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The Concept of the Creative City and the Grahamstown Project

The move towards establishing Grahamstown as South Africa's first 'creative city' must surely whet the appetite of anyone passionate about the nation's future. It sounds exciting, but what exactly does it mean? The concept of the creative city was developed in the 1980s by the urban planner Charles Landry, in which he contrasted the urban engineering approach to our cities and its focus on physical infrastructure with the 'sensory landscape of cities' – that is, the potential of its inhabitants to work together to transform the environment, where the tapping of local creativity can be the catalyst for social and cultural transformation. For some critics this is paradoxical, as it implies an inward-looking approach, where the preservation of cultural individuality is paramount, and the importance of attracting creative people from other areas – vital to preserve a city's creativity – is secondary. For the concept's proponents, the creative city is a city fulfilling its potential – a place full of life and energy, with no specific boundaries, which is in constant transformation.

Creative clusters

For some, the emphasis should be put not on the creative people themselves, but on the creative industries within the city, which in turn will attract creative talent. High concentrations of creative industries therefore indicate a creative city. The concept of the creative cluster is the key to this approach. This is much more than the standard business park or technology campus; in a creative cluster of enterprises, you will find a diverse mixture of non-profit organisations, cultural institutions, science parks, media centres, arts venues and individual artists in an area that is a place to live as well as work, that is open round the clock, and where cultural products are made as well as consumed. Diversity and constant change are the fuel and driving force that ensures the success of an urban environment that is locally distinctive but also connected to the larger world.

A holistic view

Creative cities push the idea of town planning to its limits. It is a concept based on high ideals, which are made real by the energy and enthusiasm of a population fired up by something built around their natural desires. This contrasts with the 20th century view of the city as a concrete jungle – hostile and forbidding, where the population must fit into an environment created not in response to their needs but as a response to social and architectural ideals that see people only en masse. The lesson of the past is that urbanisation is bad for the individual. Modern environmental science stresses the global picture and the need for conservation as part of an urbanised world that considers the needs of all sectors of the population, business interests and the natural environment. In the Grahamstown setting, this is very much a part of the creative city ideal, where connections are being made between diverse sectors, orchestrated by different levels of government, where culture and heritage are valued and the conditions for social, economic and environmental sustainability are assured. In managing and developing a city, all these areas must be considered: neglect of the social benefits will jeopardise long-term development; a vibrant cultural life can flourish only in a healthy economy; and protection and sustainable development of the environment is essential in creating the setting where connections can be made between public and private interests.

Charles Landry said: 'Cities work best when citizens feel developments are going with the grain of their local culture. Here being distinctive and true to oneself is key whilst feeling relaxed about outside influence. One of these is commerce. It is fascinated by what culture and arts specifically can offer in generating buzz and vitality. Yet culture and commerce co-exist in creative tension. Their values and aims can be sharply opposed... There is a need to find the fragile balance where maintaining integrity and separateness whilst being open to partnership is the ethos.'

Any city, whether small or large, can become a creative city, and they have been established as formal projects throughout the world. In essence it is an ability to build something real out of a collective dream and to mobilise all its citizens using their individual talents, ideas and resources. Ultimately it is a vision of the future that translates into an improved quality of life. For all of us, self-esteem comes with a sense of belonging, that our identity is closely connected with those points of reference in our urban environment that mark the map of our daily lives.


The Grahamstown Creative City Project is the result of consultation with the town's creative and tourism sectors – the organisers of the National Arts Festival, the Fingo Festival, the Provincial Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture and Makana Tourism, with the Makana Municipality and Cacadu District Municipality – and the setting up of a formalised partnership, which aims to have established Grahamstown as South Africa's Creative Capital by the year 2020. The philosophy that drives the organisers of the arts festivals, where the arts create a platform for social cohesion and creativity, will be extended to all areas of cultural and economic activity.

Grahamstown already has a strong cultural life based around its arts festivals and such institutions as the English Literary Museum, the National Schools Festival, the visual and performing arts departments at Rhodes University, various schools with strong arts programmes, and many community based arts projects. National Arts Festival CEO and leader of the Creative City Project Steering Committee, Tony Lankester, said: 'What we have developed now is a plan to build on the collective strengths of these projects and initiatives to grow the economy of the city using our existing resources and reputation. Individually these projects and institutions hold their own against the best in the world. Collectively they represent a massive opportunity for the city.'

This article compiled by Julie Bowen, on behalf of Makana Edutourism.

Date : Sunday, November 3rd, 2013

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