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Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy / 3

We are honoured and deligheted to publish Dr Roberta Comunian’s* last article engaging with the current research and debate about the creative city and the importance of cultural infrastructure in contemporary cities. It argues that much of the focus has been around the investment of cities in specific regeneration projects or flagship developments rather than addressing the nature of the infrastructures, networks and agents engaging in the city’s cultural development. The complexity theory and its associated principles can provide a new understanding of the connection between the urban space and the systems of local cultural production and consumption. Drawing on interviews with creative practitioners in the North East region of England, the paper argues that the cultural development of a city is a complex adaptive system. This finding has implication both for policy makers and academic research. It emphases the importance of micro-interactions and network between creative practitioners, the publicly supported cultural sector and the cultural infrastructure of the city.

2.2 The contradiction of a global creative city and the importance of local assets

Although the concept of the creative city appears to be a very attractive and sophisticated policy instrument, few people have considered its global reach and local limits. As with many fuzzy concepts (Markusen, 2003) and global branding exercises (Jensen, 2005; Kearns and Philo, 1993), it can be seen as another globalised brand which has been accepted and adopted without critical debate or intervention. In particular, Europe has been very receptive to the concept (Florida and Tinagli, 2004), although previous research adopting a more embedded approach to the creative city (Bianchini and Landry, 1995; Landry, 2000) did not enjoy the same success. However, Montgomery (2005) points out that the creative cities listed by Florida (especially in the European analysis) often do not reflect the reality of the creative economy[i], and argues that “the only indicator that matters is the strength of a city’s creative economy, measured in the number of businesses and employees, and by the wealth they produce” (Montgomery, 2005, p. 339). As Gibbon (2005) suggests, even though Florida’s theory might be valid for the American context, this does not imply that a similar correlation can be found in British and European cities.

According to Bailey et al (2004), Florida’s creative class is far from promoting the kind of local culture and identity that is central to many successful urban regeneration projects. They argue that this paradigm promotes a globalised culture that can cause a location to become anonymous by virtue of its prescribed ‘diversity’: “the city allows you to modulate the experience: to choose the mix, to turn the intensity level up and down as desired and to have a hand in creating the experience rather than merely consuming it” (Florida, 2002, p. 232). On the contrary, successful urban regeneration projects are, according to the authors, those implying a strong involvement of the pre-existing community and local identity. In these terms, culturally based urban regeneration processes should not aim towards a multicultural and multi-identity town, offering the widest choice of cultural opportunities for the creative class. Instead, it should recover a sense of place, history and belonging. This vision is almost in antithesis with the decline of the identity and community links typical of Florida’s globalised city model. Furthermore, an unconditional and uncritical acceptance of this approach tends to underestimate the need for balance between the attraction of “foreign” talent and the development of local talent. In this respect, if the focus is the attraction of a highly mobile creative class, cities would have to continuously compete for the retention of those highly skilled people with other fast-growing creative metropolises. Furthermore, as some authors suggest with reference to the development of creative economies and creative clusters, the grassroots development of creative industries can provide a long-term view: “there is a growing awareness that the development of a viable indigenous sector is crucial to providing a long-term basis for employment in the industry.” (Coe, 2000, p. 392)

Moreover, this could lead to the possibility of many investments and projects attracting the creative class towards a city or town causing the progressive exclusion of local artists. This phenomenon could cause processes of gentrification and segregation, resulting in the formation of a dualistic development model. In particular, Zukin (1995; 1985), takes a critical standpoint with regard to urban regeneration processes based on culture. She claims that the goals of these interventions are mostly speculative and tend to involve arts and culture as a simple add-on, merely instrumental to raising the property value. In particular, Zukin reports the typical effect of the fast rise of the economic value of certain regenerated areas. This phenomenon can cause the artists who originally generated the attraction to be forced out of the regenerated area due to rising property values.

In their ideal of the creative city, many policy makers have forgotten to analyse the social problems and inequalities that are caused by excessive competition for the attraction of talent at the expense of the development of local communities (Brooks, 2000). Theoretically, there is no guarantee that investing in the attraction of “outside” talents produces better long term results than investing in the “empowerment” and consolidation of local talent. However, with an inward looking approach there is a risk of being trapped in defensive and self-comforting localism, rather than enhancing exchanges and interactions with other similar locations.

