Ethics and creativity

To be a 'creative city for the world' or to be 'creative for your city' highlights how a city can (or should) project a value base or an ethical foundation in encouraging its citizens, businesses and public institutions to act. By acting in this manner the way a city operates and the results it achieves act as role models to inspire others. Creativity in itself is not necessarily a good, especially when it limits itself to mere self-expression. Linking creativity to bigger picture aims, however, gives it special power and resonance. These values might range from a concern with greater equity or care in all its guises to balancing policy goals such as increasing the quality of life for all citizens, being globally competitive or linking economic, social and environmental agendas. Thousands of cities claim to be concerned about sustainable development; how many have radically applied such policies and gone against our inherent laziness or the interests of the car lobbies and others? The strength to go against the grain today must now be counted as an act of creative endeavour.

Creativity for the world or for your city gives something back; it is a creativity that generates civic values and civility. Every city, for instance, has special public spaces, often given in perpetuity by philanthropists. These are a gift to a community. Alternatively public spaces in disrepair have been reconquered by citizen groups for the city. One of the best examples is the transformation of Bryant Park in New York from a fearful 'no-go zone', nicknamed 'Needle Park', dominated by drug dealers, prostitutes and the homeless in the 1970s, to an urban haven with a Parisian feel by the 1980s. Initiated by a group of prominent New Yorkers, the park is now managed by the Bryant Park Restoration Corporation. Restored and redesigned, a coordinated programme of activities and facilities made it a spectacular success, immediately attracting locals and visitors. Since the summer of 2002 the park has had a free wireless internet network, sponsored by Google. You see people of all ages beavering away at their work or their novels. Overall this feels like a gift from 'somewhere' to the city and its citizens, rather like a random act of kindness.1 These acts of civility encourage social capital.

Creativity for the world or your city can mean many other things, ranging from encouraging social entrepreneurship to providing ladders of opportunity to start-up companies or rethinking education, like the Katha example described earlier.

When you think of great creative cities, Paris, New York, Amsterdam and London spring to mind, but, of course, there are thousands of other places that have degrees of creativity. You usually think of the city as a composite whole, with many images racing around, rather than an individual building or a part. Paris may have the Eiffel Tower and New York the Empire State Building, but they do not encapsulate the city.

To be creative means being alive with possibility and not ossifying and resting on the laurels of former greatness or a single building. Paris and London achieve being both old and somewhat young. Through their imperial pasts they have extracted wealth and resources from their former dominions. Their museums - the Louvre or the British Museum - exemplify this. Abundant with treasures taken in from the world they exude power and help reinforce that power today as an element of their global pull. Political power linked to economic power often force-feeds creativity as these cities became poles of attractiveness for the ambitious, the talented or those wanting or needing to be near the centres of power.

They have drawn in the peoples from their former colonies and now well beyond too. And those people in turn are now part of what makes London and Paris alive. Paris was for much of the 20th century regarded by many as the artistically creative centre of the world. Anyone who wanted to make a name for themselves had to have been there, from Picasso to Stravinsky. It attracted not only the makers but also the buyers, auctioneers and collectors. Overall they created a milieu of both challenge and support. Yet today Paris, in spite of its glories and its attempts to foster the modern, is chided for its somewhat dirigiste, top-down, somewhat closed approach. London by contrast was for decades seen as the stuffy, unimaginative counterpart until it burst open in the 1960s in a number of fields, from irreverent comedy, to fashion and music. It has retained a reputation since then, attracting the young the world over. Its degree-level art education of world renown, for instance, is regarded as being a foundation. It is far less rigid and formulaic than its continental or American counterparts. This support for flexibility and focus on self-reliance both challenges and underpins creativity. It has resulted in comments such as those of Giorgio Armani, who is showcasing his 2007 collection in London rather than Milan or Paris: 'London is in many ways the world's most cosmopolitan and influential city, as it has become a crossroads for so many cultural references, including contemporary art, architecture, the performing arts, literature, food, music, film and fashion.' Clearly, for London to regard itself as creative it needs to fire on more cylinders than this. Its congestion charge will in time be seen as brave and imaginative.

New York must be mentioned as one of the creative cities of the last 150 years. Inevitably, as the traditional port of entry for European immigrations, and later many others, it represented the new horizon and attracted the ambitious or those wanting to make a fresh start the world over. The tough competitiveness and need to survive generated an intense energy and, as the cliché notes, a 'do or die' attitude that ultimately expressed itself in New York's dominance in myriad fields, from finance to the media and even hip-hop, generated in the Bronx, which builds both on African roots and the contemporary possibilities of technology. Even the beggars have inventive scams to draw the money out of you. It expressed itself too in New York's urban fabric, with Manhattan standing as the modern city icon par excellence. The AIDS crisis dampened possibilities, with the fear of crime and an edginess that was too stark playing their part too, but the subsequent turnaround in its safety record is admired, and this in turn attracted more financiers and business people, who helped increase the tax base in order to pay for public services that make New York feel safer and cleaner. This is a virtuous cycle. Yet the average financier, developer or business person, while good at what they do, is not renowned for their creativity. There is a fine balance between needing to focus on the quality of life agenda, including safety, good housing or being a family-friendly city, and creativity. Some say too that since 9/11 New York feels a different place - it has shown its resilience and has come back. Yet in a place with so much agglomerated power it is difficult to conclude the big debates, such as the memorial for the 9/11 victims, with the array of vested interests - neighbourhood groups, politicians, developers and landowners. So the site as of summer 2006 lies there like an open wound.

People are allergic or addicted, perhaps in equal measure, to these great creative places. These hubs of intensity and invention can feel too much. The quality of life - traffic jams, pollution, dirt, wealth and squalor living side by side - can overwhelm. Yet the notion of creativity for the city begins to bridge that gap.

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