Creative Cities

Creative cities

Under what conditions does creativity originate? And is it possible for make physical environments to generate creativity? Not that we can make creativity; we cannot even predict where or when human creativity will emerge. But we can increase the chances that creativity will originate. By creating the appropriate conditions for its generation. This paper is about those conditions and how they can be included in urban policies. This is one of the most important assignments of the 21st century.

Why then creative cities and not creative rural areas? The answer is simple. Seen in an historical perspective cities have always been the places where creativity orginated. Golden ages are invariably golden urban ages. Cities evidently provide a favourable environment for creativity. The urban atmosphere releases. And that is still the case. It is therefore entirely logical to take cities as the starting point for the discovery of conditions for creativity. Not every city is creative, however. What makes a certain city in a certain period creative, so emphatically innovative? And why does the creative spirit evaporate after twenty, thirty years just as suddenly as it emerged? If we know that we have taken an important second step in finding the answer to the main question: how to promote creativity. This paper discusses the opportunities provided by cities in the new economy. But the goal goes further: the rural areas, which in the Netherlands are so intently interwoven with the urban areas, will also benefit. This is about opportunities for both. Outstanding opportunities for everyone.

Creativity as the crucial factor

Why is the demand for creativity so relevant? Here we touch the core of the matter. History teaches us that golden ages are rare; they are, as the British geographer Peter Hall remarks ‘special windows of light that briefly illuminate the world both within them and outside them, and then again are shuttered.’ They are quickly identified with exceptional artistic creative forces. But creativity in the domains of technology, the economy, science, social order and public administration originates from the same source and is just as rare and unique. The one who can solve the riddle of creativity will open doors to wealth, prosperity and happiness.

The solution to the riddle is like searching for the philosopher’s stone. Nevertheless the search for creativity is less impossible than it seems. Creativity is a crucal factor in the economy. In the hypercompetitive landscape of the global economy it is the well-informed consumers who wield the power. They base their preferences on the most favorable price-quality relationships; they demand the best and the newest. At the same time the position of enterprises has become weaker. New ideas that add value and the rapid marketing of new ideas are of essential importance to survival in the global economy. The need for innovation is therefore borne out of the circumstances on the demand side.

Even in the case of the production of traditional goods the emphasis is no longer in the first place on standardisation but on the addition of quality and significance. The cultural content of goods and services is expanding. One can even speak of a cultural economy. That is an economy that produces predominantly ‘symbolic goods’. These are goods that mainly satisfy the need for personal growth and individual self-confidence, for leisure and recreation and for embellishment and decoration. Cosmetics, jewels and adornments, advertising, entertainment, radio and television, fashion, films, photography, graphic design, interior design, the furniture industry, architecture, tourism, the leisure industry, the new media, music, books and periodicals – these are all sectors in which marketable products and services are produced which owe their competitiveness to the way in which they relate to personal lifestyles, to the needs of people for embellishment and aestheticism, and for leisure and entertainment, or to the way in which they serve as sources of information and personal raising of consciousness. Their functional use is subordinate to their seductiveness and emotional appeal. They owe their existence to creativity.

It is exactly this creativity that is growing rapidly in the present-day economy. It almost seems that capitalism as a whole has entered a phase in which the cultural form and significance of the goods and services produced are becoming dominant and in which, conversely, culture is becoming more and more commodity-oriented, that is to say is seen as a normal marketable economic good. While the economy is becoming more cultural, culture is becoming more and more commercial.

And there is something else. Compared with the ‘old economy’ in the ‘new economy’ we are confronted by production factors that are spatially very mobile. In the ‘old economy’ the availability of raw materials or the presence of flows of goods determined the chances of economic growth. These were more or less fixed. Scarcity was also common. In the new economy there is an abundance of portable skills, of people with knowledge, skills and talents who are not fixed to specific places but on the contrary are extremely mobile. This flexibility of people as important production factors in the new economy underlines once more the great importance of creating conditions for creativity. Whoever fails to devote attention to this runs the risk of losing this important source of prosperity.

