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Comedia was founded in Britain in 1978 by Charles Landry. It stands for a combination of 'communication' and 'media'. Initially Comedia was a publisher focusing on two areas: how activist organizations got their message across and second it described the dynamics of the emerging cultural industries sector later known as the creative industries or creative economy. In 1985 it sold its list of 70 publications to Routledge.
In its early years it was instrumental in highlighting the economic and cultural potential of the creative economy by measuring their impact in places like London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Barcelona, Cracow, Manchester and South Africa. The sector is a set of growing interlocking industry that focus on creating and exploiting intellectual property products; like music, books, film, and games, or providing business-to-business creative services such as advertising, public relations and direct marketing. It includes too live performance. Economic activities focussed on designing, making and selling objects or works of art such as jewellery, haute couture, books of poetry or other creative writing, or fine art also often feature in definitions because of the value deriving from a high degree of aesthetic originality.
Focus on cities
Since the mid-1980s Comedia’s focus has been on how cities can revitalize their public, social and economic life and how cultural activity or the creative economy might help this process. This work increasingly broadened out to how cities communicate their ambition to their citizens and the wider world and how in turn citizens can more actively shape their urban future.
Comedia tried then to explore how creativity, a cultural perspective, greater design sensitivity or using the artistic imagination could make cities a more enriching experience as well as be a source of economic well-being.
The need for businesses to be more creative had already by the early 1980s begun to be the accepted canon. Then people became increasingly interested in how the imagination associated with artists, scientists or explorers could also be useful for cities looking to rethink their purposes and ambition as well as change their image in the light of the growing, intense global competition.
Comedia’s goal was to highlight emerging themes, to challenge orthodoxy, to be innovative and controversial. Examples were studies 'Out of Hours' in 1989 a study of 10 British cities that brought attention to the potential of the 'night time economy'. In 1993 'Borrowed Time looked at how libraries could reinvent themselves for the 21st century given new trends in communication. Other studies look at the future of cemeteries, parks, museums.
Over the years many people contributed to Comedia including Russell Southwood, Ken Worpole, Dave Morley, Franco Bianchini, Geoff Mulgan, the founder of Demos, Liz Greenhalgh, Francois Matarasso, Sir Peter Hall, Fred Brookes, Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities, Jonathan Hyams, and Phil Wood.
The Creative City
From 1994 onwards research on the creative city was a central theme of Comedia’s with dozens of projects undertaken from Barcelona, Lewisham to Adelaide and St. Petersburg. Amongst the publications 'The Art of Regeneration' on how culture and urban renewal connect in 1996; 'Use or Ornament: The impact of participation in the arts'; and 'The Richness of Cities' in 2000 were seen as important.
A turning point for came in 2000 when 'The Creative City: A toolkit for urban innovators' written by Charles Landry was published, itself based on an earlier short publication of the same title written with Franco Bianchini in 1995.
The Creative City notion became the umbrella concept for their work crystallized in a range of work on the future of cities in over 40 countries ranging from Barcelona, Helsinki, Bilbao, Cracow to Perth.
The Creative City is an aspirational concept; a clarion call to encourage open-mindedness and imagination. It has strong implications for organizational culture. It stresses how cities should assess their cultural resources and what is special and distinctive about them, which is their greatest asset. It posits that conditions need to be created for people to think, plan and act with creativity in harnessing opportunities or addressing seemingly intractable urban problems. These might range from addressing homelessness, to creating wealth or enhancing the visual environment. Its assumption is that ordinary people can make the extraordinary happen if given the chance. In The Creative City it is not only artists and those involved in the creative economy that are creative, although they play an important role. Creativity can come from any source including anyone who addresses issues in an inventive way be it a social worker, a business person, a scientist or public servant.
It advocates that a culture of creativity be embedded in how urban stakeholders operate. By encouraging legitimising the use of imagination within the public, private and community spheres the ideasbank of possibilities and potential solutions to any urban problem will be broadened. It highlights the need to think in an integrated way. It stresses the need to develop a common language across professional disciplines concerned with city making. It argues that there is a need to combine an understanding of hard - physical - as well as soft - cultural, social and economic infrastructure. It suggests that therefore education, management and organization need to be re-assessed.
The Art of City Making
More recently this work has been taken further in The Art of City Making by Charles Landry. This posits that city-making should be seen as a complex art; it is not a technical formula. Yet some strong principles can help send good city-making on its way:
• Use your imagination to be the most creative city for the world. This gives city-making an ethical foundation. Foremost is the need to heal the environment.
• Go with the grain of local cultures and their distinctiveness, yet be open to outside influences. Balance local and global.
• Involve those affected by what you do in decision-making.
• Learn from what others have done well, but don’t copy them thoughtlessly.
• Encourage projects that add value economically and reinforce ethical values simultaneously. Too often value is defined narrowly in financial terms.
• Every place can make more out of its potential if the preconditions to think, plan and act with imagination are present.
• Foster civic creativity as the ethos of your city. Civic creativity is imaginative problem-solving applied to public good objectives.
• Our sensory landscape is shrinking because of information overload precisely at the moment when it should broaden.
• The city is discussed in barren, eviscerated terms and in technical jargon by urban professionals as it if were a lifeless being. In fact, it is a sensory, emotional, lived experience.
• Cultural literacy is the skill that will help us better understand the dynamics of cities.
• Cities need a story or cultural narrative about themselves to both anchor and drive identity as well as to galvanise citizens.
• The internal logic of the unfettered market has a limited story of ambition and no ethics or morality.