Unpacking the Creative City: Better is Better

All things being equal, the simpler solution is the better one
— Occam’s Razor

Scientists are schooled with the tenet of Occam’s Razor. Unfortunately, this scientific cornerstone too often loses its preamble of equality and becomes truncated into the proclamation that, ‘simple is better.’ However, when ‘things’ are not equal, simple is not better – better is better. For academics, the need to effectively communicate complex research findings to the public, governments, and each other similarly encourages over-simplification. For those investigating the creative city, research and results are being focused on questions like: Do amenities or jobs drive regional development? Is understanding industries or occupations more important? Does human capital or the creative class do a better job of predicting regional success? Should conventional or more inclusive planning approaches be used? Do creative city or more traditional economic development approaches lead to better regional development? None of these ‘things’ to be compared are equal by any means.

Though this ‘either/or’ approach is often perceived as effective, in his book The Opposable Mind, Roger Martin (2007) argues that the best solution to a question often requires embracing constraints and changing the nature of the question from ‘or’ to ‘and.’ In other words, the best solution is not found by creating a false dichotomy but rather by asking a new question. Thus, we might instead ask ‘how’ creative city and traditional economic development approaches can be combined to generate regional development?

As guest editors of a recently published special issue of City, Culture and Society, Martin Prosperity Institute researchers Kevin Stolarick, Brian Hracs and Richard Florida brought together a series of papers that delve deeply into understanding ‘the creative city’ in order to move beyond a monolithic conceptualization. Each paper contributes new empirical evidence that nuances the specificity of cities, cultures, and societies. Using different disciplinary starting points and methods of enquiry to investigate different cases, locations, and scales, the papers in this special issue provide different pieces of the same puzzle. Drawing on approaches from Sociology, Urban Planning, and Economic Geography, each paper uses one or more specific cases as the grounding framework for a bigger and broader discussion. These range from looking at specific occupations and/or industries to various neighbourhood and regional development projects ranging from the micro to the mega. Discussions encompassing both formal and informal approaches and even a little ‘guerrilla’ public art are presented. More specifically, the cases are based on research in San Francisco, Berlin, Toronto, New York City, Los Angeles, Omaha, Montreal, and Vancouver.

Figure 1: City, Culture and Society Special Issue (cover)

Together, these papers present an interconnected view of cities, cultures, and societies that promotes the importance of both formal and informal inclusionary planning practices. The findings also highlight some of the challenges and solutions that cities encounter as they transition to an economy based on creativity. Ultimately, this special issue affirms the notion that while simple can be better; a nuanced understanding offers its own kind of simplicity.

Figure 2: City, Culture and Society Special Issue (table of contents)

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The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors—location, place and city-regions—in global economic prosperity. Led by Director Richard Florida, we take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.