By Professor Andy Pratt

23 May 2017 - 17:31

'To make a city more creative, you need lots of artists.' Image (c) qimono, licensed under CC0 and adapted from the original.
'To make a city more creative, you need lots of artists.' Image ©

qimono, licensed under CC0 and adapted from the original.

We asked Andy Pratt, Professor of Cultural Economy at City University London, about ways that a city can be more creative.

What makes a city creative?

Most of us dream of living in a beautiful, creative place. We know these places when we see them: cities full of cultural beauty, with treasure troves of museums and stunning buildings. But such cities are few and far between, and their beauty is often rooted in the past. So what should a city do if it does not have such heritage?

The go-to policy to make a city stand out from the crowd has often been to combine architecture and culture: build an opera house, a contemporary art gallery, or a very tall building. This certainly gets a city noticed. But it doesn't necessarily make the city more creative.

Creativity is exploratory and involves risk. If a city promotes its established cultural heritage in a tourism marketing competition, the marketing team are in danger of being seen as the opposite of creative: copycats.

How can a city become more creative?

To make itself more creative, a city can develop in three different ways. The first is through creative products or experiences; the second is through creative people; and the third is by making creative things.

Each of these three options have their pros and cons, and have a tendency to pull against one another. Let's look at each in turn.

1. Set up creative experiences for people

The first option is to make creative events and experiences available to visitors and people who live in the city. This could be visiting a cultural site, such as St Mark’s Square in Venice, the Left Bank in Paris, or even a theme park such as Disneyland.

What's good about it

Setting aside the quality of culture on offer, the focus is on ‘the experience’. You can see this in how some brick-and-mortar shops compete with online shopping sites. They stress the experience of buying their products in-store, to the extent of making retail visits feel almost like theatre.

What's not so good

This model is attractive, but it is not sustainable, because the experience loses its novelty and excitement when repeated. Then it's time to re-build the theme park, or attract another World Cup, or Olympic Games to the city.

2. Attract creative people to live there

To make a city more creative, you need lots of artists. Most cultural products and events are the result of many people with diverse skills working together; not a lone genius.

What's good about it

In today’s economy, creativity is valuable. If the creative economy was a country, it’d be the fourth largest in the world based on employment and economy. Researchers report that the so-called 'creative class' of people tend to be better educated and in demand from high-tech industries; so much so that industries may move to be closer to them.

So how can a city attract more creative citizens? You can ‘grow your own’ with a supportive education system and cultural environment, but this takes decades. Or for a quicker result, you can try to match their values with a tolerant, liberal city government, edgy cultural consumption opportunities and pop-up shops, and cool neighbourhoods full of coffee shops and juice bars: hipster-ville.

What's not so good

Such a niche consumption paradise is not for everyone. It is a playground for the well-off. The shadow of gentrification and social exclusion looms over this type of city, as rents rise, causing less wealthy long-time residents to leave. Hardly an inclusive story.

3. Help people make creative goods and services

Rather than focusing on what the creative class like to do with their spare time and money, cities can focus on helping them do what they do best: making creative goods and services.

What's good about it

Creative people's work is what underpins the creative economy. To support them, cities must make sure they offer affordable space and networking opportunities. Networking is especially important for freelancers, who make up so much of the creative industries. They need skilled ‘matchmakers’: people who can, for example, arrange to hook up a freelance animator with a scriptwriter and financial backing.

What's not so good

The problem is that most city mayors are interested in big marketing messages to attract business, and heritage sites. But creativity is about more than museums and heritage sites, and creative businesses often start small. What they need is space and the chance to meet each other.

Creative people need space and ways to network

This is why the latest idea is to set up ‘creative hubs’: affordable spaces with several creative start-ups in residence, where people can get advice and structured networking opportunities.

These are places where creative people can help one another and be helped themselves. They also serve as identifiable locations that potential purchasers of a service can visit. A creative hub can be a launch pad.

Creative cities are about more than tourism. Their new role is that of an economic driving force. But adapting to this new wave of development requires a change in mindset of city managers; away from branding and passive consumption, and towards actively making culture.

Such a strategy is sustainable, because it creates its own future. The cultural economy is no longer the icing on the cake of the city: it is the cake.

Andy Pratt is Professor of Cultural Economy, and teaches on the MA Culture, Policy and Management, at the Centre for Culture and the Creative Industries at City University, London.

Andy was a 2017 speaker at Going Global, the British Council's international higher education conference.

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