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Critique and Alternatives in the Urban Cultural Economy

A buoyant, creative economy can be seen as the saviour of many cities, but behind such ‘urban makeovers’ lie serious problems such as widening inequalities, job precarity, gentrification and environmental issues. In light of the pandemic and climate crisis, how well are city economies, based largely on culture, nightlife and tourism, meeting basic societal needs?

Blending lively case studies of alternative cultural practices and spaces with broader theoretical debates, this book explores the opportunities for a more just and sustainable urban future.

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The final chapter of the book brings together criticism of the neoliberal creative city with the pressing need to envision a different kind of urban scenario. The first part briefly reviews the main limits of the neoliberal creative city. It then summarizes some of the common characteristics of alternative practices in the different fields of the urban cultural economy. This is followed by three further sections concerned with going beyond the neoliberal creative city. They include resetting art and culture within a foundational economy, pursuing creative justice and striving for cultural sustainability. A final section concludes by focusing more broadly on the issues of decommodification, the commons, urban justice and sustainability. In doing so there is not only an emphasis on what needs to change but how we might best think of moving towards a more truly creative, just and sustainable future.

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This chapter is organized into four sections. First, it provides a wider context by looking at how neoliberal urbanization creates increased polarization between rich and poor, while ideologically blaming the less well-off for their worsening situation. Second, it discusses how the creative class paradigm ‘maps onto’ urban divisions, hiding, extending and creating new social inequalities. In particular, it focuses on the negative impact the creative class has had on the services and working classes, as well as the urban poor. It also explores how the creative class concept itself hides significant divisions and inequalities within its own ranks. Third, I explore the process of ‘creative exclusion’ through the idea of seeing disadvantaged youth as either a ‘creative underclass’ or as ‘non-creative chavs’. The final section of the chapter concludes by briefly considering some alternative ways of tackling social polarization, creative division and exclusion.

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The first part of this chapter focuses on a critique of the neoliberal creative city defined here as the state-facilitated marketization of the creative economy. It concentrates on the conceptual work of Richard Florida for two reasons. First, although his approach has been heavily criticized previously, it best represents the dominant neoliberal creative city approach. Second, Florida’s schema has been highly influential worldwide both in its conceptual reach as well as in terms of urban policy. Rather than rescuing cities, Florida’s creative paradigm has contributed to a new neoliberal ‘urban crisis’ and growing inequalities. Should we ditch the idea of creativity altogether or are there existing alternative artistic practices that might inform a new urban vision? The second part of the chapter contributes to the urban creativity debate through research on ‘alternative creative spaces’, defined here as art and cultural spaces which are oppositional to the neoliberal creativity paradigm.

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This chapter focuses on an analyses of nightlife in the neoliberal city. Critical to this analysis will be questions surrounding the production of nightlife including globalization and corporatization; contradictions inherent in neoliberal governance and regulation; and consumption inequalities created through gentrification. Additionally, the chapter will examine alternative forms of nightlife, including a case study of ‘night protests’ in the city of Geneva. Finally, the chapter concludes by discussing the impact the pandemic has had on this sector of the cultural economy. It asks, can we move beyond neoliberal forms and create more diverse, accessible and sustainable night-time activities in the future?

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This opening chapter begins with some illustrative examples of cities around the world attempting to brand themselves as creative through reference to various aspects of their cultural economy. It then introduces the concept of neoliberalism and shows how it is closely related to the debate about creativity and urban cultural regeneration. This is followed by a short discussion of the limits of the neoliberal city generally before introducing the book’s main themes and chapter contents. It concludes by arguing that there is a case for moving beyond the existing neoliberal creative city and considering the possibility of an alternative urban future.

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This chapter examines tourism within the context of the neoliberal creative city, outlining its characteristics and shortcomings. It also focuses on examples of opposition and the need for alternatives. The first part of the chapter looks at the rise of urban tourism and briefly discusses the question of ‘who is a tourist’, as well as distinguishes between different types of tourism. It then turns to critically analyse the main features of neoliberal tourism by linking it to urban entrepreneurialism, the cultural economy and the creative city. Finally, it examines and assesses examples of tourism contestation in Barcelona, Shanghai and Berlin. The second part of the chapter centres in on a discussion of alternative cultural tourism and uses the Prague Fringe as a case study example. The chapter concludes with a brief discussion about the politics of alternative types of tourism and the need to pursue more just and sustainable forms in the future.

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This chapter builds upon critiques of the creative city paradigm and the potential of alternative creative spaces to work collectively and liaise with other urban social movements to envisage an alternative urban future. The first section provides some background on urban collective action by introducing the work of Manuel Castells and his concept of ‘urban social movements’. The second section develops the related concept of urban cultural movements. In doing so, it looks at some case study examples of creative resistance from Milan, Singapore and Berlin. It explores the potential of anti-creative city struggles as well as the pitfalls urban cultural movements face in making links with wider social and political contestations in the neoliberal city.

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The chapter begins with a summary of David Harvey’s general work on understanding the capitalist city and looks at how he utilizes Marx’s theory of capitalist accumulation for understanding urban development. It then turns more specifically to his notion of urban entrepreneurialism. Particularly relevant are governance strategies for developing the ‘spatial division of consumption’ in cities – namely the idea of producing urban advantage though enabling the cultural and creative economy. In addition to analysing the features and contradictions of the entrepreneurial city and providing some varied case study examples, the chapter also assesses the value of Harvey’s position. In doing so it explores the degree to which we can envisage thinking beyond entrepreneurial models. Examples of this include participatory alternatives afforded through what has been called the ‘new municipalism’ and a discussion of the ‘Fearless Cities Network’.

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With the book’s evidence in hand, this concluding chapter first synthesizes how everyday condo living harbours risks for the high-rise condo home, especially in the context of substandard condo design and construction quality. Legal scholar Michael Heller’s anticommons thesis provides a helpful way to conceptualize an additional potential risk of underuse associated with the ‘sharing’ of some common property elements in condominium. Stepping back, this chapter then considers the prospects for high-rise condo futures in light of these risks. It delivers two sets of provocations informed by this book’s findings on the impacts for homemaking of poor quality high-rise housing and owner/renter relations. These provocations are intended to promote discussion and perhaps action for brighter urban condo futures. This latter task is identified as far from straightforward, however, with recent optimism expressed by urban scholars about condominium’s prospects subsequently argued to be premature or potentially misplaced.

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