Bell and Jayne (2003) consider the role of design and design-led urban regeneration, and critically acknowledge that although some interesting case studies could be addressed, like the one regarding Barcelona or Glasgow, there is always a limit in practice. While there is often success in the re-imaging of the city and creation of levels of business involvement, and in terms of consumption, there is no evidence that the involvement of members of the community, or their view of the city or how design affects their life is being taken into consideration. In this respect, the potential in terms of social impact and social inclusion, often quoted as being one of the specific outcomes of these investments, is not so clear. The relation between creative economy and urban regeneration remains still an assumption that needs to be investigated further.

A careful reflection on the features of the promoters and beneficiaries of the “creative city” model is needed. It is suggested that “until we have a serious debate concerning values and ethics, the creative city will remain a comfortable ‘feel-good’ concept for consultants, policy makers and politicians rather than a serious agenda for radical change ” (Chatterton, 2000, p. 397). As Garcìa (2004) suggests, in the lessons to be learnt from past examples of culture-led urban-regeneration “the hype is surrounded by strong pressure among policy-makers and cultural practitioners to find the perfect model of action […] there are no straight answers, or clear models to follow “(Garcìa, 2004, p.322). From this perspective, cultural investments aiming at the promotion of creativity also have to meet a series of social needs and goals, such as the promotion of social inclusion, intercultural dialogue and the promotion of human and civil rights against economic and social exclusion (Donald and Morrow, 2003).

 

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*Dr. Roberta Comunian is Creative Industries Research Associate at the School of Arts, University of Kent. Prior to this, she was lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Southampton. She holds a European Doctorate title in Network Economy and Knowledge Management. She is interested in: relationship between public and private investments in the arts, art and cultural regeneration projects, cultural and creative industries, creativity and competitiveness. She has been visiting researcher at University of Newcastle investigating the relationship between creative industries, cultural policy and public supported art institutions. She has previously undertaken research on knowledge transfer and creative industries within an AHRC Impact Fellowship award at the University of Leeds.

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Endnotes

[1] For example, Montgomery (2005) suggests how Leicester becomes the second most creative city in UK, just because too much weight is put on the fact that it has a large non-white population even if its creative economy is not developed more than other UK cities.

[2] For an useful overview on the principles of complexity theory see Martin and Sunley (2007) p. 6.

[3]  The field work undertaken for the present research included 136 semi-structured interviews with people working in the creative and cultural industries (within the private and the public and not for profit sector) in the North-East region of England. Interviews took place between November 2005 and April 2006. Furthermore, social network analysis has been used to test the role of networks and infrastructures.

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Previous chapters :

Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy / 1

Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy / 2


 

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. I don’t think that change can come from local authorities because they have a vested interest in maximizing quickly the value of their assets (in less time than a political mandate or a consulting contract). The ‘creative’ branding is the one that generates the biggest and fastest return on investment because it appeals to a wealthy class, and it will be for that reason always their primary aim. On the other hand, not every neighborhood can reach that status and it might be possible to make realize most local authorities that this goal is not realistic for them, so that they would concede considering the well being of their existing and less wealthy inhabitants, as a sort of safe investment until things change. I can’t imagine any ethics that could drive their behavior and ‘resolve’ the conflict from the top. I am much more in favor of eliciting conflicts of space and encouraging stakeholders in the vicinity to negotiate the outcome, knowing it will always be a power struggle with winners and losers.

    http://curatedmatter.org/2010/05/09/welcome-to-my-place-philosophical-paper-on-the-appropriation-of-space/

  2. I don’t think that change can come from local authorities because they have a vested interest in maximizing quickly the value of their assets (in less time than a political mandate or a consulting contract). The ‘creative’ branding is the one that generates the biggest and fastest return on investment because it appeals to a wealthy class, and it will be for that reason always their primary aim. On the other hand, not every neighborhood can reach that status and it might be possible to make realize most local authorities that this goal is not realistic for them, so that they would concede considering the well being of their existing and less wealthy inhabitants, as a sort of safe investment until things change. I can’t imagine any ethics that could drive their behavior and ‘resolve’ the conflict from the top. I am much more in favor of eliciting conflicts of space and encouraging stakeholders in the vicinity to negotiate the outcome, knowing it will always be a power struggle with winners and losers.

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