After the creative City? PART TWO
Jonathan Vickery's groundbreaking study of the shift to a new Creative City
Initiated by Charles Landry and Comedia in the late 1980s, the Creative City concept contained both simple and complex challenges. Simply, urban policy and planning should learn more from the patterns of imaginative thinking endemic to art and culture. More complex was the challenge of the institutionalization of cultural cognition – how art and culture had themselves become formalized or, at least, ‘contained’ and separated from the intellectual confluence of urban policy and planning.
For urban policy in the major cities of Europe, ‘art and culture’ were either historical (heritage), aesthetics (style or decoration) or intellectual stimulation (entertainment for the cultured). For Landry, despite the evident ʻculturalʼ dimension of many a cityʼs social problems, an emphatic concept of culture was missing from urban policy tout court. Similarly, ‘art’ largely signifies a genre of object, not alternative modes of thought or a more reflexive strategic approach to existing empirical realities.
Charles Landry & colleagues idea
The Creative City idea was explained by Landry and colleagues through a policy-friendly empiricism, with lots of practical tips on how policymakers can provide the strategic conditions for transforming urban environments. There was a danger to this – for the Creative City all too easily became just a series of policy techniques (Landry himself referred to it as a ʻtoolkitʼ). It was not sufficiently ʻpoliticisedʼ, in the sense that its concept of creativity needed to become internal to local democracy and city governance, so as to gain the crucial normative dimension it obviously craved. Creativity traded only on its impact value, without strong ethico-democratic ideas that could have inspired the hidden stakeholders of urban change, such as local communities. Yet, this was perhaps not without trying – as Landry was interfacing with city governments directly, which during the early 1990s (in the UK at least) were more interested in civil engineering than civil society. His work was important, and did to a great extent make credible the otherwise ‘flakey’ idea that creativity is what we need at the heart of city management. 4
His emphasis was not simply on liberalizing bureaucratic city management, but both expanding creativity across the organizational life of the city and re-framing the question of culture outside the usual cultural economics of cultural policy. It is the case that in the last ten years across Europe the concept of the Creative City is serving a kind of epistemic function, beyond simply enrolling culture in urban regeneration. It is now possible to a greater degree to dialogue with city politicians and discuss the relation between political culture and cultural politics, and how urban policy is always embedded with ʻculturalʼ assumptions (about ʻlifeʼ, sociality, human needs, values, and so on).
Urban regeneration marries art
And yet, discussions of the Creative City in cultural policy circles tend to be framed by ʻurban regenerationʼ, a term that has taken on a life of its own. In discussing the Creative City it is important to remain with the concept of ʻthe cityʼ and not supplant it with ʻurban regenerationʼ per se. First, ʻthe cityʼ posits a relation between actual physically delimited territory and political legitimacy. Urban regeneration is for the most part a ʻschemeʼ based mechanism, where specific projects often seem to ‘contribute’ to the forming of the city, and yet all too often maintain their own economic agenda. Urban regeneration’s now highly developed discourse all to often elides the cultural-political dimensions of urban development (an enthusiasm for destination marketing and place branding being symptomatic of its complicity with broader economic erosion of identity and substantive experience of place).
Public/Private Partnerships a scandal
Driven by so many priorities, multiple policy initiatives, stakeholders and vested interests, urban regeneration emerged from a confluence of civic, local, regional and national actors (all transfixed by the growing potential of transnational capital investment and global cultural tourism). In the UK a central mechanism of urban regeneration was the partnership of public authorities with private construction and property development companies – a model of social democracy in action? Complicated contracts, the parallel universe of public and private management, different accounting procedures facilitating profligate expenditure on both sides, made these ʻPFIʼ projects [the Private Finance Initiative], a national scandal so big the newspapers hesitate to report. 5 Urban regeneration then, detached from the question of governance and the political commitments that entails, can and has generated a crisis of political legitimacy in urban development. It does not itself offer a coherent framework for thinking about the Creative City, whatever great techniques for urban re-design it has generated.
4. The Creative City for a generation of cultural policy researchers was a cultural policy framework capable of addressing the ‘new’ post-industrial urban landscapes of the post-Fordist economy, along with new economic growth theory and propelled by notions of the new knowledge economy. There is a sense in which Landry’s work in the UK parallels economist Richard Florida in the USA, where creativity inserts human agency and imaginative subjectivity into general economic theory (The Rise of the Creative Class — and how it is transforming leisure, community and everyday life, New York: Basic Books, 2002). The other formative influence to Creative City thinking is John Howkins (The Creative Economy: How people make money from ideas, London: Penguin, 2001). The ‘non-academic’ way these three texts were written (as well as their empirical bent) was essential to their influence among urban policy makers.
5. The PFI or Private Finance Initiative was a model of the financing of urban development which became copied around the world; it was initially a dimension of the ʻPrivate Public Partnershipʼ schemes allowed by an Act of Parliament for the Conservative Government in 1992. These regeneration schemes were intended to raise large capital funding for major urban public projects, like schools, hospitals and roads, from private capital not public funds. However, the contractual arrangements heavily favoured the private contractors, many of which have been authorised to collect high returns on the projects for up to 25 years, near bankrupting the public organisations that were ‘partnered’. See John Ware for Panorama, ‘Who's Getting Rich On Your Money?’ (BBC One, Monday, 28 November, 2011). See also George Montbiot’s ‘Our very own Enron’, The Guardian (28th June, 2005).
All Photos by Jonatahn Vickery, except Title photo and photo No. 1 by Chris Poulsen