnoticed by many, was something truly tectonic: the rise of creativity as a fundamental economic force, and the rise of a new social class, the Creative Class.”

Florida’s predictions have rung true around the globe. The secret to building better, more vibrant locations is not just attracting companies with handouts and tax breaks, but building a "people climate" — and not with stadiums and generic malls, but with parks and bike paths and street-level culture that make people’s everyday lives better, improve the underlying quality of a place, and signal a community that is open, energized, and diverse.

I met with Dave and Erica recently over coffee to chat about their move, a renovation project, and our new-parent camaraderie. But I found them first on Instagram. They’re in the middle of a personal project, renovating and designing a home in Westchester, “Casa Bantz,” and chronicling the transformation on their account, aptly titled “bantzHaus.” I love a good before-and-after, and they document as walls are torn down to open up rooms, vaulted ceilings connected, overhead beams placed, old tiles removed by hand, concrete jack-hammered for new sewer lines and a sunken living room filled in.

Dave describes the shift in scales, from designing millions of square feet for large projects across the country down to a just a few thousand, as both refreshing and surprisingly exciting. His words: “I draft something over the weekend and just a few weeks later it's built!”

A backhouse was renovated into Dave’s office. It's always been a dream to have his own studio, and after years of working from a bustling building in downtown Los Angeles, he can now lay out plans in this light-filled, clean white space looking out over the backyard of his new home.

Once the renovation is complete, Dave pictures himself enjoying breakfast with his wife and daughter in their updated half-round kitchen nook and foregoing the old L.A. commute for a stroll across the yard, favorite coffee mug in hand, with their lovable goldendoodle, Waldo, at his heels. Working from home means lunch with family and friends on the patio followed by the occasional quick dip in the pool before preparing for the afternoon conference call. As they get settled in their new community, they hope to use the home and backyard as a venue for giving back to the community. They see dinner parties with friends, casual networking mixers and the occasional fundraiser for local organizations.

They take urban walks for dinner at Muerto’s, spend afternoons at the Bakersfield Museum of Art, stroll through the sculpture garden and gather for drinks and chimichangas at Mexicali. Dave said he’s grateful for the fresh start that this move symbolizes for them, and like many of the folks they’ve already met here, they’re just getting started.

The Creative Class stands at the forefront of what political scientist Ronald Inglehart termed the transition to “post-materialist values” — a shift from values that prioritize meeting immediate material needs to those that stress belonging, self-expression, opportunity, environmental quality, diversity, community, and quality of life.

The more families like the Bantzes that we welcome as a city, the better off we all will be.

If you’d also like to follow their renovation project, find Dave and Erica on Instagram: @bantzHAUS. Dave’s email is

Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield. She can be reached at The opinions expressed are her own.

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