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Door: Boukje Cnossen

On Friday January 31st the symposium Beyond the creative city was held. Hosted by the University of Maastricht in general and Dr. Joop de Jong in particular, the event brought together academics, students and policy makers. The aim of the afternoon was to discuss the ways in which we can, and must, move beyond some of the views that have defined scholarly and practical views on the use of creativity for the city, and vice versa. This post tries to summarise the afternoon.

Kicking off the symposium was Dr. Phil Lawton from the University of Maastricht. He presented the results of a large trans-European study into the housing preferences of what Richard Florida has defined as the creative class. Interestingly, the results showed that this supposedly very cosmopolitan and mobile class did not base their choice of where to live on any other factors than the closeness of amenities, the available space and the costs of living. He also pointed towards the influence of Monocle magazine’s index of supposedly best cities on policy makers, thus warning us of the implications of a misinformed view of the needs and desires of the creative class.

Second up was Vera de Jong whose talk addressed the importance of organising the way in which creative entrepreneurs are placed together in buildings or urban areas. She suggested that we should move beyond the idea of mere co-location of creative productivity, and start to think about ways to enhance interaction, exchange of knowledge, or even economic transaction. She also shared some of the insights she has had in her work as a consultant and match-maker between landlords, creative professionals, and city officials.


After the break I had the pleasure of sharing some preliminary results from the ethnographic study I am currently conducting at three Amsterdam-based art factories. I indicated that the word ‘creativity’ was used very frequently and in different ways by the different groups involved in these art factories and that this notion may be seen as a central value. I also stretched the benefits of a grounded theory-approach in understanding how the use of such a concept may define and shape these places.

Finally, Prof. Graeme Evans (University of Maastricht) gave a very insightful overview of the ideas, trends and policies that have over the decades defined what role cities give to culture and the creative industries. His talk reminded us that ‘the creative city’ as described by Charles Landry had nothing to do with the creative industries per se and made us aware that creative and creative productivity have had their place in urban policies for a long time and for very differing reasons.

In the closing plenary discussion session, various comments addressed the issue of definitions. What do we mean when we say creative city, creative class, creative or cultural industries, or even culture, full stop? Prof. Annick Schramme wondered whether a broad definition of the creative class may have obstructed certain findings on the preferences of the ‘hard core’ creatives making up this population. Dr. Claartje Rasterhoff pointed out that we should not try to define ‘the creative city’ but rather accept it as a structuring principle, a term allowing us to speak about roughly the same things. Ieva Rozenthale called for clarity in the terms we use in our research and Vera de Jong urged researchers, practitioners and policy makers alike to make an effort at speaking each others’ languages.

Despite many interesting suggestions and views from economists, historians, geographers, architects and social scientists, nothing was exactly moved beyond. What the afternoon proved once again, is that in order to leave something behind, you want to know quite well what it looks like first.



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