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

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.

6. Conclusions: rethinking the creative city

How can complexity theory help us rethink the structures and potential of the concept of the creative city? First, complexity interaction imposes a new way of looking at how local contexts and the cultural agents and actors of the city interact. It suggests that in order to evaluate or research the creative city, a multi-level approach must be kept in mind, to allow consideration of how different actors and institutions interact in the city.  The literature suggests that the creative industries have been characterised as “having a ‘hive mentality’, informally networked ‘scenes’ which can operate very effectively in some ways. But in others the very informality can be problematic in terms of policy development” (O’Connor, 2002, p.28). Much of the regeneration literature and policy action towards the creative city have been focussed on formal investments, large cultural flagship projects, and image. On the contrary, networks seem to be central to the delivery of a better and more sustainable support system which answers the needs of creative industries. However it also important not to limit support to the mainstream, established networks. and also support the more hidden or transient ones, as these can provide the vital first steps into the sector. For example, in the North East, along with supporting established organisation like New Writing North it is important to support smaller local networks of writers or people interested in literature, as in the case of the The Blue Room [i], where interaction occurs on a wider social level without implying any strong commitment.

Culture North East (2001) states in the Regional Cultural Strategy for the North East of England “the regional cultural strategy calls for agencies supporting the sector to be entrepreneurial and opportunistic in their approach, to help create an environment where there is serious investment in innovation and risk taking at the grass roots level, which supports a continuum from cultural activity to commercial activity and retains talent in the region” (p.27). The opposition between large capital investments in the region and support for local networks can become a challenge. Sometimes it possible to see that public money is more easily directed towards large institutions or infrastructures while networks represent a soft infrastructure which is difficult to define and to invest in.

This paper has attempted to use complexity theory to highlight some of the dynamics in the creative economy of a city against a common tendency towards reductionism, where the creative economy discourse is used as a mathematical formula which can be applied to all contexts and times. The arguments presented suggest that we should consider the creative and cultural factor as constitutive and grounded in the urban context rather than simply instrumentally additive to other urban discourses of economic growth.  Also, Ormerod (1998) argues the need for a less mechanistic approach to the study of economic phenomena: “Economies and societies are not machines. They are more like living organisms. Individuals do not act in isolation, but affect each other in complex ways” (Ormerod, 1998: x). As Landry (2000) recognises “successful cities seem to have some things in common – visionary individuals, creative organisations and a political culture sharing a clarity of purpose. They seemed to follow a determined, not a deterministic path”  (Landry, 2000, p.3).

New understandings of the dynamics of the creative economy need to be implemented. This new approach must bridge the gap between the top-down approach of policy making and investment in the cultural infrastructure of a city, with a grounded understanding of the emergent structures arising from actors and agencies interacting in the sector. As Green (2001) underlines the challenging aspect  of complexity theory when applied to social systems is that instead of seeing how a social system changes as being a function of how it is, it clearly acknowledges that how it changes – even those small little changes at the grassroots level – affects how it is, and how it subsequently change again. This should be the new challenge for researchers wanting to investigate the role of culture in urban environments.


[i] The Blue Room is a project supported by the Arts Council North East with the aim to “encourage new women – and men – writers to read their work, and promoting new audiences for live poetry and prose”  (from the website www.blueroom.org.uk) and consists of a serial of monthly informal events taking place in a local pub / venue.

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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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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

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

Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy / 4

Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy / 5

Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy / 6

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