THE BLOG
03/09/2014 12:22 pm ET Updated May 09, 2014

Creative Age Cities

According to the New Cities Foundation, a new independent non-profit with offices in Geneva and Paris:

" Over the next decade, some $ 250 billion will be invested in the creation of new cultural districts around the globe" ... "success is not just getting an arts building or series of buildings out of the ground, it is about ensuring that they are viable and play a central role in their communities."

The reasons why such districts are popping up in cities around the world vary but in most cases they are designed to nurture, retain and attract the talented 21st-century workforce so vital to success and survival in the global knowledge economy.

Manufacturing and service provision from one nation are finding the lowest cost in another and seeking distribution throughout the world market. This is what author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman means when he says, "The World is Flat." Every nation, every community, every person is competing with every other. Indeed, all the economies in the world are now knitted together and competing for the new knowledge jobs, the dollars they offer and the enhanced quality of life such jobs create.

Not surprisingly, a whole new economy based not on manufacturing or even service provision, but on knowledge or more precisely creativity and innovation is slowly taking shape.

What makes people creative and innovative however, is still being debated. Clearly our schools and the educational curriculum must change. But what too, about the communities where young people spend more than half their lives and where their families, friends and fellow citizens live and work. Communities, indeed whole cities, need to reinvent themselves.

The New Cities Foundation was created in 2010 to help cities think through what's at stake and what's involved in the effort to renew and reinvent themselves for such a bold, new future; and, as they themselves put it, "to incubate, promote and scale urban innovations through collaborative partnerships between government, business, academia and civil society."

Beginning this June 17 through the 19 in Dallas Texas, through a new arm of the Foundation called the Global Culture Districts Network (GCDN), they are focusing on the role of "culture districts"... areas including museums, theaters, performing arts centers, and other assets such as live/work spaces, coffee shops and restaurants that help define a city. Think of London, New York, Berlin, or Paris.

The Global Culture Districts Network aims to ensure that these projects are vital assets for their communities, contributing to the vitality of 21st century cities, according to AEA Consulting Director Adrian Ellis, who is also Director of GCDN.

"The idea of GCDN is to support the leaders of Cultural districts - both planned and existing - wherever they are," he says. "There are clearly many differences between Seoul, São Paulo, Vancouver and Muscat - to take a random four - but there are many similarities too, in a world where ideas, people and capital are highly mobile."

Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, Beijing's Olympic Green, Dallas Arts District, Chicago's Millennium Park, Hong Kong's West Kowloon Cultural District, Singapore's Esplanade, Doha's Cultural District, are cited as models of how high-profile urban developments have been planned to embrace cultural activities as an important part of the public realm.

In addition to an array of programs discussing the future of cities, leaders from Hong Kong, Qatar, the UK, Amsterdam, Germany and the U.S are shaping the Global Cultural Districts Network (GCDN). The GCDN has taken as their mission initiatives deigned to "foster co-operation and knowledge sharing between those responsible for conceiving, funding, building and operating Cultural Districts internationally."

At a meeting June 17-19 in Dallas, Texas, The New Cities Foundation expects to attract over a thousand leaders from cities around the world, most of whom will hear about creative place making, technology innovations, new transportation schemes, sustainability, financing and audience building as well as a host of other topics all of which will be discussed in a plenary session and numerous breakouts.

Ellis argues that:

"For planners (the art and culture districts) can help build community and social capital; for sociologists they keep at bay the forces of anomie; for economists, they incubate and inculcate creativity, and draw those fickle high-net-worth tourists; and for the politicians and the semioticians alike, they signify and calibrate complex aspirations and identities. But they are difficult to get right, and expensive and politically embarrassing to get wrong."

The GCDN will seek to provide the following services for its members:

● Regular convening to share emerging best practices, hear expert panels, and discuss the place of cultural districts in urban policy, economic development and related areas of public policy such as travel and tourism;

● Original research on topics of common interest such as programming, audience development, cultural tourism, professional development, relevant trends in technology and creative industries strategies;

● Regular summaries and circulation of secondary research and news of common interest;

● Virtual forums for detailed sharing of information and discussion of opportunities and challenges;

● Opportunities for establishing strategic partnerships for content, programming, skills training, and knowledge transfer.

"This isn't just about the arts," Ellis says, "this is about urban policy." Whatever the motivation, cities are beginning to see the need to renew and reinvent themselves for a very complex and different world economy. "Its scary" he says, and executives, architects, city planners, and policymakers alike, must begin to collaborate on the effort of "Reimagining the City," the theme of the Dallas event.

Co-Chairs of the GCDN are Maxwell Anderson, the Eugene McDermott Director of the Dallas Museum of Art and Chairman of the Dallas Arts District, and John Rossant, Chairman of the New Cities Foundation.

The Summit kicks off a week of discussions that will place Dallas at the very heart of global thought-leadership on the future of cities. Following the Summit, Dallas will be host to the Annual Meeting of the US Conference of Mayors on June 20-23.

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