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Creating Cities : Culture, Space and Sustainability / 2

The conference “Creating Cities: Culture, Space, and Sustainability”, which took place from February 25th, 2010 to February 27th, 2010 at the Japan Center of the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich, brought together a wide range of different topics and researchers working on the broader theme of cities and how they are understood today. The tension between the concept of “creative cities” and what it means to “create” cities had an interesting dynamic to it and enabled many lively discussions. The presentations were largely based on notions of the “creative city” [Landry, C.: The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators. London: Earthscan Publications, 2004] and the “creative class” [Florida, R.: The Rise of the Creative Class: And How it’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 2002], which have highly influenced the understanding of the city today. These concepts focus on the importance of culture, creativity, and the arts for urban development and have been widely used by urban planners and city officials. In order to enhance a city and bring economic development the presence and concentration of artists, scientists, musicians, bohemians, even gays becomes crucial. These groups help create a “quality of place”, as Florida explains.

Florida’s “gay index”, which describes a correlation between the number of gay men in a city and the amount of high tech job growth, has been criticized for being a too simplistic tool by Terry Nichols Clark, among others. He finds that the number of gay male households alone is fairly irrelevant when it comes to the high tech knowledge industry and that the gay impact falls in smaller metro areas [Clark, T.N.: Gays and Urban Development. In T.N. Clark (Ed.), The City as an Entertainment Machine. (pp. 221-229). Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2004]. Art and culture contribute to the general atmosphere of a city or a district, its street life, diversity, and other aspects. According to Landry and Florida this helps build a climate, which enables cities to label themselves as creative places and position themselves within the global competition for human resources.

I will focus here on a few talks that were particularly inspiring for me and brought new insights into my field of interest (the cultural perspectives of creative cities and (un)sustainability).

In her talk on “Projects of Creativity and Inclusion: The Challenges of Cultural Development in Mexico City” Ana Rosas  Mantecón from the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana México presented several examples of projects in Mexico City that try to reach out to different groups within the city, especially those who are often forgotten. For example cleaning women, or prostitutes are introduced to cultural activities such as visiting museums. For Mantecón it is important to see how these projects broaden the notion of ‘the creative class’ by giving access to culture for a wider range of the population. She asserts that cultural rights are a main point of citizenship, making access to culture a social matter. This is in contrast to a more individual understanding of creativity as Florida defines it. Inclusion, participation, and interaction pose ways in which sustainability issues could be included in the creative city model.

Regarding a seemingly very different topic, Ute Lehrer from York University, Toronto analysed the growing number of condominiums in Toronto, calling them vertically networked suburbs [Lehrer, U. & Wieditz, T. (2009). Condominium Development and Gentrification. Canadian Planning and Policy 18(1), 82-103]. For her, the explosion of the number of high-rise condo buildings is a result of creative city policies and neoliberal tendencies in the city. Mostly private investment projects, condo buildings are still rising, despite the financial and real-estate crisis in Northern America. For Lehrer these projects are a way for investors to cash in on downtown areas by creating a built environment for the ultimate urban lifestyle. (The desire to live there is also created by the media, who hype life-style possibilities in condos.) These condos bring together culture, lifestyle and economic goals for the creative class (such as young professionals, empty nesters; parents, whose children have grown up and left home and well-off immigrants). For Lehrer, these condos are vertical suburbs (albeit located in city centers) as they are highly homogeneous internally (young professionals in one complex, empty nesters in another). This newly built gentrification also makes interaction with the outside mostly unnecessary as many amenities can be found within the condominiums. The result is a new urban social community, in which the entry-level for homeownership (including young people) is lower than in traditional suburbs. This makes the condos appealing for people who want to live in a cosmopolitan global environment. The effects this has on the surroundings and distinctive parts of neighborhoods, were illustrated by Lehrer with pictures from all around Toronto. An extended number of huge buildings designed by well-known architects that have no real relationship to what goes on around them are visible all around the city. For a creative city looking at sustainability, this type of development is highly problematic. These buildings tend to erase other characteristics of neighborhoods, increase the demand for surrounding infrastructures and push other groups out of the city.

Roger Keil’s (York University Toronto) talk on “Mobility in the In-Between City: Getting Stuck Between the Local and Global” brought insights into the situation in places surrounding the ‘creative’ city centers. These areas are mostly overlooked as if they are not part of the global city. They are suburbs in the sense that people live there, but at the same time they are also workplaces. Keil’s focus on the Toronto area and the maps he presented highlighted distinct borders between the downtown areas and these “in-between” cities. Such areas are important parts of the regional economy, but have nothing to do with an image of a global, creative city. They are often interchangeable in their appearance (Keil showed a very compelling photo of a gas station and convenience store complex, which could have been set anywhere in North America), but also have a heterogenic structure, made up of high-end houses and cheap housing. The demographics of the “in-between” cities are normally associated with those of the inner city, not of traditional suburbs, because they are highly diverse (even though certain groups stick to certain areas). For Keil, these places represent the backbone of daily living. They are areas of regular ‘passing through’, with constant “missingness” of one another. Keil therefore calls for a new political infrastructure to consider the real needs of residents and promote “meetingness,” New actors in politics and planning can loosen the hard boundaries of demographics, income, and politics and help overcome age-class-gender biases of the system. For Keil that “politization” of infrastructure is needed to show how the built environment affects peoples’ lives.

The closing talk from Klaus Kunzmann entitled “The Creative City Fever” gave an overview of the development of the term “creative city” and why it has become so popular today. The term functions as a plug-in concept, which can be applied almost everywhere and fits in many different contexts. For Kunzmann the concept is ‘sexier’ than issues such as social justice or sustainability since these are more difficult to implement. He gave several reasons why the concept has become broadly accepted and applied. Creativity itself is a term that implies positive characteristics and remains open to interpretation. Identification with the term is easy, making it useful for stakeholders, academics, and policy makers. The rise of the creative economy as a new area for policies and technologies also goes together with the concept of the creative city. Cultural flagships and the rediscovery of culture in the political agenda also help promote the city as a place for true creativity. Changing values and lifestyles, a cosmopolite knowledge society and the dominance of consumption all play into the locational preferences of the creative class. This also appeals to people who market cities and tourism to attract young, mobile visitors and compete with other cities on a global level. For Kunzmann there are winners in this development, such as larger cities, policy advisors and cultural institutions that are taken more seriously. But there are also losers, namely cultural pioneers, smaller cities, or residents in gentrified areas. Therefore Kunzmann, described a certain danger in the creative city paradigm which appears as innovative action, but actually often results in social polarization, deflecting attention from social and environmental issues. But, the concept can also offer possibilities to regard the importance of quality of life in a city, like the idea of the compact city (in which people want to return to live in city centers), or encourage creative action. There is the potential to integrate issues of sustainability into the concept of the creative city.

Julia Hahn, Lüneburg (D)

Source : Webmagazine de Cultura21, Sacha Kagan.

Filed under: Analyses, Evénements, Expériences, Gouvernances, Ressources, , , , , , ,

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