The city as motor of the economy

At the same time as the value of creativity is growing the importance of cities is also increasing. Thinking about creativity in cities is closely related to the rediscovery at the beginning of the 1980’s of the urban region by a group of spatial economists, sociologists, political scientists and geographers. The most well known of these is Michael Porter who in 1979 pointed out that the competitiveness of regions and nations is dependent on the growth of their productivity, that in turn is dependent on innovative capability. He identified a strong localisation of innovative capability in certain urban regions. Academics had studied urban regions for a some time but in those studies the region was invariably the product of political and economic processes and not a spatial economic entity that was the motor of economic developments, comparable with nation states, markets or families. In the early 1980’s economists such as Porter began to see that the city could be a fundamental unit of economic and social life in an era after mass production. The very heavily vertically disintegrated industrial areas of north east-central Italy, the Silicon Valley, Toyota City, Orange County (to the south of Los Angeles), Route 128 (Boston), Toulouse, Baden-Württemberg (Stuttgart) and Bavaria (Munich) attracted attention. Certain successful forms of production seemed to come together in specific cities. This was particularly the case with learning-based industries: firms in which human talent in the form of innovation is crucial to economic success. These firms grew rapidly as a result of the revolutionary developments in information and communication technology (ICT), on the one hand, and the globalisation of the economy, on the other. It was clear that ICT and globalisation contribute to certain economic processes becoming more footloose, but in addition to that led to strong localisation. Regional clusters of economic activity emerged, which, if sufficiently successful, produced goods and services for the world market. These clusters are in fact localised concentrations of knowledge, talent and innovative capability. These concentrations are virtually all situated in large cities. Urban regions appear to be the motors of the economy.

Citie as mines

It has been known for some time that cities are pre-eminently the places where innovation takes place. The American publicist Jane Jacobs came to the conclusion already in 1969 that cities naturally possess enormous creative potential because they contain the most diversified environments. You can, she wrote, regard cities as mines from which new, creative ideas are continually extracted. Future economic growth depends, therefore, on the extent to which innovative firms in cities can flourish in their regional surroundings. Jacobs placed the emphasis on the permanence of innovations in cities. Some cities constantly discharge new ideas. That these cities often are rather inaccessible and function inefficiently as production environments need not be a problem. On the contrary, Jacobs saw a lack of efficiency as a very pre-condition for innovative capability and therefore as a great quality. “Development work is a messy, time- and energy-consuming business of trial and error and failure. (…) Success is not a certainty. And even when the result is successful, it is often a surprise, not what was actually being sought.” This aspect of trial and error, that is the basis of creativity, encouraged Jacobs to search for an urban concept completely different from the prevailing idealised concept of the city as an efficient machine. “Viewing the city’s economy as a whole, one can think of it as a great, confused economic laboratory, supporting itself by its own production.” She devised a new unit for measuring the innovative power of cities. She called this the development rate: this measures the added value of new economic activities (goods, services) over and above existing activities within the urban economy over a certain period. “A city’s ability to maintain high development rates is what staves off stagnation, and allows the city to prosper.” A high development rate, according to Jacobs, has only a weak relationship to efficient production. “The conditions that promote development and the conditions that promote efficient production and distribution of already existing goods and services are not only different, in most ways they are diametrically opposed.” For that reason the title of the particular chapter in het book is ‘Valuable Inefficiencies and Impracticalities of Cities’. Innovative economic activity means access to capital made available inefficiently: “many, many small loans and investments, a high proportion of them out of the routine,” which is something completely different from the laws of efficient capital provision. At the same time innovative forces are the physical result of combining similar and diffuse types of economic activity serving the urban population, something that does not relate easily to an orientation on large, efficient productive and export-oriented firms. But they do produce the best chances of a far-reaching division of labour from which new types of employment can emerge. Busy, lively, chaotic cities have, therefore, a high development rate and a high development rate provides the best chances of innovation. And innovations lead to the burgeoning of cities.

Localised knowledge

Porter seemed twenty years later to support Jacobs’ conclusion. But there were others who wondered whether her hypothesis was tenable in the post-industrial economy. Manuel Castells, for example, assumed that information is the raw material of the new economy. Thanks to modern ICT this information is now available everywhere, including, he reasoned, at long distances from the cities. In this way economic space is changing from a territorially specific ‘space of places’ in to a spatially indifferent ‘space of flows’.

By spatially indifferent Castells did not mean that space of flows is unstructured. The structure can be equated more and more to the global structure of the transport and ICT networks and the related multinational companies. The only thing that makes these global networks urban is the new information elite who live in a small number of cities and who circulate comfortably within this global sociological urban space – which is the same all over the world from Cologne to Chicago to Caracas. Outside these uniform global cities there is, according to Castells, in fact no more economically advantageous urban space left. In the end everything is possible everywhere. The localisation theories of Porter, Storper and others are diametrically opposed to the network theory of Castells. The difference refers back to the distinction that Porter et al made between information and knowledge. Knowledge also covers social behaviour, talent, and qualities and skills honed by education.

