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The creative city: a contested notion

In many European cities, artists and cultural producers rise against the urban strategies that aim at using culture to boost urban regeneration

In many European cities, artists and cultural producers rise against urban strategies that aim at using culture to boost urban regeneration and economic development. They try to defend an alternative vision to the creative city.

The concept of creative city attracted much public attention following Richard Florida’s book The Rise of the Creative Class in 2002. This theory argued that the attraction and retention of creative people can stimulate urban growth. The success of this theory led policy-makers to promote a reductionist approach to cultural policies, overlooking essential dimensions such as social well-being or mutual understanding. The creative city concept generated a consensus among various urban stakeholders around the idea of a using of culture for urban regeneration. As a result, cultural producers and artists were involved – willingly or not – in the legitimization of gentrification of industrial or working class neighbourhoods. Eventually they often turned out to be themselves the victims of the rise of real estate prices.

Numerous creative activists have mobilized to denounce such narrow approaches to culture. A great example is given by Johannes Novy and Claire Colomb. In 2009, in Hamburg, artists residing in the remaining buildings of the district of Gängeviertel were threatened to be expelled after a Dutch real estate developer, Hanzevast Holding issued a plan to demolish the 19th century brick buildings of neighbourhood in order to build a brand new complex of luxury offices and residences. These artists launched a movement of opposition to the project, occupied the area and organized a series of cultural events, to attract media attention. This movement contributed to convince the municipality to acquire the property from the developer to safeguard the neighborhood.

This movement led the formation of a right to the city network, among different artists and cultural producers who have become the victims of gentrification processes in the city of Hamburg. They developed a manifesto criticizing creative city policies that aim at at making the city attractive to elite professionals:

‘We get the picture: We, the music, DJs, art, film and theatre people, the groovy-little-shop owners and anyone who represents a different quality of life . . . are meant to take care of the atmosphere, the aura and leisure quality, without which an urban location has little chance in the global competition. We are welcome. In a way. On the one hand. On the other, the blanket development of urban space means that we — the decoys — are moving out in droves, because it is getting increasingly impossible to afford space here . . . We say: A city is not a brand. A city is not a corporation. A city is a community. We ask the social question which, in cities today, is also about a battle for territory . . . We claim our right to the city — together with all the residents of Hamburg who refuse to be a location factor.’

Source: Manifesto of ‘Not in Our Name’ (See below)

What do you think?

Why do creative city policies attract so much criticism from those who are supposed to benefit from them (creative individuals)? Discuss what could be alternative creative city policies.

© European University Institute
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Cultures and Identities in Europe

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