Puhe 12.5.2006
takaisin pääsivulle

Culture of in-between space –seminar
15 May 2006, TaiK

Today we know that there are more telephones in Manhattan than in the whole Africa, southern parts of Sahara. The majority of world’s population has not yet learned to use the ordinary telephone. Aspects like this are often repeated in the western discussion when on the technology cap between “developed” and “undeveloped” countries. Urban issue is always present in the telecommunication: the centres of technically advanced systems are most often to be found in great cities, metropolises, often capital city regions.

Today the concepts of creativity, tolerance, technology, urban development and economic success are interwoven with each others. First elementary point is, how can we define cities, a European city, innovative and creative cities as well as point out urban spaces with meanings or in between spaces? Success is today formed around metropolises or capital cities with global connections, with strong historical past, successful present policies and a future. One can also ask if creative regions are loose economic and geographic clusters, without urban or any other clear status, that would define them a special multifunctional role. History helps us to understand the pattern of a “creative region” – it is closely linked to urban development. Already in the Middle Ages a phrase was well known in Europe “The air is freer in the towns!” It is evident already then that cities were venues of hope and creativity. They were places with specialized differentiation of work and social resources – and that could create wealth, mobility, civilization and cultural innovativeness.

We also know from the world history that every national and European “golden age” which we know, is an urban age. Even cultural and economic histories can be written seeing it in urban context, as an urban story, as a result of creativity in certain great cities. The modern western historiography is told in chronological order so that great cities and certain innovative periods illuminate and high light the whole world history. These creative regions and their histories are deeply rooted in our collective memory - the results are seen in for example in form of tourism, Rome, Paris, Amsterdam and London still topping the lists. When we define the common concept of an artistic milieu, following chronological order is used:

  • Athens 500 - 400 BC: philosophy & democracy
  • Rome 50BC – AD 100 : imperial order & the first giant city in world history
  • Gent, Bruges, Antwerp 13th century: industrial production & wool trade
  • Florence, Milan, Genoa 15th and 16th century: Renaissance
  • Amsterdam 17th century: global trade & bourgeois culture
  • London 18th century: economic revolution & merchants and craftsmen
  • Manchester 1760-1830: the first industrial city
  • St. Petersburg & Vienna 18th and 19th century: centers of military power & imperial policies
  • Paris before 1914: centre of world culture & urban public works & fashion & all aesthetic fields
  • New York 1880-1940: modernism & modern art
  • Los Angeles 19th century: dream factory
  • Stockholm 1945-1980: the Social Democratic Utopia
  • Singapore, Hong Kong 1945-2000: a bridge between east and west
  • Moscow, Berlin, Warsaw and Budapest 21st century: the capital city of new liberal era

Cities like Athens, Rome, Florence, Antwerp, Venice, Amsterdam, London, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Moscow etc. symbolize whole belles époques within the European - and often also - global history. These golden periods combine successful elements of economic, social, political, cultural and artistic developments, usually a unique combination of different elements. Some key questions are with historic relevance: how do these golden ages come about? Why does the creative flame burn in cities, but not in the countryside or its villages? What makes a particular city, at a particular time, suddenly so creative and innovative? Why do so few cities have more than one such golden age?

There exist many sources of theories within social sciences, geography and history why some cities flourished and some do not. Great cities, world cities and innovative cities usually create creative regions. These regions usually have four or five key elements:

  1. information is transmitted among people,
  2. knowledge, including the storage of this information,
  3. competence in certain relevant activities, and finally
  4. creativity, the creation of something new out of all these three activities.

The political dominion, economic expansion and cultural elitism grew in parallel in cities like Lisbon, Madrid, London, Paris, St. Petersburg, and Berlin. Central power and trading function demanded legal codification and legal enforcement, engendering a set of specialized functions - universities, courts, trading houses, offices etc. Further, because these cities were centers of culture and consumption, local demand gave rise to activities like schools, theatres, guild and club houses, art and architecture, music halls, museums, newspaper and book publishing. These functions tend to assist each other. With the progressive growth of the service economy, most of these functions have tended to expand in scale and importance.

One basic feature is the common need of communication between individuals and between different areas. That is what great cities can offer: a certain density of communication. This communication seems to require a rich, old-fashioned, dense, even overcrowded and urban traditional city. A process of dynamic synergy is developed; driver being often technology and it is supported by a sound financial basis and a certain uncertainty about the future. So the very important part of the creativity that comes out of it has consisted in finding solutions to the city’s own problems of order and organization. As the cities grow in size and complexity, as their citizens define the good life in material terms, as they acquire the political power to insist on their right to that good life, so does the maintenance of urban order or in modern terms, city planning, require a steadily greater sphere of collective and creative action. Not necessarily public action, but it can consist of national, local powers of private agents. And as we have seen, during the 20th century our creative cities seem to have swung full circle from private to public and back to private agencies again.

