What does it take to be a Creative Community?

My job responsibilities have recently changed. As I happen to be one of those people who thrive on variety, this is a good thing.

Turns out that while I may embrace and get excited about change, for many, it’s just not quite as easy.

According to the late economist, Mancur Olson, individuals aren’t the only ones who respond differently to change. Cities too can reflect different responses. As he puts it, when places grow up and prosper in one era, they find it challenging and sometimes even impossible to adopt new organizational and cultural patterns, even though the benefits are well known and accepted.

When a city isn’t receptive to change, innovation and growth shifts to the places that are able to adapt to and build on the shifts. Olson contends this phenomenon is how England got trapped and also explains why the United States became a great world economic power. It is also an underlying reason for the abundant economic activity that is taking places in such tolerant, diverse and creative cities as San Francisco, Austin, San Diego, Boston and Seattle. On the other hand, the cities like Buffalo, New Orleans, and Louisville that have remained stuck in old paradigms of economic development trying to become the next Silicon Valley and working to attract large industries, are stalled.

According to Richard Florida, economist and author of “The Rise of the Creative Class”, the key indicators of a city’s potential for economic development are no longer industrial parks, office complexes, and strip malls. Better indicators are the number of what he summarizes as artists, geeks, gays, and rockers.

Ironically, Alberta has a lot of the elements Florida believes are important for attracting a creative class of workers.  By creative class he means those whose function requires thinking or creating meaningful new forms. The super-creative core of this new class includes scientists and engineers, professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects, as well as such thought-leaders as nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts, and other opinion-makers.  Beyond this core group, the creative class also includes creative professionals who work in high-tech sectors, financial services, the legal and healthcare professions, and business management. These people engage in creative problem-solving, drawing on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems.

To attract these workers, a community needs to cultivate diversity as well as actively invest in the lifestyle amenities that people really want and use often.
This includes nightlife activity and street level culture - cafes, bistros, music, museums, galleries, and festivals. The creative class also values active outdoor recreation such as hiking, cycling, jogging, canoeing, kayaking, and snowboarding.

Creative communities are also valued for their authenticity and uniqueness - not their chain stores and chain restaurants. This authenticity has its roots in historic buildings, established neighborhoods, a unique music scene, or specific cultural attributes.

Openness to immigration is also of particular importance, as is the ability to attract so-called bohemians. For cities and regions to attract these groups, they need to develop the kind of people-climates that appeal to them and meet their needs.

While Alberta may not have all of the elements of “liveability” that Florida says are important – we do have excellence of design and place, and diversity.

We need to work on two additional elements that Florida has identified as being critical - strong and innovative leadership and regional cooperation.

Posted on 10-01-07

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