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on October 24, 2008with 1 comments

2008 CREATIVE CITIES SUMMIT 2.0 WRAP-UP : 1/2 of Sustainability is Culture

10.12.08 – 10.15.08 found Fusicology Senior Editor and contributing writer, Jocelyne Ninneman, back home in her native Detroit for this 2nd annual international summit.

This one’s a doozy… but trust me, it’s worth the read – that is, if you’re into cities ;)

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October 12 – 15 found me back home in Detroit attending the 2nd Annual Creative Cities Summit at the Detroit Renaissance Center (ironically new home to GM HQ), a 4-day international conference on cities; what they were, what they have become, and what they will be – or at least what we think they should be.  Held last in Florida, this year the founder chose Detroit – the poster child for need, apparently.

Fusicology, being the hub that it is for seeking out and highlighting authentic, alternative urban music & culture experiences in the very thing this summit revolves around – cities – found its place as a media sponsor, being that we, of course, endorse creative cities.

Perhaps one of the things that stood out to me among the sea of “forward-thinkers” and “urban activists” was that what we do at Fusicology by second nature is actually a topic of study; its own field of interest.  “Cool-spotting” is now a new economy – we are actually a commodity!  Wow, and here we thought all along we were just trying to find the dopest party… and share it with our friends.  ;0)

In many ways, the CCS is MySpace for the over-intellectual urbanite, especially those hailing from or presently residing in rustbelt cities.  It seems that the former industrial epicenters of the US have all eyes and ears on culture, now that the gas masks of the factories are lifted and the smog has cleared a bit.  Culture is the new steel.

Though the summit held several forums with expert architects and planners on green-building, alternative energy, and sustainable materials and design, more of the short week seemed to be focused on capitalizing on culture as the “new” economy.  (We had to laugh just a little, seeing as we’ve known all along what the sustainable value of authentic culture is – it’s kinda funny to see it all over-analyzed – seeing as culture has been the most consistent economy for any village or city since the dawn of civilization.)  Forget steel, cars, or even Silicon Valley – all those trains have left the station.  With the exception of the mega-tropoli like New York and LA, it seems that American cities are struggling to attract or even retain their young, savvy intelligista.

So the CCS served mainly as a workshop for representatives from various cities and communities (especially, ahem, suburbs) who are experiencing the “brain drain” that is immanent after any forward-thinking, culture-seeking college grad realizes that there isn’t a whole lot to keep their interest after campus in Disneyland-style or post-WWII suburbia.  Not only that, but often the nearest “city” won’t always do either.

What did the “cool” experts have to say about how to retain the next generation of movers and shakers in your ‘hood, and thereby keep your town thriving and economically stable?  Well, for one, attractive, non-conventional jobs are a must.  Yet over and over again it was re-stated by countless “experts” and regular ole people that more and more, the new professional seeks PLACE before they seek a specific JOB.  This is probably because our generation missed the industrial boom opportunities, and have had to naturally be more diverse in our skill sets.  We’ve had to find jobs in often the strangest or most unexpected places just to survive.  We’ve had to school ourselves on various skills because there was no “training” for these things in school – schools that are still teaching skills for jobs that are now mostly obsolete.

I guess that makes us the “Creative Class.” (Now if only some of us were getting paid what Richard Florida does for talking about our lives!)  Apparently, though we were not doing it intentionally, we invented an entirely new class.  Funny, we used to call it the “new grad in a bad economy at the end of an era” class.  So what we inadvertently did was create our own economy where we bought and sold what we deemed to be “cool.”

So it seems that now the older, more established (read: with money) class wants in on the secret  – they want  “cool” in their town now.  Does that mean they are ready for executives in custom jeans, wild Tshirts, funny-colored hair and an array of body art?  What’s funny is that, you know what, I think they might actually be so desperate now (at least in the rustbelt) that they are!  It seems that thinking “outside the box” is now officially “in.”

What the average office, or un-office, looks like in Austin, TX where gaming designers work was discussed, and how it certainly does not involve suits and short haircuts.  Yet, these advanced programmers, animators, and graphic designers are PAID.  San Francisco and northwestern digital media hubs (known for being liberal granola communes) were also cited as thriving epicenters of “cool.”

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

I spoke on a panel entitled, “Making the Scene: Music and Economic Development,” where major music festival directors from Austin, Detroit, New Orleans and the UK talked about how they “made the scene” in their city, and how it did, or did not, help their cities’ economies overall.

