Creative city

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This article is about the urban planning concept. For Emirati economic zone, see Creative City.

The creative city was a concept developed by Australian David Yencken in 1988 and has since become a global movement reflecting a new planning paradigm for cities. It was first described in his article 'The Creative City',[1] published in the literary journal Meanjin. In this article Yencken argues that while cities must be efficient and fair, a creative city must also be one that is committed to fostering creativity among its citizens and to providing emotionally satisfying places and experiences for them.


The creative city when introduced was seen as aspirational; a clarion call to encourage open-mindedness and imagination implying a dramatic impact on organizational culture. Its philosophy is that there is always more creative potential in a place. It posits that conditions need to be created for people to think, plan and act with imagination 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. Creativity is seen as applied imagination. 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 legitimizing the use of imagination within the public, private and community spheres the ideas bank of possibilities and potential solutions to any urban problem will be broadened.

This requires infrastructures beyond the hardware - buildings, roads or sewage. Creative infrastructure is a combination of the hard and the soft. The latter includes a city’s mindset, how it approaches opportunities and problems; its atmosphere and incentives and regulatory regime. To be a creative city the soft infrastructure includes: A highly skilled and flexible labour force; dynamic thinkers, creators and implementers. Creativity is not only about having ideas, but also the capacity to implement them.

The creative city identifies, nurtures, attracts and sustains talent so it is able to mobilize ideas, talents and creative organizations. The built environment – the stage and the setting - is crucial for establishing the milieu. A creative milieu is a place that contains the necessary requirements in terms of hard and soft infrastructure to generate a flow of ideas and inventions. A milieu can be a building, a street an area, a city or a region.

The popularity of creativity came about because of the increased recognition that the world and its economic, social and cultural structures was changing dramatically. This was driven in part by information technology revolution. The old way did not work sufficiently well. Education did not prepare students for the demands of the new world; organization, management and leadership with its control ethos and hierarchical focus did not provide the flexibility, adaptability and resilience to cope in the emerging competitive environment; cities whose atmosphere, look and feel were industrial and where quality of design was low were not attractive and competitive. Coping with these changes required a re-assessment of cities’ resources and potential and a process of necessary re-invention on all fronts.

Other influences[edit]

Partners for Livable Places (later Communities) founded in 1977 was important in the trajectory of the Creative City idea. Partners initially focused on design and culture as resources for livability. In 1979 Harvey Perloff encouraged by Partners launched a programme to document the economic value of design and cultural amenities. The Economics of Amenity programme illustrated how cultural amenities and the quality of life in a community are linked to economic development and job creation. This started a significant array of economic impact studies of the arts across the globe.

Core concepts used by Partners were cultural planning and cultural resources, which they saw as the planning of urban resources including design, architecture, parks, the natural environment, animation and especially arts activity and tourism. The terms were introduced into Europe by Franco Bianchini in 1990, who coming from Italy was acquainted with their notion of resorsi culturali and into Australia by Colin Mercer in 1991. Bianchini based his notions on Wolf von Eckhardt, who in 1980 in The Arts & City Planning noted that "effective cultural planning involves all the arts, the art of urban design, the art of winning community support, the art of transportation planning and mastering the dynamics of community development", to which Bianchini added "the art of forming partnerships between the public, private and voluntary sectors and ensuring the fair distribution of economic, social and cultural resources". Mercer added cultural planning has to be "the strategic and integral use of cultural resources in urban and community development." Bianchini elaborated the term cultural resource in collaborative work with Landry. They stated: "Cultural resources are the raw materials of the city and its value base; its assets replacing coal, steel or gold. Creativity is the method of exploiting these resources and helping them grow."

Cultural resources are embodied in peoples' creativity, skills and talents. They are not only things like buildings, but also symbols, activities and the repertoire of local products in crafts, manufacturing and services. Urban cultural resources include the historical, industrial and artistic heritage representing assets including architecture, urban landscapes or landmarks. Local and indigenous traditions of public life, festivals, rituals or stories as well as hobbies and enthusiasms. Resources like language, food and cooking, leisure activities, clothing and sub-cultures or intellectual traditions that can be used to express the specialness of a location. They are the range and quality of skills in the performing and visual arts and the creative industries. An appreciation of culture should shape the technicalities of urban planning and development rather than being seen as a marginal add-on to be considered after housing, transport and land-use have been dealt with. This focus draws attention to the distinctive, the unique and the special in any place.

