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The Versatile Locality: drawing creativity out of continuity and change

In his book The Rise of the Creative Class, Richard Florida (Professor of Business and Creativity at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto) stated:

“With everything else in flux – companies, careers, even families – our communities are often the only real constants in the social equation. Being geographically rooted, they are social units that persist. Each of us lives in one, even if only temporarily. And with communities playing this central role, it behooves us to make each as strong and cohesive as it can be – while also, paradoxically, accommodating the mobility and change that define so much of our lives” (pg 324).

Florida refers to the pioneering urban theorist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) as noting long ago (in the 1960s) “that communities generate social stability by mixing more permanent residents with people who come and go. Those who stay for extended periods provide the continuity, while newcomers provide the diversity and interplay that generate the creative mix” (324).

He points out, “While the classes may be living in close physical proximity, they do not intermix in any meaningful way. They might as well be occupying separate universes.” And he argues for the need of neighbourhoods that are welcoming of diversity, saying, “Such neighbourhoods and communities must become proving grounds for the idea that people of all types and backgrounds can truly live and work together. It needs to happen at the community level and spread from there across the nation as a whole if we are to achieve the social cohesion and economic vitality on which long-run prosperity depends” (325).

The ‘whole of locality’ approach we are advocating would include recognising and supporting the Ricks of the world; those in the local community who help provide stability and continuity and welcome diversity. It would also recognise and support the development and retention of local places and amenities that enable people to mix and mingle, such as parks and halls and ‘village squares’, both physical and virtual,

As well as having stability, we argue that localities also need to develop versatility, which is more than just “resilience.”  Most importantly, it includes an ability to develop ways of tuning into the changes that are going on in the wider global environment so as to relate creatively and effectively to emerging problems and new opportunities.

With a world of knowledge and ability to connect, could universities help to broker pathways for this kind of globally connected versatility by working with local villagers?

What do you think?

Refer to article on Jane Jacobs in New York Times (25 April, 2006)

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