Why I Think What I Think

The opinions you have read and the judgements made have come from working with cities since 1978 and thinking about their dynamics, their successes and failures, and how they can reach their aims. It has involved trying to answer questions cities have posed, often about their future: 'How can we be more creative?' 'What does the future hold for a city like ours?' 'How can our cultural sector be strengthened?' 'How do we get on the radar screen?' 'How can we rethink our assets?' 'How can we compete?' Most importantly, people in an advisory role want urgent answers to specific problems: 'How can Calgary's Olympic Plaza become more vibrant and be inclusively used?' 'Can Adelaide move up the urban hierarchy and if so how?' 'How can we make the most of the diversity advantage?'

This means connecting with decision-makers at various levels, from those at the centre of power to those more at the periphery trying to change priorities. Often the latter work in the cultural world and want their cities to develop with a cultural perspective in mind. Others may be scientists who know that our guzzling priorities must change. Often, my views have come from reflecting on failures as exploring the boundaries between precedent and what is possible can be risky.

Many of the cities I have worked with are big: London, Toronto, Osaka, Adelaide, the Govindpuri slum settlement in Delhi, Lille, Leicester, Glasgow and Iasi in Romania. Others are smaller, like Shkodra in Albania or Andover. There has been work with networks of cities, such as the EU Urbact project on cultural activities, the creative industries and regeneration,2 involving places like Naples, Gijon, Amsterdam, Maribor, Birmingham and Budapest. There have been many talks, perhaps 250 keynote addresses in many places, on a diversity of topics such as 'risk and creativity', ' the creative city and beyond', 'complexity and city-making' or 'the diversity advantage and creativity'. There have been residencies in cities like Adelaide, Canberra, Salem or Worcester in Massachusetts, acting as a critical friend of the city. There has been commissioned research. Of particular relevance to The Art of City-Making has been work with the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) to interview 30 key built environment professionals on their attitudes towards risk. This appeared in What are We Scared of?3 Second, with Future London, part of the London Development Agency, I interviewed 40 partners of major firms on how professional mindsets can be aligned, how they perceive other urban professions and how they think they are perceived themselves. This 360-degree analysis led to a series of stereotypes and a publication called Aligning Professional Mindsets.4 Finally, for the Urban Futures group, interviewed 25 leading thinkers on what they believed the key issues affecting urban life would be. This is published as Riding the Rapids: Urban Life in an Age of Complexity.5 Evaluating 12 initiatives in Southeastern Europe for the Swiss government in using culture for development in places as diverse as Odessa, Sarajevo and Skopje was especially useful. This is published as Culture at the Heart of Transformation.6

Over the years I have interviewed perhaps 2000 people in various guises. All this leaves a particular form of knowledge, based on watching close-up as people try to make change, be part of teams involved in that process, and use the experience as the basis for the reflections you have hopefully just read.

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