Charles Landry speaks in Halifax about great cities | Arts & Culture | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Charles Landry speaks in Halifax about great cities

Charles Landry, renowned urban thinker, believes that creative cities need "to stand back, reflect and look at things in an open-minded way."

Long before Richard Florida discovered the "creative class" and their predilection for culturally dynamic places, Charles Landry started talking about the "creative city," referring to the regenerative force of arts and culture in post-industrial cities like Glasgow, Scotland, starting in the late 1980s.

The UK writer/thinker will speak to a business luncheon crowd on Tuesday, hosted by Greater Halifax Partnership, a sort of souped-up Chamber of Commerce, describing itself as a public-private partnership "leading economic growth for Greater Halifax."

Of all the urban thinkers making the rounds today, Landry has perhaps the broadest and deepest concept of the role of creativity in urban life, including all aspects of city-making and the entire organizational culture of cities.

"For me, the notion of the creative city is really the willingness to stand back, reflect and look at things in an open-minded way in order to see what you need to reinvent," says Landry, from his home in Gloucestershire. "Many people want to just say, 'OK, what are the five tricks we need in order to be a creative city?' We need a museum, an aquarium and all of that, and then we're a creative city. Well, it's simply not a formula in that way."

Landry talks about the difference between hardware and software approaches to city-making. The hardware might be the roads and buildings, but equally important is the software---the feelings and responses and social interactions that happen in those same roads and buildings. "Basically cities are emotional experiences," says Landry. "You decide to be there, operate from there, live there and all of that, depending on how it ultimately satisfies you emotionally."

The planning profession, Landry says, is undergoing a battle over this idea. Planners are "under great pressure. They've got to perform in a completely different way; they've got to know new things, different things. That means different people. It's people who can think holistically, versus people who think in linear ways.

"How many people in your planning department know, or are willing to dare to be open about the fact that you can psychologically feel the city as it moves along?"

Landry's visit to Halifax is coming on the heels of a recent report by the Nova Scotia Cutural Action Network, called Building the Creative Economy. While the NSCAN report focuses specifically on the arts and cultural sector of the economy, it shares some key philosophical points with Landry's work, not least of which is the respect for and awareness of the nature of creativity.

During research for the report, co-author Leah Hamilton attended a Conference Board of Canada event on the creative economy and heard Australian economist David Thorston speak on the economics of arts and culture. Thorston presented a "concentric circles" model of the creative economy, which puts the work of artists and creators in the centre, with expanding rings representing activities building on this work, such as design, publishing, filmmaking, etc. Hamilton describes hearing Thorston as a Eureka moment. "Here was an economist explaining how the risky, non-profit-motive work of an artist is central to everything and cannot be compromised," says Hamilton. The concept became key to NSCAN's report, which paints a picture of a core creative group that is an engine for ideas, driving other aspects of the economy.

"What is the creative impulse? How does that work?" asks Hamilton. "Who knows, but whatever it is, it's precious and it exists central to the rest. The main thing is to understand what that core does. It does the risky work. You're investing in it not for it's economic potential, but because it's an innovative, creative idea."

*Building the Creative Economy* is NSCAN's argument for greater investment in arts and culture, and also for greater collaboration and understanding between artists and the rest of the economy. "Really, our recommendation is to say we have to start thinking about what works here," says Hamilton. "We didn't prescribe that for the community. We really think it has to come from a group of people that are brought together to do that. Part of NSCAN's ongoing work is to start to build those collaborations."

Building Our Future: The Art of City Making w/Charles Landry, Tuesday, April 21 at the Westin Nova Scotia, 11:30am, $75,

Comments (2)
Add a Comment