From the late 1970s onwards UNESCO and the Council of Europe began to investigate the cultural industries. From the perspective of cities it was Nick Garnham, who when seconded to the Greater London Council in 1983/4 set up a cultural industries unit put the cultural industries on the agenda. Drawing on, re-reading and adapting the original work by Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin in the 1930s which had seen the culture industry as a kind of monster and influenced too by Hans Magnus Enzensberger he saw the cultural industries as a potentially liberating force.

An important player was Comedia, founded in 1978 by Charles Landry. The first detailed study of the concept was called Glasgow: The Creative City and its Cultural Economy in 1990, this was followed in 1994 by a study on urban creativity called The Creative City in Britain and Germany. In fact the first mention of the creative city as a concept was in a seminar organized by the Australia Council, the City of Melbourne, the Ministry of Planning and Environment of Victoria in September 1988. Its focus was how arts and cultural concerns could be better integrated into the planning process for city development. A keynote speech by David Yencken former Secretary for Planning and Environment for Victoria spelt out a broader agenda stating that whilst efficiency of cities is important there is more: "It should be emotionally satisfying and stimulate creativity amongst its citizens".

In subsequent writing about creative cities the tendency has been to concentrate on one or other of the two necessary characteristics proposed by Yencken for a creative city but rarely on both together. Thus the next significant initiative in Australia was a Creative Australia National Workshop in 1989 on ‘The Relationship between Creativity and an Innovative Productive Future’ jointly sponsored by the Commission for the Future and the Australia Council for the Arts”.[2]

The emergence of the creative economy and creative class[edit]

In the first years of the 21st century, the publication of John Howkins's The Creative Economy and Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class gave the movement a dramatic lift as global restructuring was hitting deep into the US. Florida's book hit a nerve with its clever slogans such as "talent, technology, tolerance" and interesting sounding indicators like the "bohemian index" or the "gay index", that gave numbers to ideas. Importantly it connected the three areas: a creative class – a novel idea, the creative economy and what conditions in cities attract the creative class. Florida concluded that economic development is driven in large measure by lifestyle factors, such as tolerance and diversity, urban infrastructure and entertainment.

Critics argue that the creative city idea has now become a catch-all phrase in danger of losing its meaning. Cities also tend to restrict its meaning to the arts and activities within the creative economy professions, calling any cultural plan a creative city plan, when such activities are only one aspect of a community's creativity. There is a tendency for cities to adopt the term without thinking through its real organizational consequences and the need to change their mindset. The creativity of the creative city is about lateral and horizontal thinking, the capacity to see parts and the whole simultaneously.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yencken, D. (1988). "The creative city". Meanjin. 47. 
  2. ^ Commission for the Future and Australia Council for the Arts (2–4 July 1989). "The Relationship between Creativity and an Innovative Productive Future". Papers and Proceedings of the Creative Australia National Workshop. Melbourne: Commission for the Future. 
  • Yencken, D. (1988). "The creative city", Meanjin, Vol 47, Number
  • Commission for the Future and Australia Council for the Arts. (1989) "The Relationship between Creativity and an Innovative Productive Future", Papers and Proceedings of the Creative Australia National Workshop, 2–4 July 1989, Workshop convenor Dr Jane Gilmour, Commission for the Future, Melbourne.
  • Hall, Sir P. (1998). Cities in Civilisation: culture, innovation and urban order. London: Weidenfeld.
  • Landry, C. (2000). The Creative City: A toolkit for urban innovators, London: Earthscan.
  • Howkins, J. (2001). The Creative Economy: How people make money from ideas. London: Penguin.
  • Florida, R. (2002). The rise of the creative class—and how it is transforming leisure, community and everyday life. New York: Basic Books.
  • Carta, M. (2007). Creative City. Dynamics, Innovations, Actions. Barcelona: List.

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