Cities As Platforms For Creativity

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Creativity is a powerful force. It’s what powers innovation, change, and culture. As cities strive to attract talent, boost economic resiliency, and create unique identities they must attract and develop creative people. In this way cities are a major platform where creativity happens. As such it’s important for cities to embrace this role in order to 1) solve problems and 2) make their place a place worth living.

When talking about creativity in cities it’s easy to assume I’m just talking about artists. In part, I am. Arts are vital to crafting a place’s identity. Again, they make places worth living in. But the arts are only one piece of the catalytic puzzle. Creativity is a wide spread need. Successful cities don’t just stop after encouraging creativity in the arts, they foster creativity in the inventors and the entrepreneurs to make the next big thing. They seek out creative partnerships to tackle the hardest problems. Further, successful cities don’t just encourage creativity within their community. They go further and make creativity a central cornerstone of their governmental organization. Creativity shouldn’t be viewed as an add-on. It shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury option. Fostering creativity both within city government and throughout the community they serve is vital. Nobody ever solved a challenge through stagnation. Our cities can’t afford to be stagnate.

Recently, cities have been put under a larger spotlight in solving problems. Polarization in the national conversation has stalled out progress on the national and even state level. Uncertainty and gridlock are the themes of the day… except in cities. Creative cities have acted as laboratories that other cities follow. Cities are at the forefront of addressing challenges in homelessness, climate change, and quality of life. Cities are the ones largely at the forefront of job creation and access to social services. If you want to solve problems, cities are the place to do it.

Now, I know it’s not that easy. Some cities have been graced with more resources and easier access to human capital. It’s not like a struggling city can simply flick on the creativity switch and overnight become a leader in innovation. What I will say is that in the long term creativity leads to resiliency. Putting in the hard work to create a culture of innovation today creates the platform necessary for actual innovation to happen tomorrow. Creativity is an investment. A necessary one.

What this culture of innovation looks like can differ greatly depending on the place, but there are two commonalities that act as a base in creating a creative culture. The first is access to space. Artists thrive when given studio space and platforms to show their art. They need places to perform. Inventors thrive when given a space to work, build and connect with others. Entrepreneurs thrive simply by having a space to set up shop and access to mentorship. Giving people accessible, affordable space to create is vital and is often missing from communities.

The second commonality is the ability to fail. Creativity is not easy, and the success rate on new ideas usually isn't very high. However, if you don’t wade through the failures you’ll never find the ideas that work. On an organizational level, it needs to be okay for employees to fail. In government it can be difficult, taking risks and failing. Some citizens view government risk taking as an irrresponsible overstep. Yes, governemnts should be irresponsible risk takers, but governments thrive when they are able to take calculated risks. That’s why local government is where problems are solved- they are more able to take risks. Again, calculated risks.

In the end, creativity is a risky business. Creativity means testing the untested. That’s what makes it so necessary in finding new, better ways to do things. And those things are what makes cities great.