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Creative Communities For the Creative Age

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Leaving the presidency of the Ford Foundation next month, Luis A. Ubiñas, lamented that "half of Americans don't own a Smartphone, one-third lack a broadband connection and one-fifth don't use the Web at all."

He went on to say:

"Our future depends on the ability of every American to participate fully in our digital economy and democracy. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future."

There is no doubt that in the new economy--an economy in which creativity and innovation are the benchmarks of success, indeed survival--you need bandwidth, the broadband Internet that serves as the basis of wealth and well being in the Age of Innovation. Yes, the bandwidth in the ground is important; so too, is the bandwidth in people's heads.

As we are beginning to understand--slowly-- you cannot have smart communities without smart people, and now that globalization 3.0--as Thomas Friedman calls it--has arrived, we are becoming aware that you cannot have creative communities without creative people, and you cannot have creative people without creative communities.To paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt, we must build our future for our youth and our youth for the future.

In other words, in this new age of innovation, an age that requires creativity in some abundance, you need to meet the challenges of a whole new economy head on, or find yourself and your community cut off form the main stream of economic development.

As Eduardo Porter of the New York Times wrote earlier this year:

"Most of the nation's innovation today relies on a broadband connection. Yet broadband seems to be the one area of the information economy that has not followed Moore's law, named after the proposition by Intel's co-founder Gordon Moore that the power of digital devices would roughly double every couple of years, radically expanding their capability and driving down their cost."

A truly creative and innovative community understands that:

1) Globalization has changed life and work, as we know it.

2) Education must be reinvented to ensure a workforce capable of succeeding in the new economy; and as Dana Gioia, former Chair of The National Endowment for the Arts, has said: "cheap labor, cheap raw materials, or the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base, will not be enough to compete ... to compete successfully, this country (speaking of the U.S. in particular) needs creativity, ingenuity, and innovation", and

3) The new, truly global and knowledge-based economy represents every city's salvation... if the city is willing to aggressively embrace the principals of freedom and free enterprise, insure that the technology of our age is aggressively deployed, and play a leadership role bringing people and ideas to rebuilding their communities, the city will continue to serve as the engine of economic growth.

City mayors, city councils, and communities across America must rise to the challenges of the new economy or find themselves moving the chairs around the deck of the Titanic, hoping against hope that the people in their communities will find jobs and the downward spiral they are experiencing will end. But if it doesn't, they will become the new ghost towns of this century.

The agenda is huge...but as the economy slowly recovers, cities must begin the process of exploiting the vital links between art, culture, creativity and commerce; consciously invest in art and cultural districts and EcoDistricts, insure accessible, affordable information infrastructures are widely available, and that the learning and education systems which give our young people the thinking skills they will need to compete in the new economy, are in place.

It world be nice if the Federal government would enable cities to play a leadership role in rising to the challenge of reinventing their cities, but cities cannot wait...and frankly waiting for Washington to do anything could be a long wait.

Cities can do much more--with or without Federal encouragement--and they must.

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