Creativity in the Urban Environment


23 Nov 2017

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Creative and cultural spaces

Jana Sorel

  1. Introductie

The creative industries determine the future of our region by ensuring a flourishing creative and cultural climate.

Flanders Creative Industries Platform (2011)

Today, the knowledge and experience economy has expanded towards an economy which recognizes the importance of cultural and now also creative industries (Evans G., 2009). Creative industries are something of the 21th century, but creativity itself has been used since the 70’s to improve the development of a city. During that period, cities were empty because the process of suburbanization was going on. Then there was the awareness in the heads of policymakers that this process leads to a drain of the city centres and they tried to attract people to the city centre again by creating a space filled with artists (and other creative people) who used educational background to produce small, high-tech businesses or start-ups. It was picked up by policymakers as the way to turn the process into growth and prosperity of the cities again (Vanneste D., 2015). Bottom-up regeneration of those abandoned areas was stimulated by the creative class (Florida, 2002). Creativity took an important role in the cities but they didn’t talk about creative cities/hubs yet. Now, since the late 90’s creativity becomes linked with creative industries in which they focus on production and consumption of so-called creative products. Creativity is now linked with innovation and economic growth but what is a creative city exactly? According to the paper of Evans G. (2009), creative industries are now seen to comprise “those industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have the potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” (DCMS, 1998/2001, p. 5). Different researchers state that there’s a growing evidence that cultural and creative industries are good sources of growth and jobs, benefiting local communities, regions and states (EY, 2014). The aim of this paper is to identify the influence of creativity clusters (“creative hubs”) on the urban environment, both urban neighbourhoods and communities.

  1. Influence of creativity on the urban environment

Scientific research states that the cultural and creative industries play a crucial role in the development of the regional economy. Figures illustrate the growing employment and the share of these sectors in the Gross National Product (GNP) (Evans G., 2009 ; Martens B. et al., 2014). The creative industries determine a region’s future by ensuring a flourishing creative and cultural climate (Flanders Creative Industries Platform,2011) and a focus on the creative economy therefore represents the latest wave of interest in culture as a post-industrial urban revitalization strategy. However, some places are more successful than others.

The importance of creativity in a place is namely not only about production but also about consumption. It’s the government that invests money in places where a lot of people and as a consequence a lot of voters live, so cities are privileged, but why…?

Creative hubs maintain collective order through social and cultural capital in combination with distinctive institutional infrastructure. Educational institutions, trade unions and a lot of other institutions (such as museums, galleries,…) are present in those hubs (IPoP, 2011). Creative hubs are not only places of cultural production, but also act as places where creative know-how and competences are being preserved, interchanged and combined. In this way, fresh affluxes of new talented individuals can be assured (IPoP, 2011) and creativity and culture are now seen as knowledge-based innovation strategies. Since creative hubs go for high educated and skilled activities, research often poses that the economic factor is the most important aspect for the creation and development of creative industries. Artists’ centres make important contributions to regional economies, but also to the social, cultural and commercial lives of their neighbours.

First of all, cultural and creative industries are among the EU’s biggest employers and have experienced sustained growth even through recession. Today, around 3.3 percent of the active population in Europe is (in)directly employed in creative industries (figure 1). Job creation in cultural and creative industries is still growing at a rate of 0.7% (between 2008 and 2012), even as the number of jobs in the rest of the economy fell 0.7% (EY, 2014). In most cases they are thus relatively small, but when you look at specific sectors not directly associated with cultural or creative industry sectors in ‘creative occupations’ (such as car design) numbers will be much higher, for example in the Netherlands this counts for 47% of the employment (Evans G., 2009).

Figure 1: employment distribution between the different sectors in thousands 2012 (source: EY, 2014).

Secondly, income can be generated for housing and local shopping, sometimes amplified by drawing tourists and visitors from surrounding areas. Money is spent in the stores and restaurants (Markusen A. & Johnson A., 2006). In association with the occupation and beautification of vacant buildings, rent rises and property regenerates (Evans G.,2009).

