Articles

Commentary: Nurturing a Creative and Innovative Community

The Vital role of art, architecture, culture and commerce.

by / November 11, 2008

Prepared for the Arab Urban Development Institute Conference on Knowledge Cities, Istanbul, Turkey, November 17-19, 2008

Cities across the globe are still struggling to reinvent themselves for the post-industrial economy and society foreshadowed by sociologist Daniel Bell. In their efforts to prepare themselves for the 21st century, many communities are still working to update their data infrastructure to accommodate the needs of an age in which information is the most valuable commodity.

Canada's Smart Communities effort, Dubai's Media City, Malaysia's Multimedia Corridor, and other initiatives focus mainly on the technological aspects of the post-industrial economy. San Diego even commissioned a City of the Future committee to make plans to build the first fiber-optic wired city in the country in the belief that as cities of the past were built along waterways, railroads, and interstate highways, cities of the future will be built along "information highways" -- wired and wireless information pathways connecting every home, office, school, and hospital and, through the World Wide Web, millions of other individuals and institutions around the world.

These new information infrastructures are undoubtedly important. Getting your city wired, or constructing a wireless infrastructure are important first steps to building a smart community. But you simply cannot have smart community without smart people. Put differently, getting lots of bandwidth in the ground is important. But changing the bandwidth in people's heads is more important to achieving success as a knowledge city.

Every man, woman and child needs to know and understand that the tectonic plates of the worlds economy have shifted. We are now living and working in a global knowledge age in which both information and knowledge are the new currency, but knowledge is even more important. It is the new wealth, and creativity and innovation are the tools of wealth creation.

Thus the effort to create a 21st century city is not so much about technology as it is about jobs, dollars, and quality of life. In short, it is about organizing one's community to reinvent itself for the new, knowledge-based economy and society.

Cities must prepare their citizens to take ownership of their communities and educate the next generation of leaders and workers to meet the new global challenges of what has now been termed the Creative and Innovative Economy.

At the heart of this latest effort is recognition of the vital roles that art and architecture and culture play in enhancing economic development and, ultimately, defining a "creative and innovative community" that exploits those vital linkages.

Communities that consciously invest in these broader human and financial resources are at the very forefront in preparing their citizens to meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving and now global, knowledge-based economy and society.

The task of creating any city -- housing, transport, roads and bridges, clean water electricity, schools and the list goes on -- is enormous. The task of creating a knowledge city -- a creative and innovative community -- is equally complex.

For our purpose today, to focus on the few things that I believe are essential to nurturing a creative and innovative community; I plan to concentrate my remarks on three broad areas:

  • Education: specifically, marrying art and science and forging a curriculum for the 21st century
  • Art and Culture: identifying and refurbishing art and cultural assets and making sure they are part of the new architecture of the community -- the creative clusters
  • Walk-able communities: doing everything possible to foster walk-able, livable, 24/7, communities that nourish, and attract the creative class, the knowledge workforce you want and
  • need.

 

Pleasure, Beauty, Wonder in the New Curriculum

Talking about children in America, Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowments for the Arts, last year said, "to compete (in this new economy) in the new global marketplace, we need a system that grounds all students in pleasure, beauty and wonder. It is the best way to create citizens who are awakened not only to their humanity, but to the human enterprise that they inherit and will -- for good or ill -- perpetuate."

He argued that success would not be through "cheap labor, cheap raw materials, or the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base," but through "creativity, ingenuity and innovation."

Gioia's formula for success is simple enough: Nurture a love of reading and marvel at the beauty of a sunset or a tree in bloom; find wonder in the mystery of birth, prehistoric life or the DNA of life itself; and ensure the arts play a central role in our lives.

So what is the role of the arts in modern education? Until only recently, there has been very little evidence of the connection between education and appreciation of the arts and success in the post-industrial information economy and society. The evidence, however, is beginning to mount.