According to Porter et al it is true that information is no longer scarce. On the contrary knowledge remains a scarce production factor that becomes more and more important as information becomes cheaply available everywhere. Porter: “Paradoxically, the enduring competitive advantages in a global economy lie increasingly in local things – knowledge, relations, and motivation that distant rivals cannot match.” It is therefore not true at all that geographical factors are no longer relevant to the structuring of economic processes. On the contrary, the spatial aspect – the place – is becoming more and more relevant.

Knowledge, according to Storper, is specific, non-standardised and non-codified. Knowledge is cumulative and is built up in local communities. It takes a great deal of time, sometimes several generations, to acquire knowledge. Educational institutes play an important role in the acquisition of knowledge, as do local and regional traditions and local social relations. Specific knowledge is therefore concentrated in certain areas and does not readily leak away from these areas. These areas provide the greatest possibilities for innovation, which in turn can lead to new economic growth. Where these regional innovative patterns are most strongly developed one can speak of learning regions: regions that are constantly building up and acquiring knowledge and that are at the forefront of the generation of knowledge.

Regionalisation is in this way not the end result of localisation processes but the starting point. Moreover “it might actually be central to the coordination of the most advanced forms of economic life today.”

Regional systems of creativity

Creativity never origines purely from the ideas of some or other ingenious individual. Every time it is the sum total of stimuli resulting from numerous interactions between a multitude of producers and consumers in a local economy. Creativity is in this way more a social phenomenon than the product of individual inspiration. Storper refers to ‘supply architecture for innovations’. In addition there is also ‘demand architecture’, but this varies according to the product. Both are characterised by the existence of a large degree of uncertainty about future applications of information and uncertainty as a result of constant changes in the information itself. This uncertainty plus the spillover effects of relationships between the one type of knowledge with the other demand permanent contacts and routines that are specific to the product in question, the sector or the cultural context. Furthermore they require a sound institutional framework. On the supply side direct communication between the producers and users of technology is essential in order to deal with this uncertainty. Close contact between these two groups is only possible if they operate in close proximity to each other – Storper calls this ‘the Interpersonal World of economic coordination’. The ancient European craft-oriented industrial areas are well-known examples of this but the new high-tech areas in the United States (computers in Silicon Valley, biotechnology in San Diego, medical instruments in Orange County) are also characterised by similar intensive contacts. On the demand side there is specialisation through a sub-division of markets according to lifestyle, ethnic group, age and gender. All these fragments are expressions of reflectiveness by consumers which appear earliest and are most clearly apparent in cities. Direct physical contact is necessary to deal with their capriciousness and flexibility. A theory which puts space of flows first and foremost places too much emphasis on renewal through the existence of a globalising economy in which places and regions are no longer relevant and interprets everything unilaterally from the perspective of the world cities as command centres. If you read Storper’s analysis Jane Jacobs was closer to post-modern reality. “Contemporary capitalism is an enormous machine for generating chance and variety”, he writes: “This constantly recreates the basis of agglomeration, through new products and services and the forms of transacting they require. But modern capitalism also pushes in the direction of routinization and standardisation of knowledge, products, and hence, transactions, leading to a tendency to peel activities away from high-cost areas such as cities.” All medium-sized and large cities become centres of a reflexive, ‘intellectual’ part of the industrial and service sectors. This part of the economy is growing as a proportion of the total turnover and number of employment opportunities of the modern economy. The strength of the cities lies in the differentiation of the local production environments, in the availability of many types of entrepreneurs and employees in the knowledge sector – sizeable communities of specialists – in the physical proximity of producers and consumers and in the many opportunities they provide for organised and spontaneous contacts. This is sometimes referred to as urbanity. This leads Storper to argue a case, after Jane Jacobs, for a variety of possible (coherent, effective) innovative systems within each of the urban regions, which he calls regional systems of creativity. These are regional systems of environments in which individuals have in common that they carry out non-routine interactions which they develop into economically beneficial innovations. These are sometimes referred to as regional creative networks. A great deal of research has already been carried out into these regional systems. Numerous studies of regional systems of creativity in the technopoles of the world, in particular Silicon Valley, have recently been published. It is not surprising that the driving force behind all these studies is the desire of many to copy the success formula of Silicon Valley. The world now has a Silocon Alley, a Silicon Woods, a Silicon Desert, a Silicon Highway and even a Silicon Polder. It is apparent, however, that the so-called first mover has retained its original head of start for a long period of time and that no other location in the world can rival its position.

