Possible first steps

To get a creative platform going requires a group of influential partners in the city to recognize its importance. A preliminary audit with those partners would discover that a number of creative initiatives, institutions and individuals already operate in the region.

Clarify what creativity means for the city by:

• coming to a consensus on what creativity is;

• summarizing its importance to the main city players; and

• identifying some role models from other places to act as inspiration.

Undertake a creativity and obstacles audit to:

• describe the nature and extent of creative activity within public, private and not-for-profit entities in the city region; this might be established companies, research organizations, specific courses within an educational establishment or an initiative undertaken by an individual;

• identify potential sources of future creative action;

• assess honestly the obstacles to developing creativity in the region; and

• spell out the shift from natural advantage (arising from access to more plentiful and cheap natural resources and labour) to a world where prosperity depends on creative advantage, arising from being able to use and mobilize creativity and extract value from knowledge.

The recent focus on creativity has been on the arts and the technocratic, leading to a focus on IT-driven innovations and business clusters. The crucial recognition of today's movement is that evolving a creative economy also requires a social and organizational creativity that enables imagination to occur and which should imbue the whole system. As such, creativity then becomes a general problem-solving and opportunity-creating capacity. Its essence is a multifaceted resourcefulness. Creativity is both generic - a way of thinking, a mindset - and specific and task-oriented in relation to applications in particular fields. A creativity audit would assess creativity across a number of dimensions:

• spatially from the local outwards;

• sector style, from private and public to community-oriented;

• industrial sectors, from advanced manufacturing to services;

• demographically, assessing the creativity of different age groups from the young to the elderly; and

• diversity and ethnicity.

An audit would need to look at creativity across the spectrum, from the individual, the firm, industry sectors and clusters to networks in the city, the city itself as an amalgam of different organizational cultures and the region. It needs to assess the relevance of creativity in the private, community and public sectors and in relation to areas like education, specific industry sectors, science and organizations in helping the prosperity and well-being of a region. The results of the audit will then help:

• Identify organizations and individuals to become creativity ambassadors and to work with these and other identified entities on projects.

• Develop synergies between interesting projects from completely different areas. For instance, a homeless people's project and a digital media initiative might find much in common by sharing their learning about creativity.

• Create spaces, places and venues that in terms of image projection signal the region's ambition and stimulate creativity.

• Build an environment where being creative is seen as desirable and something to aspire to.

• Provide opportunities to experiment and explore new ideas as well as to access appropriate resources, whether encouragement, mentoring, training or finance.

• Assess how changes in teaching approaches can occur and provide dedicated training courses, development programmes and mentoring on creative thinking targeted at people across the age range. These should cover the spectrum, to include creativity not only in business, but also in administration and social economy activities.

• Develop support programmes for creativity in people and organizations involving toolkits to support learning and development, bearing in mind the need to avoid formulaic training and to allow for flexibility and openness.

• Assess how ladders of opportunity to incubate ideas in specific sectors can be created so that ideas can become development opportunities.

• Identify niches where the city can make a significant impact. The audit will provide indications of strategic opportunities. These should be followed up by assessing how a creative twist can add additional value to both new and traditional sectors of the economy.

• Identify start-up resources to fund activities within the creativity platform as well as help lobby existing investors and funders to apply creativity criteria to their investments.

• Establish criteria for investing. These should be for projects that demonstrate impact and the capacity to push boundaries of technology, technique, procedure, process, implementation mechanism, problem redefinition, target audience, behavioural impact and professional context as well as create a new end-product.

Once the audit has been digested and a programme set up, an evaluation framework should be built which:

• Establishes an agreed base-line starting point so as to be able to assess the dynamics of creativity of the city and to track its movement.

• Develops a solid evaluation architecture and supporting methodology to assess success and failure by quantitative and qualitative methods. This is likely to develop new measures, such as talent tracking and talent churn and monitoring creative products and services, creative people in the region, creative processes that are being adopted, and how creative environments within organizations or the region are being developed.

• Publishes an annual creativity report on the city that is not based on boosterism - that is, hype without substance - and links this to a series of public events to discuss its conclusions.

Orchestrating momentum, developing critical mass and communicating the city's creative aims:

• The creativity platform is itself an orchestration device. To this should be added a communications platform to speak both to the city itself and to the wider world as a centre of imagination.

• Identify devices such as exhibitions, showcasing and travelling roadshows to foster discussion about creativity and celebrate achievements.

• Develop a key series of different events involving the creativity theme - some high profile and concerned with strategies of influence, others appealing to smaller audiences or a more general public. This is important for mutual learning and critical comment.

• Build up and mobilize networks of creative people to become ambassadors for the creativity platform and the city.

