Cities around the world aspire to be creative. Creativity is the key to success, to prosperity, to growth. It is difficult to find a city PR message which does not proclaim it as, or aspiring to be, a creative city, or hub, or focal point. Creativity has become the great global battleground for cities. Conversely no city dares promote itself as “uncreative” (except the area of north east London where I live).
So if creativity is the key to urban nirvana how do we measure it? What factors come into play? If city mayors and leaders know these infallible factors then their route map to success can be plotted (until perhaps the next election).
“Global city index construction is a new emerging industry”: the words of Professor John Hartley and his colleagues at Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University in Australia. Hartley, commissioned by the Beijing Research Centre for Science of Science, has duly entered the arena with a new Index.
The Index “(C2I)2 = CCI-CCI Creative City Index” to use its catchy title incorporates 8 themes, 72 components and over 250 individual data points.
In presenting the Index Hartley has done cities and planners a major service. He reviews 22 other Indexes. Yes that’s right, 22 City Indexes; from the USA, Europe, Japan, Australia and international bodies. The big names are there: Richard Florida, and Charles Landry as well as host of others. I challenge anyone to list the 22 (without a quick glance at the report!).
The assembled indexes cluster around 16 themes. Some are driven by economists, some by sociologists: an important distinction. The short summaries and analyses are perfect for a quick but comprehensive overview of the nuances of importance and interpretation.
“a creative city is not the same as a global city”
“caution about “real-estate” city development” (e.g. Canberra and new cities in China and Korea)
*importance of festivals: where freer and more open engagements between arts producers and audience
“small cinemas more likely to show independent films rather than large scale cinemas”
*divorce rate a good indicator of women’s freedom and subversion of strong conservative cultural norms.
I was particularly attracted to several items:
• The emphasis on the youth sector as the driver for change , experimentation and innovation
• How cultural factors can distort global comparisons: the non-collection of data in one country; the failure to disclose information; how not to focus on western cultural norms of systems,
• The importance of a free cultural environment not just a top down built, provided, supported structure.
• And given a Chinese client: the importance of looking at equivalent Chinese cultural factors: not special ones but equivalents.
To conclude I recommend that anyone interested in city development, in cultural and creative cities, reads the report. . To quote:
…a global city must first be a creative city, and a creative city is invariably powered by energy and entrepreneurial experimentation of the young, of the outsider, of those seeking to new ideas and to challenge existing ideas. A creative city will invariably be complex and challenging, “lovable” more than “likeable”, edgy rather than middle of the road, often with a clash of cultures, demographics and ideas in its mix”.
Indexes help frame a debate. It will be interesting to learn of the reactions of the Chinese, or of any other city with a strong controlling culture (whether political, religious or social) to this conclusion. Can mayors, politicians and planners promote inward migration, an edgy challenging city? Based on this index, and indeed most of the other under review, they may need to loosen up!