Networks as social capital

Knowledge is therefore ‘sticky’. That is to say that knowledge is related to localised social communities and is captured in the networks of personal relationships with their conventions and traditions. Networks are non-hierarchical, informal patterns of organisation. Their distinguishing feature is great heterogenity. In ‘The Great Disruption’ Francis Fukuyama proposes that networks be perceived as a form of social capital. Social capital refers to the norms and values shared by society. Social attributes – virtues – such as honesty, trust, readiness to supply favours and keeping one’s word are closely allied to social capital. Such virtues are the basis of solidarity and mutual trust within a group. Social capital allows the members of a group to work together.

Networks as a form of social capital unite individuals who share informal norms and values over and above normal relations in economic transactions. Networks are related to relationships based on mutual trust. In addition to physical capital (land, roads, buildings, machines) and human capital (knowledge and skills), social capital – networks – is also required to create prosperity.

Institutional arrangements must also be taken into account here. The heart of these are education and the training facilities for specialised employees. But also trade unions and professional associations maintain professional standards and there are also museums, trade fairs and annual events. This whole of personal, professional and institutional relationships is very similar to what Marshall once typified as ‘industrial atmosphere’. Such an atmosphere is essential to the functioning of the local economy but acts also as a platform for creative and innovative activities. Networks can, however, also be a hindrance. If they are closed they are characterised by intolerance, sluggishness and limited adaptability, and inaccessibility to new ideas. Networks perceived as informal moral relationships are therefore often associated with intolerance, nepotism and other nontransparent personal arrangements. They are reminders of ancient, pre-modern relationships, which in fact they are. Networks are as old as man himself. Many of the institutions and arrangements we associate with the modern era, such as legislation and bureaucracy, are actually intended to counteract the negative consequences of (informal) networks.

But networks are not by definition bad or old-fashioned. On the contrary, their role is becoming more and more important. Social capital is essential in the postmodern era with its extreme division of labour and its great demand for reflexivity.

Networks of trust

Networks are, therefore, of great importance for the dissemination and sharing of knowledge. Despite the possibility of rigidity and sluggishness, information is in general easily disseminated within networks, at least more easily than between networks or when there are no informal networks at all. Friends are after all more inclined to share knowledge. Transaction costs which would otherwise be incurred for the dissemination of knowledge are ignored in friendships (or other forms of mutual relationships based on social capital). Social capital is also of great importance to the management of highly qualified personnel working in an environment of complex, diffuse, non-standardised knowledge processing. These types of environments are typical in large areas of the modern information economy where there is a decentralisation of production, flexibility, strong mutual dependence and great complexity. As goods and services become more complex, more differentiated and more difficult to evaluate, the need for informal relationships based on shared norms and values is more and more important.

Hierarchical, standardised forms of relationships are in that case unsuitable. In an information economy people are heavily dependent on each other and people have to be able to trust each other. Proximity has a special significance in such an economy. For example behind the apparently ruthless competition in Silicon Valley was a whole series of social networks. The sources of these networks varied from common educational background (Berkeley, Stanford) and similar career paths (many had worked with Fairchild Semiconductors) to shared norms from the alternative culture of the San Francisco of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Silicon Valley even apparently originated in the Wagon Wheel Bar in Mountain View. Most of the scientists met there to get the latest news. The power of creative systems is in the strongly localised communities of entrepreneurs who are dependent on each other, meet each other frequently, exchange information and share norms and values: punctuality, honesty, commitment, trust. What unites them is social capital.

The importance of spontaneous contacts

Where social capital is built up processes of bonding are apparent: people socialise, begin relationships, form groups. In that way they create potential for coordinated action. Bonding is therefore important. In a multicultural society this bonding often takes place along ethnic or religious lines. That is a normal phenomenon and even desirable. But if the networks are demarcated, close-knit and closed and therefore exclusively comprise bonding, then there is cooperation within the various groups but renewal and constant adaptation of the groups in relation to their surroundings is extremely difficult. The sociologist Mark Granovetter has shown that it is the weak, less close-knit relationships that make the (information) networks effective. Deviant individuals who are operating at the same time within different networks transfer new ideas and it is often these new ideas that determine whether a group can adapt successfully to changes in the surroundings.

Applied to cities this means that a creative city is not only characterised by successful forms of social cohesion (bonding) but also by a constant influx of new people. In all probability there has never been a city that has been creative without a constant renewal of its population. The creative city is by definition a city of immigrants. To say it in a Schumpeterian way, it is all about ‘New Men’: creative people who, through their modernising activities can take their city or region into a new phase of economic prosperity. It is therefore essential that the city works as a magnet for a wide variety of talent.