During the 20the century political debate many have wished and hoped the death of the Megalopolis, the giant multi-million cities to Necropolis, as was the hope of Lewis Mumford, one of the great writers on urban history. This has not happened. We can see, on the contrary, that this Mumfordian Megalopolis is renamed today as the Global City. It still attracts those who command and control the new global economy. The fascination is based on the fact, that no one kind of city, nor any one size of city, has a monopoly on creativity or the good life; but that the biggest and most cosmopolitan cities, with all their problems and disadvantages, have throughout the history been the places where the creativity flourishes. So the air is still free in the cities or, as Aristotle said, “men came together in cities to live, but remained there to live the good life”.

So, what does a historical analysis of creative region and successful tell us? Many theories of urbanism (David Harvey, Manuel Castells) argue that the form and function of a city are expression of its societal circumstances as defined within the concepts of historical materialism. Class, capital and power shape the city and use it to perpetuate themselves. Urban planning and architecture always express order and ideology, power, conflict and contradictions that promote societal change. Substantial private interests are present in the creative city (sometimes separate, like the City of London). This makes it very difficult to distinguish national forces from local and urban forms. There is NO rule that a strong national and political city automatically attracts economic functions. But if that is the case, if the two forces assist each other, the result can be a global creative city.

B. Creative Class

Every innovative, intellectual or artistic milieu, as above described, creates a ruling personality, a personified model of human behavior, fitted to the creative regions. In each era a particular combination of sentiments, needs and intentions produce a creative person and a set of characteristic that are widely admired. The ruling personality produces also tastes and styles, and becomes easily a role model of her time. In Athens we know two personalities: the philosopher as a free intellectual or a young man of good breeding, accomplished in athletics. In Rome the RP is the patrician as landowner, senator and soldier, in RP is Middle Ages the rapturous monk, the chevalier and the artisan, in Amsterdam the RP is global tradesmen and capitalist and urban bourgeois, in England the RP is industrialist, money maker and the gentlemen, in Berlin and St. Petersburg RP is well-educated civil servant, in Paris and Vienna the RP is revolutionary and political man, bohemian intellectual, and outsider (often of Jewish origin) and in New York the RP is modern commercial artist (movie star, pop star etc), in 21st century Moscow the new entrepreneurs etc.

The dense influence of every new group of creative personalities can accumulate to dynamism, paradigm shift and even to revolution. Decisive breaks can be marked by clashes between generations. Many researches argue that creative milieu with its ruling personalities “is like a river which runs through a stylized economic and social landscape”. The crucial prerequisites for the development of creative milieu are six:

  • A sound financial basis, but without tight regulation
  • Basic original knowledge and competence
  • An imbalance between experienced need and actual opportunies’
  • A diverse milieu
  • Good internal and external possibilities for personal transport and communication
  • A structural instability – a genuine uncertainty about the future within the general scientific and technical environment

What can be the forces for change during the 21st century? New systems of high-speed ground transportation open new possibilities for mobilty. By 2010 Europe will have a network linking the capitals, creative regions and leading provincial cities; a crucial role will be played by a relatively few interconnection points between rails; London - Paris - Frankfurt, Malmö – Copenhagen, St. Petersburg – Warsaw – Berlin. This technological change is likely to fortify the role of the major cities. The largest cities tend to have the richest information technology networks as well as the richest facilities for personal movements, like international airport, high-speed train etc. These advantages seem to be cumulative, supporting each other. Also, major global cities increasingly compete with each other to attract top-level global activities, trans-national capital and elite population.

The future will be without any hesitations urban and the modern forms of urbanity will stay. In this process the metropolitan clusters continue to grow and expand. Politically this can mean that creative cities - with their regions and powerful elites - increase their demands on autonomy and self-determination vis-à-vis a centralized, national state and municipal decision-making. Urban elites ask for more space, independence and mobility. They can become even more powerful actors on the international scene. But one global, racial, religious or ethnical crisis and we can see a political, social and cultural counter reaction. Fragmentation will increase – cities and their populations live in different clusters, under various conditions, maybe heavily separated from each others.

We are going to see more of classical segregation – more of west ends and east ends. The digital cap is running through quarters and houses more than in-between regions and countries. Local is global and global is present in local. Generational, ethnical and racial conflicts increase, poor living conditions and ethnic background will be linked more than before. This can change the present development into a counteraction. Conservative, nationalistic and populist movements start to rise. De-concentration strengthens; people prefer to migrate to small towns and villages at the outskirts of cities. Rural and nostalgic values dominate. In this situation the human need for “safe space” or “in-between-spaces” grows. here is the real challenge for urban future and city planning!

Takaisin ylös