What makes cities creative?
Thirty-five urban innovators from twelve European countries worked together to explore understandings of creativity and cities. A vibrant culture, environmentally aware policies, innovative and entrepreneurial individuals are just one side of the coin, while cities often face the gravest social problems. The presentations by the two cultural capital cities, Vilnius 2009 and Tallinn 2011, highlighted the need to connect culture to social issues and change. How, then can, creativity be harnessed to tackle broader social, economic and political issues, from housing and transport, to energy and the environment?
There is still considerable uncertainty about how to apply creative and innovative to social challenges, and the seminar revealed that there are very different settings for these discussions in different cities. In Scandinavia, the challenge is to find space for creativity in societies that are very well-organised, with a high level of social and welfare spending. Most East European cities, however, need to create a sense of possibility and change in societies characterised by stark inequalities in power and wealth, with a heavy culture of low expectations and passivity.
Whatever the setting, cities need a sense of hope and possibility, inspiration and opportunity. Social innovators provide that sense of hope, pride, of belonging to a city that matters, but they often lack resources, encountering negative trends that are too strong, or cultural conservatism. Creativity, however, also often comes from a sense of dissatisfaction with the present, and creative cities are delicately poised between too much or too little growth. And even though innovators can achieve a lot without resources, they eventually run out of steam.
We considered the people, places and factors that determine what makes cities creative, looked at individuals, organisations and institutions that can help spark creativity and that can support people to realise ideas and turn them into something that makes our cities better places to live, work, play, love and learn. Creativity thrives when diverse people and ideas can be brought together into situations that allow ideas to mix and meld, and our discussion highlighted the need to develop a more coherent account of how to connect cultural and social creativity.
Based on the report by Charles Leadbeater, Creative Cities project consultant and facilitator of the seminar What Makes Cities Creative?