What’s Great about the ‘Good City?’

Many accounts of the “creative city” stress the economic benefits of the arts. In “What Next for the Creative City?,” however, Justin O’Connor and Kate Shaw argue that the arts serve a purpose beyond simply driving a city’s economic growth: they play an integral role in fostering inclusive urban communities.

Policymakers and scholars have long acknowledged the ability of the arts to bolster a city’s economy. O’Connor and Shaw are quick to address the discrepancies between this strong arts-focused rhetoric and the comparatively miniscule protection of the arts in many municipal policies. Policies aimed at securing affordable artistic spaces, for example, have been replaced by those that pursue more economically-minded interests such as increasing property values. As a result, creative spaces in modern cities are being squeezed out, weakening the “creative” foundation of the “creative city.” In the face of these economic hardships, O’Connor and Shaw argue that we need to reevaluate the role of the arts in the modern city, suggesting that we turn to the seemingly antiquated concept of the “good city” to do so.

The “good city” was based on a synergy of art, design, and urban development, best exemplified by fifteenth-century Italian city-states that utilized museums and grand architecture to project state power while protecting the cultural values of the community. Though unintentional, the sense of heritage embodied by these cities gave rise to creative tourist economies and, later, academic conceptions of the “creative city.”

Though the idea of the creative city has (unwittingly) informed modern ideas of arts-driven development, the authors conclude that the economic focus of these policies has overshadowed the fundamental components of the good city that gave rise to the creative city in the first place. Consequently, the notion of the “good city” needs to be revisited and adapted for future creative city policy. Urban policymakers and citizens alike must grapple with what “citizenship,” “community,” and “heritage” mean for 21st-century cities.

O'Connor, Justin & Kate Shaw. 2014. "What Next for the Creative City?" City, Culture and Society, 5(3): 165-170. 
DOI: 10.1016/j.ccs.2014.05.010

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