Newcomers develop creativity by coming into contact with the established order with which they are not familiar. New ideas originate as a result of conflict or even resistance. The creative city is therefore ideally populated by people who operate at the margins, or at least outside the established order. That is not to say that they are marginal people. The important factor is the tension or excitement felt by newcomers who think and operate at the frontier between a familiar world and an alien culture. A creative city is, therefore, a place to which outsiders can freely gravitate but where they find themselves in an ambiguous situation: not excluded from opportunities, but also not able to count on a warm welcome. The creative city is seldom a peaceful, comfortable city.

In order to function as a magnet for human talent an open, cosmopolitan community is required, that is to say an urban environment that is tolerant and accepts tension and social turbulence. The fact that the high-tech region of the United States draws in a great deal of talent has to do partly with the tolerance of people in Silicon Valley. In Palo Alto or San Francisco the indigenous population speaks Vietnamese. Talented foreigners are easily assimilated into the universities (newcomers heed only to pass an entrance examination). It is easy to find a job. There is always computer programming work to be done. And well-educated and talented immigrants will in the end be just as well paid as Americans. That is not always the case in Europe.

If networks are to be innovative then alongside the heavily localised process of bonding this element of bridging is necessary. It is therefore important that innovative systems overlap spatially or at least are contiguous to each other or – at the other extreme – penetrate each other. The more overlap or contact the greater the (chances of) innovation. In large urban agglomerations with a great deal of congestion and large cultural communities with very varied backgrounds (ethnic, religious, political and cultural heterogenity) the chances of innovation are greater than in suburban areas, where incidentally there are also many meeting places. The element of spontaneous contact – the chance meeting – plays an important role in the process of bridging. This has consequences for spatial planning.

Cultural economy

The above is not only valid for the technological-industrial complexes. Thinking in terms of learning regions also extends to the field of the cultural economy, mentioned earlier. The cultural economy is just like the technology-intensive economy a learning based industry. Numerous, often private, profit-oriented companies trade in cultural products and services in heavily decentralised markets. Creativity and innovation are of the utmost importance in this economy. Few markets are in fact more mobile, more uncertain, more dependent on trends, styles, fashion and ideas than those of the cultural economy. The frequent fluctuations in the markets for cultural products and services are based on the assumption that the learning process is constant and rapid. A good example of this is the music industry, that is permanently searching for new talent and new hits. The uncertaintly is great, the risks enormous. If regional systems of creativitey are to have a useful role then it should be in this context. Hollywood is an early example of a regional system in the cultural domain. The whole of the world’s film industry is represented here. Holliwood is also a typical example of a first mover. All the large world cities – New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris and Tokyo to name just a few – are, however, important production environments for cultural economic activity. They are unique and extremely creative generators of culture and they are the absolute bastions of the new cultural capitalist economy. The importance of the large urban communities, in which many specialised economic functions are brought together, and which contain a closely interwoven multi-echnic population, is great. It is interesting to note that the distriction between a ‘high’ and a ‘low’ culture then disappears. Local ‘low’ culture even appears to be extremely helpful to the formation of inner city economic activities (the rapper who is plucked from the street and is launched by the music industry or the clothing style of a subculture that is made popular by the fashion industry); at the same time local economic sectors bring a dynamic to the cultural and modernising capacities of cities. This all contributes to a typical ‘local’ atmosphere and image of the cultural products and services produced, whose economic value is greatly increased.

Outside the technological-industrial complexes and the cultural world cities too the importance of permanent innovative capacity is growing rapidly. Also in Randstad Holland.

The frequence of encounters and coincidence

That creativity originates in cities is logical. At its basis lies encounters, daily contact between people. For interaction in the first place a substantial urban population is required, a critical mass that can stand international comparison with other large cities in the world. This critical mass is available in the Netherlands – the Netherlands is a densely populated country – but the individual cities are relatively small. Even Amsterdam seems small if you look at its total population (only 821.000) but it has because of its history and spatial form a ‘larger’ size and potential as the core of the creative city. The concept of ‘city’ should in the Dutch situation be defined at a higher scale, for example at the scale of the Randstad or, as it is currently called, the Delta Metropolis.

