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Creative cities research

October 18, 200518 October 2005

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Four reports from Canadian Policy Research Networks (August 2004) provide information about: What is a creative city? What are some benefits of creative cities? What is required to build a creative city? What are the barriers and opportunities in the development of creative cities? How can public policy influence creative cities? Creative city case studies.

What is a creative city?

Neil Bradford defines creative cities as “dynamic locales of experimentation and innovation, where new ideas flourish and people from all walks of life come together to make their communities better places to live, work and play”. The creative city concept involves more than drawing artists to a place and investing in cultural organizations: it implies a holistic, creative thinking process that can be applied to a range of social, economic and environmental problems.

What are the key features of a creative city?

In June 2004, CPRN held a structured policy dialogue with stakeholders on the concept of creative cities. The majority of those attending suggested that uniqueness and authenticity were the key features of creative cities. Some dialogue participants suggested that creative cities are also inherently unsettled and dynamic due to the constant oscillating tension between historic tradition and novel enterprise.

Bradford’s report on the dialogue session indicates that “there was consensus that the creative city excels in bringing together ‘place, people, and investment'”, more specifically: high quality built and natural places; talented and diverse people “who bring ideas, inspiration, and passion to a place”; and “new investments in the infrastructure of urban creativity, ranging from the physical environment to the social networks, cultural organizations, and knowledge institutions that together drive innovation”.

Bradford’s background paper stresses the importance of striking a balance between local community roots and global influences, formal high culture and informal street scenes, non-profit arts activity and creative industry clusters, neighbourhood regeneration and social inclusion, and rule-based accountability and grassroots experimentation.

What are some benefits of creative cities?

Where previous urban planning sought to impose a physical and functional order over places, leading to separated citizens and compartmentalized problems, creative cities have the power to engage different kinds of people and different kinds of knowledge in developing imaginative and innovative solutions to complex local issues. Bradford summarizes the benefits of creativity in five areas: governance innovation; civic innovation; economic innovation; social innovation; and artistic and cultural innovation.

Meric Gertler argues that creative city development plays an “important role in enhancing the dynamism, resilience and overall competitiveness of our national economy”, while simultaneously enhancing “quality of life and opportunity for a broad cross-section of Canadians”.

Gertler also notes that creative people have long played a key role as “dynamic agents of positive transformation” in communities. Underutilized spaces and derelict neighbourhoods have become home to artists seeking affordable work space. Soon others have been drawn to these areas for the vibrant cultural life. This influx of people can result in improved public transportation, municipal services and consumer spending within the area. Artists and creative neighbourhoods can help promote an environment characterized by tolerance of differences and celebration of non-conformity.

Economically, creative cities offer opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning through intended and accidental encounters with creative people in other fields, thus providing the stimulation necessary to promote innovation in a wide array of occupations and industries. A creative atmosphere also helps attract workers to a region, if it is perceived as a place ‘where things happen’.

Artists themselves can also help to raise overall productivity in a regional economy by enhancing the entrepreneurial culture of the region (since many artists are self-employed).

What is required to build a creative city?

Nancy Duxbury’s paper encourages urban leaders to keep some key principles in mind when developing a city’s vision and local planning processes:

  • Each city and community is unique in its identity, history, development and assets.
  • Implementation of ideas is an art, based on knowledge and sensitivity to the community.
  • City development must be rooted in authenticity, but cities should also be willing to learn from innovative ideas elsewhere (while avoiding formulaic borrowing).
  • Durable planning and governance innovation depend on strong community involvement and shared ownership of the process and outcomes. Creative city advocates should work to ensure that arts and culture is understood and valued for its role in strengthening community confidence and identity.
  • Small projects sustained over time can make a difference.

Creative city leaders must be willing to take risks and secure resources for their innovative solutions. Innovative change also requires time, flexibility, strong community networks, a strong collective will, and strategic resources.

What are the barriers and opportunities in the development of creative cities?

The dialogue session participants identified a number of barriers to developing creative cities, including: a lack of clarity on the meaning of creativity and its relevance in an urban setting; a lack of awareness in policy and planning circles about the creative city process; the absence of a practical toolkit for planning and implementing creativity in cities; a shortage of resources and skills at the municipal level to facilitate this process; the lack of creativity champions among a community’s political, administrative, business and community leaders; research gaps on how artistic and cultural activities contribute to economic innovation and quality of life; and the lack of clear and applicable indicators to capture the creativity of a city and the contribution of investments made to arts, culture and heritage.

Participants also raised questions about how to define success in creative cities. Is a neighbourhood undergoing regeneration yet experiencing the displacement of artists a successful part of a creative city?

Some of the opportunities for creative city development include Canada’s distinct multiculturalism (which facilitates cultural syntheses) and the growing knowledge that arts and culture contribute to positive outcomes across a range of urban fronts (including resident health, cross-cultural understanding, community safety and economic growth). In addition, the educational system is seen as an untapped resource in developing creative cities. Another important opportunity is inherent in the creative city process itself – namely its focus on building at a local level, where networks are the strongest and the possibility of aligning interests is the greatest.

How can public policy influence creative cities?

Cultural policy at all levels of government can help to ensure that arts and cultural endeavours are supported. Federal policy can also help protect the arts and culture from foreign domination. Federal immigration and settlement policy may also have an impact on creative cities, especially since many immigrants settle in the same lower-income urban areas as artists.

Provincial policy can provide the ‘connective tissue’ between regions, in areas such as land use, green space protection, and public transit. Municipal policy has a significant role in city land use and development, in order to preserve the rich or mixed use nature of creative neighbourhoods. Finally, all levels of government should work together to preserve cultural components within communities, since venues such as libraries often act as access points for new immigrants.

Case studies

In his background paper, Bradford gives three Canadian (Quebec City, Saskatoon and Toronto) and two international examples (Huddersfield, UK and Brisbane, Australia) of creative cities in action. Bradford also stresses policy and social collaborations as necessary components of a healthy city.

Nancy Duxbury cites Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax as case studies of the implementation of a creative city process. Duxbury lists key challenges and assesses the progress in each of the four cities, including a discussion of the quantitative and qualitative measures used by each city to evaluate the process.

Creative Cities: Structured Policy Dialogue BackgrounderBy Neil Bradford,

Creative Cities: Structured Policy Dialogue Report
By Neil Bradford,

Creative Cities: Principles and Practices
By Nancy Duxbury,

Creative Cities: What Are They For, How Do They Work, and How Do We Build Them
By Meric Gertler,

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