Making Planning Creative: ‘New Conceptual Spaces’ for Art and Policy

In their article, "Getting Creative with the 'Creative City'? Towards New Perspectives on Creativity in Urban Policy," Thomas Borén and Craig Young address the need to understand how public officials deploy the concept of creativity within urban policy contexts and to close the gap between policymakers' and creative practitioners' definitions of creativity. The authors suggest that new forms of art practice should be developed that engage policymakers, thereby making planning itself a creative activity.

The discussion on the use of creativity in urban policy has centered on Richard Florida's theories about the creative class. Generally, Florida's ideas rest on the principle that companies will relocate to areas of dense creative-class populations; cities that are attractive to the creative class will consequently be attractive to entrepreneurial and high-tech companies. Criticism of Florida's theory runs the gamut from the unstable connection between creativity and urban growth to the theory's misuse of diversity and sexual difference. However, since this type of policy can be easily folded into existing urban policies and does not require an overhaul of prevailing power structures, adoption of creative-class policies has been on the rise. Criticism of Florida's theory has done little to slow the adoption of these policies because it does not directly address the complex notions of creativity that are actually employed within the various contexts of urban policy.

The view of creativity presented in policy documents intended for marketing or public relations does not necessarily represent the views of creativity held by the administrators, nor does it reveal the specifics of how creativity is implemented on the ground. Additionally, little is known about policymakers' and planners' personal views of creativity and culture and how these views might 'spill over' into their professional lives. Outside of their professional context, policymakers may exhibit a nuanced understanding of creative practices and local cultural scenes; however, critics do not fully engage with the ways in which this creativity is deployed within policy or planning.

With the recognition of the complexity with which policymakers understand creativity comes the realization of a 'creative policy gap': the "gulf between what policymakers think creativity is or can be, and what artists and others involved in creative activity in various ways think it is" (1806).
Policymakers also do not fully understand the needs of creative producers such that they do not recognize the importance of the "complex ecology of scenes, networks, clusters and formal and informal interactions" required for creativity to thrive (1806-7). As a result of this gap, creativity is usually deployed in policies which aim for economic outcomes; creativity is "folded back within a neoliberal governing project" (1808).

Thus, the need arises to integrate "alternative creativities" within policy discourse in order to close the gap and to open up "new conceptual spaces" which might enable policy makers to focus on using creativity to craft community-building policy that is not exclusively connected to the economic bottom line. The development of these 'new conceptual spaces' falls within the purview of artists who might create interventions meant to engage urban planners and policymakers. For one such intervention, a group of artists worked for several months with Stockholm's city planners to help develop a regional plan. In response to their experience, they launched the project "A Radical Change of Scenery" in which the artists converted an apartment into a "communicative platform" by painting its walls black and inviting participants to record their responses to key aspects of the regional plan by writing on the walls with white markers. Over 200 community members, politicians, and city officials participated in the project. Its goal was not to affect immediate policy changes but to facilitate new forms of interaction between policymakers, community members, and creative practitioners. Art practice which encourages "participation in imagining future scenarios other than those of top-down planning or market forces...[may] engender new ways of thinking about urban creativity" (1809, 1811). An extended understanding of the "dimensions of creativity in all its forms could inform the development of urban policy in ways which transcend its current bias towards commodifiable creative practices which can be tied to neoliberal agendas, city centers and the privileging of certain class aesthetics, practices and occupations" (1811).

Borén, Thomas and Craig Young. 2013. "Getting Creative with the 'Creative City'? Towards New Perspectives on Creativity in Urban Policy." International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37(5): 1799–1815. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2012.01132.x