Kent’s Creative Quotient
“Government must be part of a multidisciplinary group from the sciences, business, the arts and technology who listen to regular people and work to position a city’s coolness.”
This quote from recent national economic conference got me thinking again about Kent’s creative quotient. I’ve mentioned Dr. Richard Florida before and I’ve referenced his research that correlated the level of a city’s creativity to its economic success but at the risk of being repetitive I’m going to talk about it some more because I think the whole concept holds the key to turning around downtown Kent.
The term “creative economy” is broad – perhaps conveniently so for the writer-consultants who peddle it – but as John Howkins, author of The Creative Economy defined it at the conference, “the creative economy is where most people spend most of their time and earn most of their money by dealing in ideas, not land, or natural resources or capital.”
A common misconception is that most “creative” workers dress in black and paint or dance for a living. Some do, but others don white coats and work as scientists in pharmaceutical labs, or design software or establish businesses.
What they all want, said economist Richard Florida, a leading thinker in this field, are places to live where an acceptance of new ideas invites innovation.
These places “are open to the arts and literature and the music community. They say, ‘if you want to do something, you are welcome here.’ ” [click here to listen to audio interview with Dr. Florida]
Cities all over, from New York to Norristown to Paducah, Ky., are embracing the notion. In London, it’s already a part of the city bureaucracy – a department called Creative London operates within its economic development branch.
To creative individuals, these signal that the community is open to people who innovate. What economists hope is that these innovators will start businesses, employ others, and ultimately create wealth in the community – along with, perhaps, the next Apple computer.
Much talk at the conference centered on what role business, government and cultural leaders should play fostering projects.
“Government cannot mandate cool,” said Karen Gagnon, who has the unlikely title of “Cool Cities Coordinator” in Michigan’s Department of Labor and Economic Growth. [click here to read more about Michigan’s Cool Cities programs and projects]
And cool buildings aren’t enough either.
“At first we thought that if you put a bunch of artists in a building, magical things will happen,” said speaker Tim Jones, chief executive officer of Artscape, a quasi-public development agency in Toronto. “Guess what. It didn’t work. You have to build a community within that building and then connect them to their neighbors.”
Making those connections can be part of government’s role, said panelists from Toronto, Tampa, London, Stockholm and New York. Government must be part of a multidisciplinary group from the sciences, business, the arts and technology who listen to regular people and work to position a city’s coolness.
Saying you support cool things is different from actually doing it. Consider what happened in Philadelphia after the skateboarders were booted in 2002 from LOVE Park, a place that had become an internationally known mecca because of its challenging stairs and ledges.
The city quickly scrambled to create an alternative skatepark after a massive outcry from people such as Florida, who called the ban a “big mistake.”
As unappealing as skateboarding is to some, others see it as a barometer of what Florida calls the “bohemian index” – a measure of ethnic and cultural diversity and attractiveness to those outside the mainstream.
David Schaaf, an architect with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, calls skateboarding “urban ballet.” He worked on developing plans for an alternate park that included places for participants and spectators to socialize. Dwell, an influential design and architecture magazine, featured the project recently. Still, Schaaf noted, $100,000 “graciously” provided by the city for site planning has been spent. The park will cost an estimated $5 million to finish.
Just as plans for the new skatepark were influenced by the boarders themselves, managing the city’s coolness could be a draw for creative people.
A Future Follow Up Article to Continue This Conversation…
Putting a Dollar Sign on Culture
Every year, thousands of arts enthusiasts from across the Los Angeles region and beyond visit Pasadena to sample the city’s cultural offerings. Along the way, most end up dropping dollars everywhere, from the city’s restaurants and bars to its gas stations and pay parking lots. Pasadena officials already know their arts community makes an impact on the city’s economy. But quantifying how big that impact really is can get tricky. So this year, Pasadena will be among 130 cities nationwide to participate in a study designed to detail just how much money “cultural tourism” adds to its economy. The study also will reveal how Pasadena’s nonprofit arts industry stacks up to those in comparable cities.