Reflexive Creativity in Urban Politics?


Montaigne Gallery, Shanghai

Many years ago I coined the phrase Urban Subversion that began as an interest in parkour as a creative act of urban re-appropriation. It soon became apparent as I looked for additional ways in which people were interacting with the city in novel and innovate ways, there was a small, but increasing swath of people who were actively reconfiguring their urban environment for sometimes playful, sometimes anti-hegemonic, and sometimes subversive, but always in creative and innovate ways. Nearly 5 years hence, Maria Daskalaki and I have (finally) managed to get the ideas and musings we had about Urban Subversions all those years ago published. In the intervening period, I have witnessed (first hand through my travels and via the relentless march toward information-domination of Twitter and social media) the boom of these kinds of creative engagements become popularised and in some cases, accepted as legitimate and formal urban development policies. The latest piece to confirm this was the ever-excellent PopUpCity claiming that local cultural and creative urban practices have ‘gone global’ (something which I championed last year).

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Who’s going to do the changing? Obama’s Victory and the Creative Class

First of all, congratulations to Barack, he certainly talks the talks, now lets see if he really can ‘change’ America – I think we all know what that would entail. I wanted to make a quick observation though. Watching the news this morning and seeing the cheering Obama supporters, one particularly line struck me (from the BBC) – “his supporters are mainly young, educated and urban” – which made me instantly think of Florida and his creative class.

Obama’s policies and the Democratic view in general seems to moving away from heavy manufacturing, the big pharmaceuticals, the war economy and a dependency on a post-Fordist/Milton Friedman ideology to a more high-tech, creative and innovation-led (non-linear) infrastructure. Florida, who popularised the ‘creative class’, a sentiment highly criticised (why, this blog commented on it) writes that these new types of people are footloose and are attracted to ‘cool’ cities based on the three T’s: tolerance, talent and technology.

With Obama’s victory will we see America’s cities progress down this route? Canadian cities are already highly regarded as being very desirable places for the creative class to live, so will we see the ‘Canadianisation‘ of US cities? Obama’s supporters (if they are indeed young, educated and urban) will more often than not be working in the creative industries, the service-based economy, technology-based companies, doctors, university professionals; the kind of jobs that are highly mobile and flexible. So what will this mean for the American future? Will we see the economy change so that these types of people and companies will be politically involved? We know that the likes of Google, Microsoft, News Corporation, the big Hollywood studios, they already have huge power in terms of economic might and they already have some political clout (some more than others). But the oridnary workers and the more ephemeral industy that surrounds them – we will see them grow and procude the tecnological, social and cultural innovations needed to help cure the problems currently facing the world?

The creative class, the definition of which is debated, does include those people that are beginning to have an impact on our world and way it is run and the way that it works, and if these people are encouraged, given more political support and allowed to flourish, then surely they are the people who really are able to effect ‘change’?