Making the Scene

Making the Scene

Photo courtesy Marvin Shaouni

It sure is nice to see that music scenes are being recognized as vital parts of any city’s economy – an economy of culture that is indeed sustainable – for as long as there are humans in a city, they are going to make authentic music, and all you have to do is find it, nurture it, and promote it.  If that’s not sustainable, I don’t know what is.

That’s where the phrase I took away from this conference comes in; “half of sustainability is culture.” During this time when every other article and TV news topic is about sustainability, during an unstable time, it seems to point right back to the basics – culture.  Economies of culture – food, music, theatre, art, museums, festivals, film, dance, entertainment, tourism, etc – will never become obsolete, they simply evolve and change form.  And the places where these things happen – where their creation takes place on the regular – are the places that will continue to see vibrant traffic.  Not to mention that these are also the places where inquiring minds meet, discover and invent new things.  (Not in Edward Scissorhands-style ‘burbs by individuals in pods.)

However, what the “cool-keepers” among us seemed to have to keep reiterating throughout is that you cannot manufacture “cool.”  Meaning, you can’t create cool – cool just happens, organically, naturally.  In other words, forced cool will always fail – because it’s not authentic.  And there’s the other word that kept surfacing all week – “authentic.”  Maybe, just maybe, these municipal big-wigs are starting to get it – generic “cool” ain’t gonna cut it.

> Real culture; there just ain’t no substitute.

So it was interesting that there was a lot of talk about “art villages” and how cities should “create” art villages in order to attract and retain talent, especially young talent.  So maybe there is still some room for understanding here?  One does not “create” an art village – art villages create themselves.  However, what municipal groups and business associations can do is preserve, support, and promote the ones that naturally sprout up – rather than bull-dozing them for casinos, or allowing out-of-town “developers” to buy up all the property and raise the rents through the roof so all the art is forced out.



It is possible for true culture and Starbucks to thrive simultaneously
, side-by-side, but it is a very, very delicate balance that must be maintained.  And it takes policy-makers that grasp a profound understanding of this science and artform in and of itself to make it work.

In fact, this was a topic of discussion that keynote host, Carol Coletta of CEOs for Cities, raised during the panel with “The Big Three” of the “creative economy” John Howkins (“The Creative Economy” 2001), Charles Landry (“The Art of City Making” 2006), and the infamous Richard Florida (“Rise of the Creative Class” 2003 & “Who’s Your City?” 2008) – where she wanted to be able to pull something tangible out of the steep intellectual banter of the conference for those policy-makers in the audience.  What should modern policy-makers bear in mind while making decisions in their cities and states in order to nurture creative economies?

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Video by Tom Hendrickson courtesy of Model D / Issue Media Group

Charles Landry said if he had to over-simplify it, he would say “openness” – a genuine new form of openness to new ideas and concepts that are usually unrecognized by the conventional mind.  John Howkins pointed out that politicians seem to have a real problem recognizing exactly what they should invest in; that they love to construct monstrous new buildings, but they hate to pay really bright people to run them, or run the programs that these structures are supposed to house.  It seems, Howkins says, that the policy-makers (and often private corporations) never want to invest in people.  Meanwhile, Richard Florida stated that it’s simple; truly creative and innovative people like to be in aesthetically pleasing, inspiring environments, with diversity and color – and that’s where they work and produce best, therefore municipal leaders need to invest in making their spaces aesthetically pleasing to the creative person.

Of course, transportation was a big topic too.  It’s obvious that cities with mass transit not only have a better ebb and flow of the movement of its people, but also have fewer issues with race and prejudicial incidents.  Although, I think we’re still a little ways away from leaving the mindset of public transit being for “poor” people, especially in the Motor City.  Soon though, all you Vespa cats and Paul Frank limited edition Schwinn riders will enjoy your place at the top of socio-transit ladder (we hope).  Alternative transportation for those that still drive 3 blocks to the corner store is finally starting to sink in, even if only due to ridiculous gas prices.

(We won’t even get into the other recurring theme of the week which was “the elephant in the room – race.” I suppose it’s not even worth it for us to waste time at Fusicology on this obvious topic because this is a non-issue for all of us.  All of these heads of overly-analytical organizations can continue to talk about it in hushed tones, or they can start walking the streets of different neighborhoods and supporting local businesses and watch how it all just falls into place…)



Although, an interesting solution for the rapidly-sinking auto “Big Three” of Detroit Ford, GM, Chrysler – was voiced at the “unconference” on Sunday at the MOCAD Gallery, where it was suggested that perhaps the Big 3 could save themselves from their tailspin of failure over the past two decades by not only turning their management style around to reflect “The Toyota Way,” but how about reasserting themselves as “mobility providers,” not just “car-makers” ?  Hmmmm… now that’s food for thought.  Could the Big 3 save themselves by becoming mass-transit providers as well?