Next, according to da Cunha I.V. and Selada C., the environment of a so-called creative hub tends to be diverse, multicultural and vibrant, with the presence of foreign talents too. People are attracted to places which combine different functions such as residential, working, learning, shopping and entertainment functions. Such places foster the emergence of a good place to live, work, learn and play. In addition, “informal arts” play a critical role in building social networks and connections across communities. Studies show that for example Mexican immigrants in Chicago “use artistic and cultural practices to break down social isolation, create new social networking relationships, strengthen... bonds among group members, and ... create local and transnational ties with [outside] institutions...” (Stern M.J. & Seifert S.C., 2008). Creative hubs build a bridge between different social classes, ethnicities,… . Mutual exchange within these creative hubs improves both innovation and competitiveness, but reduces social inequalities as well. Creating a common space is probably the most challenging collaboration. In the same article, it’s argued that the engagement in cultural activities increases life quality of the inhabitants of a community because of the reinforcing social diversity. Creative activities construct and reinforce shared cultural identities among different groups of people such as immigrants, refugees, and people of colour (Grams D. & Warr M., 2003). Likewise, diverse neighbourhoods house more cultural programs, cultural participants and artists because of the “open door mentality”. According to Markusen A. and Johnson A. (2006) “anyone who expresses an interest may become a member, have access to events and services at an affordable price, and apply for merit-based mentorships, funding, and exhibitions”. Nevertheless, competition and tensions can tax the energy of people inside the creative hub (Markusen A. & Johnson A., 2006).

The creation/development of cultural and creative hubs is sometimes seen a possibility to draw tourists too. Researchers found a direct connection between culture and revitalization of a community (Stern M.J. & Seifert S.C., 2008). Creative hubs are located in places where economic and social as well as cultural assets are available. Creative activity complements and stimulates the creation of other artistic, commercial, and community venues. As mentioned by Jacobs (1961) “mosaic of unique cultural destinations that encourage city residents to cross porous borders to visit distinctive neighbourhoods”. However, this is criticized by Evans G. (2009): “it is clear that these are judged and celebrated by their proponents in cultural, heritage and local ‘endogenous’ terms such as property and local trade (Jayne and Bell, 2004), rather than in macroeconomic market terms”.


Although the development of creative hubs is stimulated and one of the main focuses is of policy makers, gentrification and the possible expansion of inequality remain the most common fears. Of particular relevance to the creative hubs is the emergence of “winner-take-all” labour markets (Stern M.J. & Seifert S.C., 2008). The increased inequality can be explained by the requirements of jobs within these industries. The creative industries are namely dominated by jobs with high educational requirements (Stern M.J. & Seifert S.C., 2008). This increases the opportunities for high skilled workers, but for people with less educational qualifications, the opportunity to find a job will decrease.

  1. Conclusion

In this paper, different aspects are listed of how a creative hub can influence the urban environment. In many cases creativity is used as a synonym of culture, but culture doesn’t cover everything. We have to understand that culture also includes non-profit, public, and commercial organizations as well as independent artists. In addition, we have learned to recognize the importance of strong leadership, which is a key element for the success of a region. The artists’ centre must present a face to the neighbourhood and larger community, invite entry, and maintain its attractiveness. The presence of creative hubs is programming are especially important for a community’s cultural vitality. But, can a creative economy ameliorate urban poverty in the world or is the creative hub- development more a winner-takes-it-all-scenario?

  1. Sources

Flanders Creative Industries Platform (2011). Creative industries in Flanders. Position paper.

Florida, R., (2002). The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It's Transforming Work, Leisure and Everyday Life. New York:


Evans G. (2009). Creative cities, creative spaces and urban policy, Urban Studies 46(5&6): 1003-1040.

Vanneste D. (2015). Lecture Economic and financial geography: Creative industries.

Martens, B., Dobbels, J., Amez, L., & Ysebaert, W. (2014). Cultuur en creativiteit in beeld: opzet van een meetinstrument voor metropool Brussel.

EY (2014). Creating growth. Measuring cultural and creative markets in the EU

Stern M.J. & Seifert S.C. (2008). From Creative Economy to Creative Society. A neighborhood-based strategy to increase urban vitality and promote social inclusion. GIA Reader, Vol 19, No 3.

Grams, D., & Warr, M. (2003). Leveraging assets: How small budget arts activities benefit neighborhoods. Chicago: Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Da Cunha, I. V., & Selada, C. (2009). Creative urban regeneration: the case of innovation hubs.International Journal of Innovation and Regional Development,1(4), 371-386.

IPoP Institute for spatial policies (2011). Potentials of creative urban regeneration. Spatial distribution of creative industries in Ljubljana Urban Region.

DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) (1998) Creative industries mapping document. DCMS, London.

DCMS (2001) Mapping creative industries technical document. DCMS, London.

Markusen, A., & Johnson, A. (2006). Artists’ centers: Evolution and impact on careers, neighborhoods and economies.



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