Ebb and flow

The San Francisco story is repeated a thousandfold elsewhere. The creative impulses ebb and flow and depend on fortunate coinci dences of circumstance where creative individuals, an open institutional setting and various power brokers are in good alignment. Individual acts of creativity naturally occur without propitious situations, but for creativity to build upon itself and become self-reinforcing it needs a milieu where people, resources and encouragement can come together. Usually cities are open in parts and closed in others, which change over time, but it is rarer for all aspects of openness to come together so that the city feels full of possibility. There is always a lead and lag situation. At one moment the university may turn its back on its city, while the municipality is opening out, or else the business sector is neutral and little concerned about the strategic future of the city. In another phase the roles may be reversed. On occasion, too, a set of individuals may burst through, setting the tone for the city, reaching far beyond their area of expertise, as did the zany group Leningrad Cowboys for Helsinki. The joke from the outset was that they were 'the worst rock 'n' roll band in the world' who, with their striking unicorn hairstyles and long pointed shoes, offered a naff Eastern European interpretation of Western rock 'n' roll. Playing on the irony of Finland's past Russian connection, they performed with the Red Army Choir in the famous Total Balalaika Show in Helsinki's Senate Square in 1993 in a breakthrough concert in front of 70,000 people, sponsored by Nokia, so linking to the city's technological innovativeness. They later extended their activities to films, restaurants and megastores. Their initial joke, while increasingly unfunny as they themselves recognized, was self-effacing yet confident, so projecting a sense that Helsinki could just be what it wanted to be.

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