I came to Detroit for the Creative Cities Summit unprepared, frankly, for the scale of the challenge that Michigan’s largest city is facing. As we toured sights selected to offer hope this morning, I found myself rendered nearly hopeless by incredible magnitude of the challenge at hand. There’s no doubt that there are a lot of brilliant and committed people who are working to reshape the city, but when you stare into the face of the challenges they face, you wonder how they even have the strength to try. Or at least I did.
It was then more than welcome to hear Toronto’s Poet Laureate (can we get a few of those here?) and author of The Municipal Mind Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, deliver an impassioned plea for fostering good urban citizenship as a core element of a vibrant city. He said that a city is place where one discovers their destiny through other people – a place to enjoy yourself through enjoying others. He called for strategies aimed at not just economic development, but at creating the kind of environments where people will bump up against each other, exchange ideas and help to build each other’s stories.
John Howkins started with the concept that “thinking is a proper job.” He wrote about the creative economy a few years ago. He’s now talking about “the creative ecology” and sees creative ecologies as systems that are chaotic, nonlinear and self-organizing. Howkins says that such systems are inherently difficult for government to nurture through policy and funding due to the fact that the don’t always behave in predictable patterns and don’t generate directly measurable benefits.
I have to think at the end of the day that a focus on intangibles like the culture and ecology of Detroit and other cities has to be at the core of our thinking about how to rebuild them.