Stop Being Creative: the prostitution of art and community regeneration

A summary of Creative City Limits: Urban Cultural Economy in a New Era of Austerity, by Andrew Harris and Louis Moreno. Produced by University College London, Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Urban Laboratory.

Renaissance, regeneration, redevelopment, even gentrification, these are the words of planners and developers of the 21st urban century. The reliance on the creative has defined a new urban form and work ethic which has been served up, and my generation has whole-heartedly bought into.

During this “seductive Creative Age,” we are bearing witness to the wholesale destruction of the public service class, the nine-to-fivers, and the structured demolition of worker’s rights and entitlements. While we espouse entrepreneurship and flexibility, we are devolving almost 100 years of fought-for employee protections.

Creative classes, creative clusters, creative quarters, creative industries, these are merely geographies of development; but “real-estate led regeneration is not a creative policy.” The old story of the creatives, acting as meat tenderizers for tough neighborhoods, is fairly common knowledge (and a common practice). However this urban regeneration policy is a hollow one: it helps to restructure urban labor markets and exploit rising urban real estate values, almost always displacing those very same tenderizers in the process

Has there been no real post-industrial solution to urban decline?

The creative city formula, an ad hoc response to the decline of urban areas since the 1950’s, has failed to provide any real and equitable contribution to improving how people live and work. The new inner-city enclaves “can be closely mapped onto a world of disenfranchisement and urban division.” The Regeneration Sector has become autonomous over the past generation as planners, architects, and developers, willing agents with a dwindling cultural pretense, leverage historical disinvestment with specific signals. The “creative city franchise” has proven to be ineffective in addressing systemic problems of unemployment (and underemployment) and disparities in education and healthcare, among others.

Of course this is not some sinister plot, but perhaps the reliance on creative exists because it is easier; and we are not looking for any alternatives. Perhaps the vernacular, the ordinary, the uncool, a good job well done, should be revisited and revived. Today’s consumerist approach to cities (improvement requires redevelopment which requires investment) could very well undercut what we hope to achieve with long-term sustainable community planning. There is an urgent need to review what highest and best uses are and a rationalization of how we see change and development occur. Cities are unique in that they force us to think about our collective social interest, yet we continue down the path of private, philanthropic provisions for singular assets (parks, schools, business districts).

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2 Comments on “Stop Being Creative: the prostitution of art and community regeneration”

  1. alinefader November 16, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Boutique Industry fits into that category too, no?


    • alexsommer November 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm #

      I believe a phrase used was “Industrial Gentrification”?

      As of 2005, NYC boasts that 80% of local industrial firms have fewer than 20 employees, and most occupy less than 10,000 sf. Since 2007, more than half of all manufacturing workers have completed at least some college classes and manufacturing now employs a greater share of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workers than non-manufacturing sectors.

      I’d argue our entire perception of employment, including our industrial employment sectors, may need a bit of redefining.


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