Why have certain cities fostered creativity over time?
“First, the protection of personal and economic freedoms changed the local culture, making it more receptive to innovations and new ideas. Second, the new institutions also changed incentives, through a more meritocratic and inclusive social environment, but also by encouraging works of art and innovations that would enhance the prestige of the city. Third, free cities attracted talented and creative individuals who escaped censorship and persecution elsewhere, and this created role models and facilitated social learning, breeding new generations of innovators.” —VOX 2018-01-06
This study of European city development showed that first the space must be amenable to creative individuals and then people can flourish. This is similar to the conclusions of Eric Weiner in The Geography of Genius who identified diversity, disorder, and discernment as keys to creative genius.
Echoing Marshall McLuhan’s observation that “the medium is the message”, we can see how our physical and cultural spaces affect us. Creativity is influenced by architecture and the environment influences psychological, sociological, aesthetic, and learning factors. It’s all connected.
“Architectural models address built environments, emphasizing both interior and exterior features of building design that allow, encourage, prohibit, or inhibit various behaviors. Psychological models discuss environmental attributes that set conditions for or even control human behavior. Sociological models emphasize the importance of environment in terms of how it facilitates human interactions. By emphasizing individual appreciation of the environment, aesthetic models address the relationship of values to human behavior. Workplace training models, including human factors engineering, emphasize the fit between environment and person and seek out optimal conditions for performance.” — Rodney Fulton
I have noted before that the emerging network era is an opportunity for cities. They can provide a safe place where Tribes (families & communities) feel at home and are not threatened. But they can also make connections and provide safe intersections between different Tribes. In addition, they can experiment with new Institutions (e.g. cooperatives) and Market forms (e.g. sharing economy, micro-finance). All of these can be done at a manageable scale. A new social contract can be developed at a more human level. This is a learning city.
We do not need smart cities. We need smart — and creative — citizens. Cities can be designed on open human structures, enabled by a principle of subsidiarity that allows decisions to be made at the lowest possible level. This keeps citizens connected to their built environment. Public learning spaces, more than just libraries, can foster innovation when diversity is encouraged, especially through active experiments and open immigration policies.
Other related posts on learning cities: