Can Art and Culture Districts Shape the Cities of the Future?

Posted by John Eger, Apr 23, 2013 1 comment

John Eger John Eger

Welcome to the global economy and society.

U.S. astronauts reflecting on their experiences in space all seemed to see the earth as one "big blue marble."

As NASA writes: "For the first time in history, humankind looked at Earth and saw not a jigsaw puzzle of states and countries on an uninspiring flat map—but rather a whole planet uninterrupted by boundaries, a fragile sphere of dazzling beauty floating alone in a dangerous void."

Thanks to the pervasive worldwide spread of internet technology, the "big blue marble age" is here, the global economy has arrived, and in a sense, the world's map is being redrawn in a way never envisioned.

While interviewing Nandan Nilekani, the C.E.O. of Infosys, Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times and author of The World is Flat, observed:

"There (has been) a massive investment in technology, especially in the bubble era, when hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in putting broadband connectivity around the world, undersea cables, (and) those things...created a platform where intellectual work, intellectual capital, could be delivered from anywhere. It could be disaggregated, delivered, distributed, produced and put back together again."

The net effect of these changes to the world's economy is that there are no longer the traditional barriers to doing business in the digital age. Every community, every individual is suddenly able to compete with every other and despite what you may hear from politicians running for national office, there are no national economies. There is only a new, truly global economy, which no one is in charge of. Instead, as Kenichi Ohmae, author of The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economies, pointed out, there is the rise and rebirth of the city-state, or as he calls them, the Region State.

Nations are not going to disappear. Nor are states, provinces, or prefectures. Indeed, elected officials are loath to accede power to any kind of consolidation. Nevertheless, their responsibilities are changing and cities, or more precisely, larger economic regions are emerging that have heavy responsibilities to organize one's community to reinvent itself for a knowledge-based economy and society.

Now more than ever, business and industry are dependent upon an economic system that rewards innovation. But to have innovation, you also need creativity; and a creative and innovative community is vital to that effort.

A creative community is one that exploits the vital links among art, culture, and commerce; and invests in the human and financial resources necessary to prepare its citizens to meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving, postindustrial knowledge economy and society. "Cities of the Future" also provide the vibrant culture that is essential for attracting and retaining that innovative workforce.

There is much to do to change the way we educate our young people for this brave new world; there is much we must do to reinvent our communities for the creative and innovative economy.

We can start by redesigning the look and feel of our cities; and reinventing them as the incubators of creativity, the living rooms of the community.

"Art and Culture Districts" may be the answer.

"Such districts", says Local Arts Agency Services Program Manager Theresa Cameron of Americans for the Arts, "have the potential—with their critical mass of art galleries, cinemas, music venues, public squares for performances, restaurants, cafes and retail shops—of attracting, and nurturing the creative workforce our cities need to succeed in the new economy."

This coming June at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in Pittsburgh, an Arts, Entertainment & Cultural Districts Preconference will showcase some of districts leading the way to transform cities.

In addition to the Preconference, Cameron plans to produce an update of an earlier report on such districts, but more importantly, will launch a three-year effort to "involve mayors and other city executives in the discussion, and include webinars, conferences and inactive media to help cities across America reinvent their city for the age of 'creativity and innovation.'"

As the geographical landscape of a city morphs into a larger metropolitan region-partly because of growth, mostly out of economic necessity—what we call downtown becomes even more critical to wealth and well-being of the people living in those communities.

Few efforts to insure America's success and survival in the new economy could be more important.

Americans for the Arts' first ever Arts, Entertainment & Cultural Districts Preconference, being held June 12–14 in Pittsburgh, will examine the city's own cultural district up close and will provide registrants with the opportunity to learn about existing policies and incentive programs from experts from across the country. For more information about the full Annual Convention (June 1416) and two additional Preconferences, visit

(Editor's Note: This post was originally published at HuffPost Arts & Culture's The Blog on April 12, 2013.)

1 responses for Can Art and Culture Districts Shape the Cities of the Future?


Marcy Thompson says
April 23, 2013 at 11:32 am

This is an worthy post, of course. But around here, it preaches to the choir. Outside this sphere, who cares?

This post, and this argument, lacks teeth. It busies itself rationalizing the argument for Arts and Culture and it forgets the most important facts. Cities, towns, districts do not have the wherewithal to "invest in human and financial resources" etc etc. Town are broke. Cities are broke. Surprise.

It's time to put forward arguments for change with more force and more leadership. John Eger sounds like he is merely trying to convince himself - or someone sitting next to him at a faculty luncheon. Write the argument, stand behind it. Give it teeth.

Convince people on the outside. Bring them in. But don't expect acceptance. Fight for change.

For these projects to work, we need to think like artists, with creativity and energy. Not like bureaucrats.

A wasted opportunity. How many more?

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