In the early 1990s, Robert Root-Bernstein, a biochemist and MacArthur prizewinner, completed a study of 150 biographies of eminent scientists, from Pasteur to Einstein. His findings were startling to those educators lobbying for more emphasis on the sciences. He discovered that nearly all of the great inventors and scientists were also musicians, artists, writers or poets. Galileo, for example, was a poet and literary critic. Einstein was a passionate student of the violin. And Samuel Morse, the father of telecommunications and inventor of the telegraph, was a portrait painter.

Root-Bernstein argues the goal of education should be understanding, rather than merely knowing, and the active process of learning rather than passive factual acquisition, should be its focus. For example, it is possible to know about the principles of physics or literature without having to use them; however, being able to use them is not possible without an understanding of how they function in nature and human affairs.

More recently, a team of researchers from the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, at the University of California at Irvine, completed a nine-month study of three-year-old children in two Southern California childcare centers that demonstrated playing musical instruments enhances learning.

UC Irvine subsequently expanded its experiment to include college students. Their findings suggested that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart's piano music immediately prior to taking an intelligence test dramatically improved the students' performance.

The study's results, which were published in the British scientific journal Nature, revealed that the students' test scores were a mean of eight to 10 points higher with Mozart than they were when the students had listened instead to prerecorded relaxation messages.

The Marriage of Art and Science

Arts and sciences often interact, researchers are discovering, in very productive ways that too often are overlooked. Thus the glaring need for multidisciplinary education that lifts the arts onto an equal footing with the sciences.

Starting in kindergarten and progressing through higher education, all students should study the arts as completely as the sciences, the humanities and mathematics. This would entail reversing the marginalization of the arts in secondary schools and colleges across the country.

The arts are not merely for self-expression or entertainment; rather, they are disciplines as rigorous as mathematics or medicine. They possess their own bodies of knowledge, tools, techniques, philosophies and skills.

We need not only to rethink the core curriculum. We need to rethink how we learn, too.

  • Harvard professor Howard Gardner, author of the seminal research and findings first published in the book Frames of Mind, discovered almost a thirty years ago that we learn not just through the linguistic and mathematical methods of traditional schooling but through seven intelligences: logical/mathematical, verba/linguistic, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, intrapersonal and interpersonal. He recognized one of the primary intelligences is music intelligence and argued that music should be infused throughout the curriculum as opposed to being taught in isolation. Gardner says the same should be done with dramatic performance.

    Creative Clusters and  the New Urban Architecture

    According to UNESCO's Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity, "business and culture, often seen as mutually opposed, are uniting to create an entirely new economic landscape where creativity and culture are essential raw materials of the production cycle just as coal and steel have been since the industrial revolution."

    As U.S. competitiveness in global markets is increasingly dependent on an economy based upon creativity and innovation, a geographic overlay reminiscent of the " economic clusters" of an earlier era becomes more critical.

    Seventeen years ago Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter in his book The Competitive Advantage of Nations emphasized the importance of "economic clusters." They are, he said, "geographic concentrations of interconnected companies, specialized suppliers, service providers and associated institutions in a particular field that are present in a nation or region."

    In the wake of globalization, the industrial economy is giving way to an innovation and creative economy, and communities are at another crossroads. Attributes that made them ideal for the 20th century could cripple them in the 21st; they will have to change dramatically. The main struggle of daily business will be won by the people and the organizations that adapt most successfully to the new world that is unfolding.

    Every city in the world can start this planning process by leveraging one or more of its greatest artistic or cultural assets. A strong mayor, together with the advice and support of the city's chamber, its economic development arm, and its arts and culture council, need to create a compelling vision and plan for those assets; and indeed all their cultural assets; and find a way to link them through modern and efficient public transit to make them the centerpiece of the region.

    Seattle is often cited as a city that has developed and implemented a strategy for attracting and nurturing high tech development Not surprisingly, Seattle has the Seattle Center with art attendance exceeding 6 million people annually, with 29 professional theater companies, seven theaters, schools and 56 theater companies, the Seattle Center is also proud of its 15 symphony orchestras, its professional choruses, its chamber choruses, and of the new "Music Experience" founded by the co-founder of Microsoft, as well as five cultural museums celebrating Nordic heritage and the early experience of indigenous Americans.

    Not surprisingly, Seattle recently completed a $170 million, 10 story library designed by Koolhaas, the Danish architect. It is a tribute to the second most literate city where 80 percent of residents have a library card and close to the same amount have Internet access at home.

    Other cities have also recognized the importance of the "creative cluster." Chicago's Millennium Park, conceived in the early 1990s by artists, architects such as Frank Gehry, and landscape designers, has resulted in the transformation of unsightly river tracts and parking lots into a world-renown destination for residents and tourists alike.

    And Hong Kong has been calling for proposals for a landmark development that enhances Hong Kong's position as a world city of culture. Officials have proposed a new cultural district, which will bring together a vibrant mix of performing and visual arts. The 40-hectare

    • waterfront site will be both a showpiece for urban design and a meeting point for the local and international arts communities.

      All this has not gone unnoticed by the Valley's former Foundation executive, John Kriedler, who was hired some years ago to lead Cultural Initiatives Silicon Valley. He said quite pointedly that creativity is "part of what sustains and propels Silicon Valley forward." A central aspect of his organization's mission, at the time, was "to energize the civic and business leadership, especially the business leadership in the Silicon Valley to take interest" in the relationship between art, culture and commerce, and creativity and enterprise to success in the 21st Century global economy.

      Creating the Walk-Able Live-Able Community

       

      Some believe the decline of our cities started in 1939 at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. The most popular exhibition was The World of Tomorrow in the General Motors Pavilion. It featured an enormous model of a City of the Future, complete with elevated freeways, on-ramps and off-ramps and gleaming skyscrapers separated by miles and miles of asphalt.

      For General Motors and for the rest of America, the vision became reality, as more and more roads were built across the country and more and more families were able to purchase their own automobiles.

      Only now, 60 years later, are we beginning to change the lens in our camera, and see the need for a new and vastly different vision of our future and the role of cities. In a very real sense, the shift from an industrial to an information society is the raison d'etre for revisiting what seems to be everyone love affair with the automobile and asking some very tough questions about its role in the new economy. By doing so, we will begin to open the door to new thinking about the architecture of our cities and renewing their place in our lives.

      According to author Charles Handy, we live in an age of paradox. The more high tech our world, the more high touch we are becoming. The more global, the more intensely local our focus needs to be. The more competitive our markets, the more cooperation are a critical element in developing our business strategies.

      One of the more interesting paradoxes is that the more we live and work in cyberspace, the more important real place becomes. While this notion runs counter to much of today's popular literature, we are already seeing the knowledge worker and the high tech knowledge-sensitive industries migrating to highly livable communities -- communities with mountains or lakes, open spaces, clean air and water, and, as in the case of Portland, Ore. and other communities which have established urban growth boundaries, less reliance on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation.

      This growing concern with urban sprawl, coupled with the nostalgic yearning which the "new urbanism" movement represents, are evidence of sweeping changes in public attitude toward physical space. As the Internet revolution moves into full bloom, however, there is every reason to believe it will have a dramatic impact on the architecture and landscape of communities throughout the world.

      No technology in human history is having, or is likely to have, such tremendous influence on life and work and play, and in the transforming process, on our physical space. While a "smart community" -- a community which makes a conscious decision to aggressively deploy technology as a catalyst to solving its social and business needs -- will undoubtedly focus on building its high-speed broadband infrastructures, the real opportunity is in rebuilding and renewing a sense of place, and in the process a sense of civic pride.