A paced and purposeful, timetabled project plan will involve an overall visioning project that should have a mix of easy, short-term, low-cost projects and more difficult and expensive long-term ones. This makes it easier to create achievable staging posts along the way and to establish early winners that build confidence and momentum as well as generating the energy to do more difficult tasks. A creativity audit will reveal a number of projects that already exist but which are not yet well communicated. This means it is already possible at the outset to project a city as creatively active by promoting the interesting examples to show the initiative has already started. The ultimate aim is to retell the story of the city so that residents and outsiders feel they can relate to it and want to be part of it.

The overall aim of the first year is to develop collective understanding of the creativity agenda by promoting the results of the creativity audit and working with key individuals and organizations who emerged as models and partners within it; initiating promotional activity related to the importance of creativity and the probable need to change educational programmes; identifying coaches, mentors and courses to begin training initiatives; and, towards the end of the first year, to create a high-profile launch event that imaginatively shows creative achievements. In the end the creativity agenda needs to be created bottom-up and top-down together. The steps in involving people in the agenda need to move from a core group to a wider stakeholders' group totalling over 100 people who will largely be identified through the creativity audit.

From there the dynamic should then cascade out, involve and inspire perhaps a 1000, and from then on even much further out.

To start such a project requires dedicated creativity platform coordination responsible for driving the agenda forward, coordinating the research and instigating programmes, organizing communications and networking.

Fine judgement and the formula

But being a creative city does not involve picking a formula off the shelf. It is not a science that can be learnt from a textbook. It is an art. Art in its broadest sense connotes a sense of doing something well, having ability and pursuing a skill by study and practice. There are some core principles that apply across cultures and to most situations for creative city-making: a willingness to listen and learn; the capacity to be open-minded; encouraging enquiry; reducing ego; concern more with influence than power; grasping the essence of different disciplines; thinking across disciplines; imagining the implications of the present for the long term; and understanding the dynamics of change at both trivial and deeper levels.

The art of creative city-making involves fine judgement based on experience and the ability to know when to push for innovation and when to hold back. City-makers are artists of the highest order because they have a grasp of all the arts concerned with complex city-making.

Urgency and creativity

How do you create a sense of urgency, of needing to be alert to changing circumstances, in places that are doing well and where a potential problem seems a distance away or is not yet felt? For instance, Perth and Calgary are both blossoming because of an oil boom, but they also have a looming crisis of attracting talented people to stay in their cities. In part this is because people feel the quality of their urban environment could be better. In many places there is warm sun, good wine and relaxed living, which can dent ambition, so taking away focus from considering 'what really matters' and what the underlying drivers of change or lurking dangers might be.

Generating a 'crisis of aspiration' is one strategy. Typically this is created by appealing to people's higher ideals, which comes from looking at bigger picture issues like the future of the world or what legacy you are going to leave for the next generation. This might occur within a strategic body like a city committee or a public-private partnership.

Generating a crisis of aspiration

I often start work within a city by asking stakeholder groups, from public leaders and local shopkeepers to residents, to describe places they love elsewhere. I then ask them about places they love in their towns. Wherever the research, similar places re-emerge as favourites and these are often the places that come up high on quality-of-life rankings like Mercer's: Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Montreal, San Francisco, Boston, San Antonio or smaller places like Charleston and Salem. In Europe it is Paris, London, then Barcelona and the great Italian cities like Siena, Verona and Florence. Then there are Hong Kong, Melbourne or Sydney that get a mention. Further probing will bring out Nice, Munich, Berlin, Amsterdam and smaller Dutch places like Delft, and further East, Krakow, Ljubljana and Prague. The places mentioned elsewhere and in their cities are typically places with varied housing and distinctive shopping, and few brands, where the street life is lively and chance encounter possible. This is not scientific, but a decade of asking similar questions to differing people has a value.

Following on I apply a simple 'yes or no analysis'. We gather images of places and ask whether the building or setting evokes a 'yes' or a 'no' feeling. This quite quickly clarifies what people are after. Within the instinctive 'yes' and 'no', deep knowledge is embedded which is often implicit. Some can describe the emotional triggers precisely. This leads to the central question; 'What are the actions required to get into yes?' The great urbanists and the general public agree on the main urban qualities, which are seemingly contradictory as they pull in differing directions. Yet the great city is a container where extremes can coexist, where the calm moment can be as enjoyable as the wild. The lovable, liveable, lively, joyful, dynamic, vital, edgy, easy, accessible, walkable, tranquil, peaceful city. Places where you can explore, discover, create and be entrepreneurial. Places that are memorable, distinctive, unique, iconic, well designed. Safe, secure, fearless, resilient.