Within the Randstad the Amsterdam region plays the role of creative city. The question is how much further this potential of Amsterdam can be expanded and exploited within the larger context. The total population or average population density are here less important than the density of human interaction. Lambooy refers to the availability of many different types of information, the presence of many different types of entrepreneurs, a multifaceted economic growth and a differentiation of production but also to a culture of openness and ideas and space for chance encounters. The last-mentioned aspect in particular – the possibilities of frequent contact and chance meetings – is directly related to human interaction. That is what is meant by the concept of ‘metropolitan’. There are many cities with a high population density but with also relatively little human interaction. These cities are not metropolitan and seldom turn out to be creative. As far as the Randstad is concerned it still has to be established whether this urban complex functions at a sufficiently high scale – measured by the frequency of spontaneous contacts – and if not how the situation can be improved.

The speed of circulation

In addition to the density of human interaction many goods and services and a great deal of knowledge and capital must circulate through the city. In all creative cities business sense is evident, the commercial virus. Commerce lies at the basis of creativity. In the new economy knowledge and capital are important. A favourable geographical position helps but a strategic position between the different networks is more important. That explains why it is ICT links, in addition to international airports, in particular that make a city these days into d world city.

The physical infrastructure is of course only part of the story; the regulation of the use of existing networks is equally or even more important. Position within the networks is therefore less geographically than organisationally determined. London, for example, has made important progress with the liberalisation and deregulation of the City, that reached a high point with the Big Bang of 1986. The consequence was an enormous upturn in the financial sector. The construction of two new airports, two modern container terminals, the Channel Tunnel and a comprehensive ICT-infrastructure were related to this development but they could only support this process.

These developments, also combined with the new cultural complex on the South Bank, have ensured that in the wake of the financial upturn of the City a development was also set in motion that resulted in an important cultural economy in London. The British capital city has a leading position as a creative metropolis, certainly within Europe and even compared with Paris or Rome. In other words, commerce is the basis but in combination with other activities it creates the conditions for creativity.

The importance of socio-economic organisation

Creativity seems at the same time to be related to a particular socio-economic organisation. The renewal of the art in Florence in the 15th century, for instance, would not have been possible without the system of guilds. And without the organisation of the VOC Amsterdam would not have experienced its Golden Age. Furthermore the cities along the shores of the Eastern Sea and the North Sea would not have been able to develop into important trading cities and cultural centres if there had not been a Hanseatic League. Without the system of markets and exchanges of the counts in the Champagne region the cities in Northern France would not have benefitted from the Gothic period. London would not have experienced its recent artistic revival without modernised forms of public-private partnership. Numerous examples can be cited of modernising socio-economic organisational forms that have generated creativity.

Against this there are the conservative, stable societies that are seldom conspicious for their modernising impulses.

A particular socio-economic organisation appears to be an essential condition for creativity. That immediately raises the question of whether the Dutch consensus model (the so-called polder model) in its present form functions as a condition for creativity. Does this organisational model attract modernising forces? Or does it suffocate creativity because it kills tension? Does the Dutch situation offer other, attractive forms of socio-economic organisation that can fulfill the role?

The role of art

The city that wishes to be creative must of course contain a cultural minority with refined tastes; traditional art and educational institutions of international repute are necessary elements of the package of urban amenities. Such cultural facilities are in themselves, however, insufficient to generate the creativity referred to here. For example, the Louvre was an essential part of the radical renewal of sculpture in 19th century Paris but itself insufficient as a source of creativity. The young artists who migrated to the city needed the Louvre becaus in this way they came into contact with the establishment. But the renewal of art in Paris stemmed from a fertile combination of visits to the museum and experiments in the local chemical industry in which new kinds of paint were developed that made painting in the open air possible. This example shows that when one thinks of the city as a creative environment it is not so much the geographical localisation of the different elements separately – an art exhibition, an industrial sector, an immigrant population – but the interaction of these elements in environments that allows the city to develop as a breeding ground of creativity. To quote the example of Paris once again: a Louvre would in isolation only have led to the reproduction of established art while in combination with a chemical industry and a talented immigrant population of New Men it led to renewal in Paris.

To summarize, it seems that in the cultural economy it is the elements of art, technology and organisation which, placed in a spatial configuration with a maximum density of human interaction, in combination create the conditions for creativity. This combination is visibly evident, for example, in the new media sector. That explains why a concern such as Philips has moved its head office from Eindhoven to Amsterdam. And why an American concern such as Cisco Systems has considered Amsterdam as a location: the Dutch capital city caught the eye of the Americans because of its favourable creative climate.

