Thinking Time II

Two highly stimulating pieces of writing lit up my week last week, both found courtesy of the Cultural Engineering Group on Linked In (started and led by Philippe Gimet who, rather dauntingly, blogs with equal facility in both English and French). The first was a paper written by Dr Roberta Comunian of Kent University and is called “Rethinking the creative city: the role of complexity, networks and interactions in the urban creative economy”. I’d never even heard of Complexity Theory but this proved enthralling. It talks about how much of the investment in creative cities has been in flagship capital projects rather than in the infrastructure, the networks and the people actually contributing to the cultural development of the place. “It emphasises the importance of micro-interactions and networks between creative practitioners, the publicly supported cultural sector and the cultural infrastructure of the city.” It will make uncomfortable reading for the authorities who usually look for templates and tried and tested formulae for creative cities, but it much more nearly reflects the experience of many of us who work in the sector and know that the apparent chaos that arises from the sector’s ‘improvised entrepreneurialism’ is actually the lifeblood of a creative city. The Complexity Theory itself sounds pretty wonderful to me – “complexity theory (CT) is not a single unified theory, but has been developed through the study of complex systems in different fields, such as biology, computer science and organisational studies. The CT was first developed in scientific disciplines but has recently been adopted and integrated in the social sciences approaches (Byrne, 1998; Urry, 2003).” How very exciting that a scientific theory may take from nature to help us understand ourselves – I just love it! I made a comment on the article as you do, and Roberta replied which surprised and delighted me – she has invited me to a seminar she is running at NESTA in June with her two co researchers which is pretty exciting so I will be back with more on this – watch this space!

The second piece was an article by Sacha Kagan and Julie Hahn which appeared in the latest edition of the Journal of Culture and Local Governance’, a double-issue focused on the topic of “Culture and Sustainable Communities”. ( The article was actually called Creative Cities and (Un)Sustainability: From Creative Class to Sustainable Creative Cities. It takes a look at the results of two cities in particular, Toronto and Hamburg, that have pretty well fully adopted the Richard Florida template for creative cities and discusses the results. It’s probably the best response to Florida’s views that I have read – did you know, for example, that, in Hamburg, a group of artists rejected the local authority’s attempt to put Florida’s views into practice and issued a manifesto called Not In My Name. Let me quote from the article: “They refer to the Gängeviertel, a downtown area in Hamburg made up largely of heritage buildings. The buildings were sold by the City of Hamburg to an investor group in 2008, which intended to tear most of them down in order to build high-end offices and residential towers. In the summer of 2009, these buildings were occupied by artists, musicians, and activists who opposed Florida’s ideas in their manifesto “Not in Our Name,” which was published by several German newspapers. It opens with: “A spectre has been haunting Europe since US economist Richard Florida predicted that the future belongs to cities in which the “creative class‟ feels at home. They feel instrumentalized by Hamburg because it uses Florida’s concepts as a “recipe‟ for developing the city, trying to turn it into an ideal place for the creative class. Instead, as the manifesto states, the city is becoming increasingly segregated and gentrified. They also mourn the decline in arts funding over many years, while at the same time artists are used by the city to enhance certain districts. For them the city is not a brand, it is a community” (Sound familiar?!) Apparently the City of Hamburg eventually capitulated and bought back the buildings because they realised that having the artists there helped make the downtown part of the city an area of interest in its own right. Kagan and Hahn go on to illustrate how creative cities can be linked to unsustainability and how urban neighbourhoods can start to lose their sense of identity and community. It’s ultimately optimistic however – it goes on to quote Kirchberg that “In the context of the creative city concept, the emphasis on arts and culture can be helpful for achieving more sustainability. A closer look at the culture(s) of sustainability and the role of artists will contribute to a better understanding of what this can mean for the sustainability of cities.” It’s an insightful and stimulating piece of writing and well worth a look – after my recent day with Teo Greenstreet, Lucy Neal et al on C4O2, this article kept me buzzing all week!