Tuesday 17 June 2008

Dublin could be a 'creative city' if we get rid of limiting mindsets

Successful, dynamic, exciting cities are ones that embrace diversity and openness and plan to meet people's real needs, rather than adhering to ideological positions, writes Kieran Rose .

IN THE Rise of the Creative Class , Richard Florida writes: "We live in a time of great promise. We have evolved economic and social systems that tap human creativity and turn it into economic value as never before. This in turn creates an unparalleled opportunity to raise our living standards, build a more humane and sustainable economy, and make our lives more complete."

Florida documents the centrality of creative industries and creative workers in the new economy and in global competitiveness; and how openness to diversity, especially in relation to gay people and people from diverse backgrounds and other countries, is critical to success.

Creative workers are those who add economic value through their creativity. They include scientists, engineers, designers, artists and those employed in knowledge-based industries. Increasingly, cities are drivers of national economies and are successful largely because creative people from around the world want to live there.

From his research, Florida found that people were drawn to places that were diverse, tolerant and open to new ideas. He writes of "creative ecosystems - habitats open to new people and ideas".

Places with a high concentration of gay people tend to have higher rates of innovation and economic growth. Florida is not arguing that gay people cause cities to be successful, but that our presence in large numbers is "an indicator of an underlying culture that's openminded and diverse", and thus conducive to creativity and attractive to creative workers. A place that welcomes gay people welcomes all kinds of people.

He quotes Bonnie Kahn, who writes: "A great city has two hallmarks: tolerance for strangers and intolerance for mediocrity."

The Florida approach links a wide range of issues such as globalisation, economic growth and prosperity, diversity and creativity, equality and social justice, planning and city-making. Economic success is key; it is fundamental to social success and should be welcomed for the life opportunities it offers. It is not to be decried, as it is by some; prosperity, it would seem, is good for them but dangerous for others.

Issues of social justice and equality are crucial. In a paper on educational disadvantage, Creating a Place for All in the Knowledge Economy and the Learning Society , John Sweeney, senior social policy analyst with the National Economic and Social Council, rebuts a negative mindset, among even the well-intentioned, that discounts Ireland's economic success. He argues that "our economic performance is much more part of the solution than part of the problem when it comes to ensuring a better quality of life for all".

Florida makes a related point when he says there is a huge reservoir of untapped creative potential that is being squandered because of social exclusion and argues that we must strive to tap the full creative capabilities of every single human being. Addressing these issues "is not only socially and morally just; it is an economic imperative for any society interested in long-term innovation and prosperity".

There are common themes across these issues: there are two mindsets, liberating or limiting.

The liberating mindset is characterised by embracing diversity; having high ambitions for a better quality of life for all; a confidence in our ability to deliver positive change; openness; flexibility; responsiveness to changed circumstances; and prioritising real people's lives over abstract ideological positions. This approach can deliver progress and optimise opportunities in all areas, whether social, economic or city-making.

The limiting or fearful mindset is characterised by being change-averse; having low ambitions; a lack of confidence; a resistance to diversity; and sacrificing ordinary people's life opportunities to a glorification of either a past that never was or a rigid ideological position.

Max Page's study of the redevelopment of New York touches on all of these issues, including diversity and immigration. He argues that in the battles over new buildings, demolition and planning lay "the fundamental tension between a celebration of the metropolis - its dynamism and diversity - and a profound nostalgia born of a fear for what the modern city portended".

Similar resistances are at work in Dublin today. Florida puts it well when he says new creative cities can emerge and surpass established players very quickly. He analyses how some cities lose out: "these cities are trapped by their past", in the culture and attitudes of a bygone age, and so innovation and growth shift to new places.

Florida brings together issues of economic growth, creativity, equality, diversity, social justice, planning and city-making in a challenging and productive way.

This approach provides a wide agenda for change that could involve a broad range of agencies in an alliance for progress. This could include central and local Government; planning authorities; trade-union and business interests; equality, social justice and community organisations; economic development agencies; private enterprises; and the development sector.

Peter Hall's Cities in Civilization analyses the evolution of creative cities such as Los Angeles, London, New York and others. He wonders where the next global creative city will be and concludes that it will be "a special kind of city, a city in economic and social flux with large numbers of new and young arrivals, mixing and merging into a new kind of society".

This sounds like Dublin. It could be Dublin, but only if we get rid of our limiting mindsets and are ambitious, open and determined to succeed.

Kieran Rose is chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network, a board member of the Equality Authority, a member of the consultative panel of FuturesIreland, and a planner with Dublin City Council. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of any of these organisations.

Irish Times


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