The Completely Creative City by Charles Leadbeater

British Council Cities Seminar Warsaw, March 17/18 (from here)

1. Is Creativity Narrow, Broad or Non Existent in your City?

Why does creativity matter to cities, where does comes from and how it is organised?

There are two quite different ways of answering these questions.

The first, is that creativity is wrapped up with culture and the arts, knowledge and learning. Cities have always been centres of learning, the first home to libraries and universities, museums and galleries. Cities provide some of the key ingredients for cultural creativity: diversity, density and proximity.
This account of the city as a place of culture and learning took of new life with Richard Florida’s account of the role of the “creative class” in city renewal.

Florida’s argument is that the presence of a thriving “creative class” – artists, designers, media folk -was the best signal to other knowledge workers that the atmosphere in a city was vibrant, open and tolerant. A city with a thriving creative and cultural sector would then attract other high end knowledge jobs and set off a spiral of economic and social growth. The road to economic salvation for a city lay through the cultural quarter of galleries, clubs, restaurants and studios.

Indeed cities are increasingly managing how they make people feel as much as they manage their roads and buildings.

This is a “narrow” account of the creative city: creativity is confined to narrow group, that works in particular areas of the city, and their creativity is mainly applied to a narrow range of cultural activities. This core creative class has a huge multiplier effect on the atmosphere and economics of the city. Culture projects a city’s reputation internationally: Edinburgh is known for its summer festival, while in reality its economy relies on more hum drum financial services.

The recipe for the “narrow” approach to the creative city are well known: investment in cultural institutions; renewal of the city’s historic core; Bohemian cultural quarters, as the basis for the wider economic regeneration of a city that will bring investment in new retail and leisure facilities, apartments and knowledge worker jobs.

Cities that have pursued this strategy still face enormous challenges, particularly to connect the suburbs to the city core and to connect people outside the “creative class” to the jobs that it helps to create in the service economy. Even if culture is central to a city’s creativity, it is at best only part of the answer.
The second approach to why cities need creativity is much broader in scope: cities have to be creative about all aspects of city life, not just culture.

The density and scale of cities pose significant innovation challenges, to create mass forms of housing, transport, health, utilities, waste disposal, education. That is why cities created of new shared institutions – libraries, fire services, postal systems. Cities require continual social and political creativity to address the problems that cities throw up as they grow, mutate and decline.

Those challenges are only going to become more intense with migration into growing cities and away from declining ones; the different demands of an ageing population and young singles; changing patterns of employment and family life; the need to shift to more environmentally sustainable forms of energy and transport.
These social challenges have traditionally been tasks for specialists -planners, architects and engineers -to reimagine the city. Most famously this gave rise to the the modernist vision of the city as a machine, a lattice work of roads, factories and high rise apartment blocs.

The wider problems cities face require a more distributed, social creativity, which often involves a combination of top down investment in new infrastructures – for example for energy, transport or waste– combined with mass changes in individual behaviour – using electricity, mass transit, household recycling.
The recipes for “broader” social creativity in cities are far less clear. First, it requires a more social, cumulative and collaborative account of creativity, in contrast to the traditional idea that creativity depends comes from a spark of individual genius. Second, this social creativity has to apply to things which are not widely seen as worthy of creativity: waste disposal, health provision, housing and transport. Third, the ingredients for “broader” social creativity are very different in different cities depending on their political governance, history, the strength of civil society organisations.


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