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Can Beauty Save The World? The Rise Of "Creative Cities"

Both city officials and business leaders take note of where artsy types, LGBT and creative young people move to live, as these are the new "influencers" who can give the decisive spark to cities.

A visitor attending the ArteBA, the most important contemporary art show in Argentina, in Buenos Aires in 2013.
A visitor attending the ArteBA, the most important contemporary art show in Argentina, in Buenos Aires in 2013.
Miguel Jurado

BUENOS AIRES — It may not be a brand new concept but the creative city is the next seriously big thing. British urban planner Charles Landry was one of the first to identify creativity's importance in cities during the 1980s, citing its contribution to planning, renewal and prosperity.

Creative cities are typified by a clustering of technology, audiovisual, arts and design industries.

While the idea of urban creative hubs has always existed, what's changed is the growing momentum behind the idea.

UNESCO now has a Creative Cities network, with Buenos Aires, designated a City of Design in 2005.

Argentina's culture of ministry has begun a similar network choosing the underdeveloped cities of Neuquén, Córdoba, Salta and Godoy Cruz where it has detected the early presence of "cultural industries." They are part of a group of cities that benefit from government economic incentives to promote the spread of creative industries.

You may ask, why don't they just start up real factories to give people jobs? Well, the world of work has changed and the number of jobs in manufacturing today represents only a fraction of those on offer 50 years ago. Experts agree that in the new post-industrial economy it is not the service sector, so much as the creative sector, that is creating jobs.

Today, design projects originating in Godoy Cruz, Neuquén and Córdoba, or the audiovisual projects in Salta, may turn out to be critical to the future of those cities. Which is why the new program put together by the culture ministry's undersecretary of state for the creative economy, Andrés Gribnicow, is offering training to allow civil servants and NGOs to hone their skills in promoting creative development.

The new creative class

American author Richard Florida wrote in his 2002 book, The Rise of the Creative Class, that innovative activities are what generates much of the economic growth in cities, adding that new creative wealth is most likely to be found in local neighborhoods, rather than academic institutions.

Florida also observed a big concentration of creative growth in sectors that employ dot.com workers, artists, musicians, gays and lesbians and those he termed the "high bohemians" — or hippies with IT skills. This new "creative class," he said, was changing everything and its members added value to their daily work through creativity.

Florida's critics say his theories fail to account for the reality of social inequalities and capitalist exploitation, some have even called him an elitist. He insists, however, that the creative class he cites fosters an open and dynamic environment that contributes to friendlier and more sociable neighborhoods. These, in turn, attract more creative individuals who help bring in more business and capital.

So the focus for cities right now is to attract and retain this type of talent, instead of just concentrating on infrastructure, stadiums, flash building projects and shopping malls.

What kind of city does the creative class like?

Florida says the creative class is drawn to cities that offer creative jobs, good quality of life, green spaces, and good schools and universities. Their preferred cities are culturally rich and dynamic, which does not mean simply more theaters and museums. These people look for neighborhoods that have a strong sense of community, open-mindedness and tolerance.

Chilean academic Manuel Tironi Rodó says creative types do not just move into any neighborhood. They seek out areas that are on the cusp of gentrification. These tend to be close to the city center — usually with a bit of history — but interesting enough to host a bohemian scene and spontaneous cultural events.

As Prince Myshkin, the protagonist of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's novel, The Idiot, said, "beauty will save the world". For modern cities, their unexpected saviors may turn out to be a disparate bunch of nerds and disheveled types with buckets of charm and imagination.

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