The next step is to contrast their reality with their ideal, and usually stakeholders lead the way in showing what is undesirable.

Another trick is to ask stakeholders to always preface a new development with the question: 'Is it good enough for...?' Or, within the new aspiration, for them to dare to say: 'It's not good enough for.' Or even: 'Could you fall in love with the development or your city?' Then I generate a discussion on how the places people love have been achieved. This involves discussions of planning and who controls its agenda, such as the development, road-building and engineering fraternities. This leads to questions of principles, such as whether a place should be determined by the needs of cars or environmental issues and what urban design guidelines, such as giving primacy to the street, are appropriate. This grounds a debate about contradictions and paradoxes, such as how asking for more roads and convenience is precisely destroying the things people say they love. By spelling out those implications it opens out conversation about how the texture of communities is built up. This usually leaves stark choices. For instance, the car-focused choice, which leads to a certain type of community where everything is based on needing to go to a destination, versus the public transport option, which at its best creates accessible city centres. This is based on faster, more efficient, low-fares-based systems with extended hours. The analysis of how alternatives are achieved begins to generate a crisis between what is and what could be.

Ten ideas to start the creative city process

If a city wanted to focus on being a creative city what would it do?

1 Precipitate a culture of crisis. A crisis in this context does not need to be negative. A crisis helps because it opens the opportunity to rethink and reassess. It can be precipitated by a declining industry, but it can also be pushed ahead by creating very high expectations for a city, so generating a crisis of aspiration. Then the gap between existing realities and what you want to achieve creates a self-generated crisis that can be a spur to action.

2 Identify a largish group of project champions from different sectors who are interested in the broader creativity agenda. If this is not possible, pursue some of the work listed below with a narrower grouping, but constantly with a view to building wider alliances.

3 Undertake an audit of creative potential and obstacles. This would assess creative projects across the whole spectrum in your city as well as the incentives and regulatory regime. Are there any incentives or policy initiatives that foster creativity? Who or what is creating the obstacles?

4 Identify some key projects in your own city that stand as examples of good practice. Visit these with mixed teams and investigate how they work. Similarly, identify key projects elsewhere in other cities and, ideally, visit them. This is recognized as creating one of the most transformative effects.

5 Develop the evidence that proves your arguments about the value and impact of the nexus of culture, broadly defined creativity, the arts and imaginative uses of technology. Highlight examples from different parts of the world and especially those you perceive to be your competitors.

6 Seek to influence the city's 'master' strategy. This is usually spatially or economically driven. Try to insert a cultural and creativity agenda within it. If this fails, develop a well-publicized alternative strategy. Show an appreciation of all the issues a traditional plan would have but go well beyond it. Show by example the power of working across boundaries in interdisciplinary teams.

7 Create a series of pilot projects that can be seen as experiments, perhaps under the cover of a major event, such as an Expo, a festival or large physical regeneration project.

8 Assess how the story of your city is told internally and externally. Is the story still true and relevant to what you want to achieve? Generate a new story, if necessary.

9 Create an advocacy lobby group that embodies, in the way it acts, holds meetings or arranges seminars, the creativity you are aspiring to.

10 Do not call yourself a creative city - let others do that by respecting what you have achieved. Ironically, cities which look for tick-box solutions to creativity branding are in fact doing the inverse of what is required.

This tenth point is in some ways the most important. Branding your own city as creative when everybody else is doing so is like declaring yourself a member of Homo sapiens - somewhat unoriginal.

But if others recognize your creativity, people take note. This is not to discourage city-branding per se. Indeed, original, pertinent branding may well be creative in its own right. But a positive reputation built by others is the litmus test of your own endeavours.

Thus the focus should at first be introspective, attending to changing, if necessary, the intellectual infrastructure in which ideas are generated, facilitating a learning culture in both attitudinal and institutional terms, being ultra-aware of the conditions in which creativity flourishes or flounders, and aiming high.

Think entrepreneurially in social arenas and socially in entrepreneurial ones. Valorize opportunities over risks. Swap roles with others. And, in perhaps the greatest test of your leadership, spot and share power with others with talent and leadership qualities.

In terms of urban experience, no citizen is more or less important than any other, so harnessing the potential of the many has far more clout than 'inspired' top-down direction. In such a way, widespread, passionate participation in a vision which is shared by the participants gains its own, self-fuelling momentum because, bluntly, people tend not to piss in their own backyard.

I have already prescribed a more tangible creative plan in terms of audit, consensus, creative platform, and so on. But such prescription may amount to an already restrictive framework within which to operate. This is your call. Just as Barcelona spurned the idea of a master plan, so should a city organically follow a path to becoming a better, happier place.

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