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 â€" 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 workers, artists, musicians, gays and lesbians and those he termed the "high bohemians" â€" 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 â€" usually with a bit of history â€" 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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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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