also being a key issue in business and development, many facets of conventional management techniques are now completely outdated but unfortunately still in vast use among power corporations, which is driving away the young, talented workforce that refuses to settle for an environment where not only are their ideas never seriously considered for implementation, but where their active engagement and feedback of the methodologies in place are actually discouraged.  We like to call this “The Big Three Approach,” as opposed to “The Toyota Way.” (put on book list)

The panel discussion that spoke largely to this was that with 2 of the founding officers of Google, and heads of their Ann Arbor, MI office.  As Grady Burnett and John Burchett described what an average day at Google HQ is like, with its bike racks, showers, gym, health food café, greenery and large, open spaces, we all imagined our own offices.  But then, they spoke on what I found to be the most notable aspect of Google management – “The 20% Rule.” At first you might expect that to be an employee requirement to increase your profitability by 20% over a given time, or even that you are expected to execute 20% more work in 20% less time.  But instead, “The 20% Rule” at Google is a policy whereby all Google employees get to use 20% of their on-the-clock hours each week working on a project of their choice that is related to or inspired by their job at Google.  (Next, I checked their website for job openings…)

The sort of engaging and community-building, forward-thinking quality that something as simple as “The 20% Rule” brings to a company or organization is nothing less than an investment in sustainability.  There it is again – using the creativity and culture of your people as your most sustainable asset for long-term success.  This is the investment in “human capital” that Richard Florida and the other authors are always talking about.

Here I cannot help but think about how we love to endorse and promote the creative culture of all our Fusicologists that post their events and contribute photos and music and video to our website every day… I guess that means we’re a pretty sustainable bunch, eh?  I mean, we all know we rep our cities best, yo.
(that was the SSP portion of this program – lol)

And being the truth-seekers that we are, we of course had to play proper host to our summit guests from down south in Austin, TX Tuesday night.  And being the music aficionados that they are  – all SXSW and ACL royalty and allEd Bailey & crew were of course interested to know more about this little Detroit music thing some call Techno.

We, of course, were happy to oblige by arranging for an exclusive, personally-guided tour of the legendary Underground Resistance / Submerge Records building by UR captain, Cornelius (also in attendance at the CCS), where portions of the Detroit Techno exhibit formerly housed at the Detroit Historical Museum, now reside.  Funny how that tour just never gets old… as many times as we’ve been on it, it still brings us a renewed spirit upon stepping out onto Grand Blvd.

In the end, the two speakers that resonated the most were those that told their heroic stories of community transformation from their ghettos of Pittsburgh and the Bronx.

Bill Strickland explained how you can become a CEO of your own neighborhood, no matter how blighted, with art and a little bit of persistence.  His story is testimony to the power and talent in every single person in your city, from the college professor to the deadbeat Dad to the middle school drop-out.  It proves that if you provide the place or the resources for someone to discover their talent, they will grab hold and take off.  Now that is using your local resources.

Additionally, Majora Carter laid evidence that you can indeed turn a landfill into a public park, that you can reclaim industrial waterfronts, and that you can insulate your roof with grass (and eat off it too!).  She will note that it takes a lot of toil and trouble to start, strength against doubt, and some squatting at Mom and Dad’s place, but with creativity, thrift, and cooperation from neighbors, anyone can turn a broken place into a green one.

And on that note, off we went to party like Creative City Stars at Detroit’s Garden Bowl, where we drank, bowled, and rocked out to the sounds of 3 local bands to close out the gathering – well, almost.  After bowling a really bad score with some of the summit’s organizers, a few of Austin’s SXSW & ACL finest, Detroit DJ extraordinaire Mike Clark (always somehow in the building), a few architects, and the prestigious John Howkins, we kidnapped John for a real night on the town in the dirty D and several tumblers of whiskey… now THAT was a good time!

John, if you’re reading this, we hope that we were able to make your 1st experience in the notorious Motown a memorable one… for what is a night in the D without some real House music in a gritty bar in the ‘hood and a late night-cap at Lafayette Coney Island?!
(see, we knew you could dance all along!)

Like you, John, we hope to try everything in the world before we leave this Earth… and we believe that ALL – not just ½ – of sustainability is culture.*

+ Download the visual art scrapbook created by students from Detroit’s premiere visual arts college, Center for Creative Studies, designed to summarize the CCS 2.0 in an alternative fashion, here. +

+ Also check Model D online Detroit zine’s re-cap of the CCS 2.0 with some great photos and video +

Jocelyne Ninneman for Fusicology |  jocelyne@fusicology.com

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