      The concept of cities as engines of civilization remains deeply embedded in our collective psyche. Over the years however, cities have been both

        • cursed and blessed as they have been compelled to adjust to the underlying changes taking place in our movement to a global economy and society. Many cities have died already; others are in fiscal and societal decay.

          As past is prologue, surely some cities will become the ghost towns of the 21st century information age. By far, however, cities will succeed and survive in this next transition to a knowledge-based, global information economy and society. Indeed, cities of the future -- the smart and sustainable communities built for the digital age -- will play a central role in the rebirth of civilization in the 21st century.

          If we are to capitalize on this paradoxical shift by which telecommunications becomes a substitute for transportation, we must renew our sense of place and rethink our attitudes and our policies toward civic life, the village green, and the fundamental and historical reason for the city; to bring people together in harmony with one another and with their environment for economic gain and glory.

          Fortunately, a new breed of architects, planners and developers is beginning to pencil in that new vision of America in the Information Age. It is a bold vision that deals with the crises of growth and the current development sprawl, while returning to a cherished American icon; that of a "compact, close-knit community," according to Peter Katz, author of "The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community."

          The prospect of a new century, says Katz, raises serious concerns about the quality of life that can be expected in a future era of diminished global resources. Former Vice President Al Gore believes we are on a collision course between our worldwide civilization and the ecological system of the earth. What that means to San Diego is unclear but the prospect of another million people living here over the next few years has at least captured our attention.

          Many policy wonks argue the urgency of our dilemma has reached an acute stage. Thus, as we examine our current policies of land development and urban planning, new non-linear solutions are imperative. The thing that we must remember, urges Katz, is that all of the strategies must be examined, tested and tested again in relation to prevailing developmental models. Only then can we determine if a "new urbanism" can indeed be shown to deliver a higher, more sustainable quality of life to a majority of this nation's citizens.

          One of the more interesting and exciting aspects of the new urbanism movement is that the next paradigm could well be much more than the return to the close-knit community of small villages and towns with its village greens and mixed-use zoning. It could be a spiritual return to the kind of community enjoyed by the earliest Americans.

          Conclusion

          Tessie Naranjo of the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico for example, defines community as "the human dwelling place." It is where the people meet the needs of survival and where they weave their webs of connections. Native communities are about connections because relationships form the whole. Each individual becomes part of the whole community, which includes not just the human population, but also the hills, mountains, rocks, trees and clouds.

          Until recently, advances in telecommunications and transportation have contributed to our disconnectedness, rather than cemented us as a people; atomized our sense of community, rather than provided us a sense of place. Yet without a cultural center, a shared history or a commitment to neutral goals and visions, there is little to cement communities together.

          Chief Sealth, for whom the city of Seattle is named, cautioned: "This we do know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not

                • weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

                  As the World Wide Web becomes part of the web of life, perhaps mankind's technology will ultimately enhance and secure our connectedness to the physical world, preserving and protecting it for future generations.

                   

                  If successful, the smart and sustainable community will dramatically reverse an adverse trend precipitated by the invention of the cotton gin and the industrial revolution which followed; by the automobile, and 50 years of untamed growth and land development; and worse, by the advance of a rootless culture without a sense of place, and help lead us out of the spiritual and physical wasteland we have created.

                  John M. Eger, Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy and Director of the International Center for Communications at San Diego State University, authored the seminal "Guidebook for Smart Communities", a "How To" for communities struggling to compete in the age of the Internet; and "The Creative Community: Linking Art, Culture, Commerce and Community", a call to action to reinvent our communities for the Creative Age. A former Advisor to two Presidents and Director of the White House Office of Telecommunications Policy (OTP), Professor Eger served as Chairman of former California Governor Pete Wilson's first Commission on Information Technology; Chair of the Governor's Committee on Education and Technology; Chairman of former San Diego Mayor Susan Golding's "City of the Future" Commission; and founder of Envision San Diego: The Creative Community, a new forum for civic engagement. (jeger@mail.sdsu.edu )