After the creative City - part 10
Cultural City versus Creative City
The cities of Sofia, Marrakesh and Bangalore, are all ʻcities of cultureʼ, with profound dimensions of cultural experience and a distinctive way of life. They are not ʻcreative citiesʼ in our sense of the term. They remain a critical, if tacit, reference point for the Creative City ideal (as well as a principle focus of global cultural tourism). The ʻcultural cityʼ signifies something of a ʻway of lifeʼ that has been lost, and a sense of ʻqualityʼ that is internal to a way of life (not just a characteristic of productive conveniences of added physical amenities).
In one sense, this appears like nostalgia for lost culture or a quality of life that the Creative City seeks to simulate in positive ways. Yet, as many a Creative City strategy has found, increased arts funding and new cultural facilities do not in themselves create quality of life. The problem with ʻqualityʼ, as the historic cultural city demonstrates, is that it is socio-aesthetic. It is not simply social and not just aesthetic (as if architecture and planning could create culture). Quality of life speaks of a certain indefinable relation between social interaction and its urban environments. And whilst the loss of singular, organic national cultural way of life is of course intrinsic to industrial modernity per se, the old cultural city still generates something indicative of what we are looking for, where the loss of culture becomes an enigmatic socio-aesthetic experience of the everyday, and generates particular styles of social interaction.
A sense of anarchy in UK
Barcelonaʼs El Raval perhaps expresses something of the socio-aesthetic of a ʻqualityʼ of place. A sense of social anarchy pervades the area, a hint of squalor, danger, and ʻstreet lifeʼ uninhibited by the regulatory mechanisms of State order. Without doubt, life here has a quality, in the sense of a texture and palpable atmosphere. Closer to home, with a more parochial example, Londonʼs Camden Lock exhibits a different yet related experience. It attracts up to 150,000 young visitors on a summerʼs weekend. The Lock is not great architecture, and offers no notable art or musical events. A quotidian set of mid-nineteenth century waterways warehouses, through which operate a series of canal locks, are the context around which a local market sits. Much of the market sells unimpressive low-grade low-price domestic ware. Yet, Camden Lock generates a specific sense of place and space and quality of experience that has the power to forge particular social relations.
"Prosumer" live in special places
Architecture, planning, and physical facilities do not in themselves create an enigmatic cultural dynamic. It is the way the space and place generate forms of undirected social interaction, and how this mediates a sense of ʻlostʼ culture. It is something impossible to define in policy terms (as arts, heritage or national patrimony). It can take the form of a degraded social space, where production and consumption are almost indivisible, and where profound forms of cultural defamiliarisation as well as social differentiation seem endlessly possible.
The cultural quality of these places is not nostalgia or maintained by preservation order: El Raval and Camden are not fossilised historic parks. They are not managed by policy. However, policy does construct the conditions through which they are enabled to manage themselves or maintain some form of responsive interchange with the mechanisms that govern their environment. They contain something being sought after in the Creative City project, and something that eludes the grasp of creative city policy-making. What we seem to be enchanted by in El Raval or Camden Lock is the historically degraded, the unmanaged, the unreformed or even deformed, or the impossible or downright nihilistic. This does not mean we are looking for the right thing – we are surely not: the reflex to look for ‘real’ culture in the obsolete ‘historic-cultural city’ is surely symptomatic of a disorientation caused by the dislocation of culture from the contemporary urban and its political conditions. Our cities import or reproduce culture, not create it (and in turn are created by it)