The significance of image

People need a pleasurable, stimulating environment that contributes to their quality of life. People need to feel that they are urbanites and to be proud of living, for example, in Utrecht. They tell this to their friends who live elsewhere and to other Dutch people who live abroad. Thatis not only true of the city in which they live but also the city they often visit or where they work. People need identity.

The way in which people put this identity into words is at present closely related to the problems they experience: lack of safety, too much noise, poor education for their children etc. Positive statements are those about contacts, the ambiance, the markets, the urban events, the specialist shops, music, the parks and squares, the many possibilities of following courses, the internet cafe and the favourite restaurant. These are at the samen time the locations where people gather, where creativity originates. This creativity can in turn lead to the organisation of a lecture, an event, a literary gathering or a new enterprise.

Entrepreneurs in the ICT branch are aware of that. They locate preferably in cities where their employees can find these attractions, such as Amsterdam or Rotterdam. It cuts both ways: cities evoke creativity through their character and because of the high population density and the opportunities to meet each other more creativity originates.

It must be mentioned that creativity is not only for people with portable skills but also for ‘ordinary’ inhabitants of the city, people who do not have scientific or cultural interests but who generate creativity by, for instance, starting a company that serves ‘yuppies’, by organising activities for children in cities, organising a Turkish party etc. In order that the dichotomy in the city is not only regarded as problematic but to utilise it to promote an attractive image of the city, these forms of public interaction deserve a place in the creative city.

Creativity and local government

Good city government is creative and takes decisions in an open way. Good government – il buongoverno – looks forward and is aware of the ‘general goods’ for its inhabitants. Urban governments make judgements that are based on a vision of the city, laid down in a plan, a programme or some other politically ratified document. If such documents would focus on the burgeoning of the city then the current programmes for vital or complete cities would be closely examined with respect to the way in which they create conditions for creativity. Then it would not be necessary to see whether cities such as Apeldoorn or Groningen are sufficiently creative. As is apparent from the above the required scale is not that of the individual city but of the urban network of the lowlands of North West Europe as a whole, or at least that of the Delta Metropolis. At this higher scale the question must be posed what conditions must be created that ar favourable for creativity. This objective can probably find a place within many of the existing aspects of the programmes but deeper thinking about it will at the same time require new agendas and new programmes.

The advantage of such an approach is that the emphasis is shifted to possible symbiotic relationships between cities involved and that questions are raised such as: what must happen in Amsterdam so that Rotterdam is helped? And the other way round: how must Rotterdam be linked to Amsterdam in order to allow Amsterdam to expand its role as a creative environment? In brief, by focusing on the challenge of creative cities government policy with respect to the cities acquires a cultural-political emphasis, more coherence and a less defensive approach – call it a more future-oriented policy.

Delta Metropolis as urban network

In the periodical Urban Studies recently there was an article by the Italian economist Roberta Capello about the importance of urban networks. Capello’s argument is clear and attractive in the Dutch situation. Her starting point is that medium-sized cities are seen more and more as the places where in the coming decades the most rapid economic growth is to be expected (assuming at least that they do not immediately nullify their economic advantages through the growth by losing their attractiveness). For the cities in the Randstad in particular – the largest polynuclear urban system in the country, including the cities in Brabant and Gelderland – this offers opportunities. There is sufficient complementarity. The large scale of this urban network requires, however, rapid transport links, in particular between Rotterdam and Amsterdam and between Amsterdam and Eindhoven (that is to say the centres of the regional networks). Incidentally the human scale must not suffer because the local, close-knit network of tramlines, cycle paths and footpaths, squares and open spaces are essential for spontaneous contacts. Fortunately Dutch cities, in contrast to American cities, still contain sufficient high quality inner urban public spaces and public routes. By interlinking all networks – large and small – carefully the process of bridging can be promoted.


It is clear from the above that the striking localisation of parts of the post-industrial economy in urban regions reveals the existence of a new type of agglomeration advantages. While the economy is becoming more globalised the separate economic sectors are concentrating more and more at the local level. Sometimes small neighbourhoods serve global markets: haute couture from Paris, music from Nashville, periodicals and advertising from Amsterdam, architecture from Rotterdam. Cities generally have the advantage because they contain the most diversified production environments, provide immediate insight into the capricious development of consumer markets and provide many opportunities for organised and spontaneous face-to-face contacts. European cities with their human scale that has developed over time have great advantages: since they are extremely accessible, contacts can be made easily. Small, innovative firms, in particular, that do not work according to routine patterns and that must operate in an environment of great uncertainty can best be located in the urban environment. There they can find all the detailed knowledge they need, they can obtain the best information on market developments, which because of the high dynamic on the demand side would otherwise be difficult to follow and they can reduce transaction costs by making use of many face-to-face contacts.

