The Creative City, Social Cohesion, and Urban Community Building

The language of creative city policy promotes the values of experimentation and innovation, presenting an appealing buffet of urban strategies linked to possibility and change. Creativity is offered as a survival commodity for cities, a necessary component of future innovations and adaptations that can respond to new urban challenges. A key dimension of the staple texts on the creative city is their emphasis on cultural activities as important features of urban community building (Florida 2002; Landry 2000). The production of sociability through the collective focus on cultural works or the production of culture becomes a clear virtue, and creativity is offered as a way to play together in the city. As part of this framework, culture and creativity are valued not only for the ability to fuel creative industries but also for producing opportunities for entertainment, education, leisure, and fun to urban publics. So, as Florida explains, “creativity also requires a social and economic environment that can nurture its many forms” (5), which brings a new focus to the social environment of cities as a creative stimulant. In this regard, the role of the social is to facilitate creativity and the role of the cultural is to express creativity, and this dynamic of expression and facilitation directs urban rehabilitation. As Landry argues, cultural resources are “the raw material of the city” and “creativity is the method of exploiting these resources” (7), since creativity can counter the severe economic and social challenges facing contemporary cities. To this end, Landry identifies the importance of developing social capital as a way to “strengthen social cohesion, increase personal confidence, and improve life skills, improve people’s mental and physical well-being, people’s ability to act as democratic citizens and develop new training and employment routines” (9). Or, as the policy report entitled, “Imagine a Toronto...Strategies for a Creative City” asserts, “[c]reative and cultural activity is also a powerful vehicle for community development and engagement, providing opportunities for economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods and social groups” (Gertler et al. 2006: 7).

This celebration of the social virtues of creativity has been challenged on a number of points in academic literature, such as how the hierarchy of the creative class underscores the uneven distribution of social capital (McCann 2007; Markusen 2006; Mould 2015; Peck 2005) or how urban redevelopment strategies produced in the name of the creative city tend to heighten urban marginalization and displacement through gentrifica- tion (Barnes et al. 2006; Catungal et al. 2009; Miles 2005a, b). Creativity becomes a rubric promising widespread accessibility that is, in fact, difficult both to define and to access. Social marginalization becomes reproduced in cities, just in different ways and with a new supporting logic seeking to minimize this recognition. Further, this model provides a twotiered system of cities, with small cities lacking the resources and population necessary to achieve the creative city status (Lewis and Donald 2010). Thus, while creative city policy maintains the benefits of creativity for the purpose of building social cohesion and capital, it also relies on a definition of culture that eschews notions of contradiction, restriction, challenge, and resistance—perhaps rightly so, as this framework is designed to manage and appropriate urban culture, not to open up sites of urban contestation.

As Grundy and Boudreau demonstrate (2008), the creative city as a form of social and cultural management translates into a model of creative citizenship through participatory arts programming and arts-based community development that seeks both to embrace and to minimize risk. To this end, creativity and cultural participation emerge as “citizenship virtues that are shaped and optimized, and thereby governed, toward a variety of ends” (348). Creative risk and experimentation, as forms of play, are invited into the city through these efforts, but at the same time, they must be managed and governed through programming and policy. The model of creative citizenship that Grundy and Boudreau trace also underscores how the creative ethos of our moment has influenced everyday practices and performances of citizenship. And by doing so, it reminds us of the play and performance of urban togetherness that creativity-driven urban policy and programming solicits. On the one hand, we are witness to the instrumentalization of experimentation and play as urban belonging through the logic of cultural policy and management, yet at the same time, we know that social performance and identity are far more varied, ambiguous, and often incompatible with official discourse and modes of governmentality. And this is where turning to contemporary art and its strategies of urban play and experimentation becomes instructive. Contemporary art’s urban play practices rely heavily on components of social participation and performance, where social play is directed to different goals and ends that stress the negotiation of sociability and togetherness in the city. While the creative city may urge urban citizens to innovate, experiment, and play together, an analysis of key directions within contemporary urban-based art stresses the risks and possibilities that accompany acts of coming together through play based experimentation.

 
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