All large and medium-sized cities become centres of a reflexive ‘intellectual’ part of the industrial and service sectors. This part of the economy is growing rapidly in terms of both turnover and employment. The strength of the cities is in the differentiation of the local production environments, in the availability of many different types of entrepreneurs and employees in the knowledge industries – communities of specialists – in the physical proximity of producers and consumers and in the ample opportunities provided by cities for organised and spontaneous face-to-face contacts.

Because the Dutch cities are relatively small the concept of the urban networks can help the individual cities perform better economically. Urban networks increase the critica mass and improve centrality because groups of individual medium-sized cities are better linked to each other. In complementary relationships between cities economies of scale can be obtained, while in collaborative relationships synergy is possible.

Thinking in terms of urban networks is also necessary because different than in for example the United States, developments that are threatened with stagnation by congestion cannot leapfrog over old areas and begin somewhere else. The space for such processes of leapfrogging is just not available. The solution must be sought in the historical diversity of existing micro-environments. In both cases the performance of an individual city improves in relation to the extent to which it is interwoven in the networks.

Policies for the large cities

Creating conditions for creativity can give current national policies with respect to the cities a new, cultural-political dimension. The present policies that are aimed at ‘complete cities’ (Ministry of Home Affairs) or ‘vital cities’ (Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment) combine various different sectoral objectives (adequate housing, good accessibility, safety on the streets, sufficient business estates, attractive architecture) which are elaborated mainly at the municipal level, often in relation to neighbourhoods and districts, along three principles: a social, an economic and a physical. Urban policies are deliberately developed ‘bottom-up’ and they are predominantly problem-oriented.

Currently the revitalisation of the cities requires a multi-faceted approach in the social, economic, cultural and physical-spatial fields. But to achieve a real burgeoning of the cities something else is needed in addition to these aspects and this is what is referred to here as creativity. The economic geographer Lambooy states: “the modern city is not determined by the spatial form of the compact city but by the quality that it can accommodate the new knowledge economy with an inspirational and differentiated production environment for modern firms and employees in the knowledge industries.” What is this quality?

Creativity begins with an economic advantage at the outset; then there is a new influx of people together with contact, conflict and fermentation and from there a creative environment emerges from which in turn economic activities emanate. That is what happened in Florence in the 15th century and Paris in the 19th century, and in London of Elizabeth I and in Vienna in the 19th century. But it is also what happened 200 years ago in Birmingham and Manchester with the renewal of the local textile industry and barely 100 years ago in Los Angeles with the renewal of the film industry (Hollywood) and in Memphis with the music industry (jazz, rock and roll). In all these cities in the beginning economic benefits produced cultural benefits thanks to innovation within creative environments. In het context of policies for the large cities in the Netherlands thinking about cities as creative environments is insufficiently developed. The multi-annual development programmes for 2000-2005 are the product of municipal council decisions that are principally based on the basic economic advantages of the city in question. Thinking in terms of cultural benefits is not developed at all. Goals such as ‘international administrative and knowledge centre’, ‘Euroregional central city’, ‘strong social and hospitable city’ and ‘centre of knowledge and renewal’ are the consequence.

Furthermore each city focuses on its own projects. The result is that every city develops the same programme: ICT, business estates for offices, light rail, open spaces, educational facilities etc. By seeing these programmes in the context of creativity and creating the right conditions, the policies for the large cities can be drawn up more politically, that is to say with more realistic intentions and more in terms of relationships between cities, also internationally. The improvement of the conditions for creativity can at the same time give an impulse to the new round of major national investment priorities for the coming years. By raising the question of how conditions for creativity can be created in a bugeoning economy by specific investments, a common goal emerges. This theme relates closely to the thinking in the Netherlands about ICT in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management, about the knowledge economy in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministrie of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment and about education and culture in the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

To expand thinking about creative cities in the Netherlands Forum, the think tank at the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment and the Delta Metropolis Association, ideally in close cooperation with other interested parties, wish to develop concrete actions that will in the Netherlands lead to better conditions for creativity. This paper is the result of the deliberations of a small group of academics working within the Forum. The group comprised Robert Kloosterman, professor in economic geography and planning at the University of Amsterdam, Jack Burgers, professor in urban sociology at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Wouter Vanstiphout, architectural historian at the Crimson consultancy in Rotterdam, and Zef Hemel of Forum.

Amsterdam/The Hague, February 2002.