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2006 11 06
Mayor Miller’s Plans For Toronto As “Creative City”
David Miller released an announcement a few days ago detailing his vision for the city. It had everything Toronto voters might expect: transit, fiscal stewardship, social opportunity, a green strategy, and the creative city strategy. Let's concentrate on the last point. What makes a city "Creative" for Miller? His campaign states:

A Creative City

Mayor David Miller wants Toronto to be a creative city that celebrates and embraces arts and culture. He wants it to be Canada's cultural capital and a global cultural centre. He will:

- Put creativity at the heart of Toronto's economic development strategy. This could include:

- Establishing a creativity convergence centre that will bring different enterprises together under one roof to spark innovation, cooperation, and new economic activity.
- Advancing Toronto as a centre of design.
- Supporting entrepreneurship skill development for creative professionals.
- Supporting the creation of a venture capital pool for creative industries.
- Continuing to strengthen Toronto's film industry.

- Build creative community hubs that will bring local artists and organizations to provide programming in Toronto's community centres.

- Bring back Nuit Blanche and continue the successful Live with Culture initiative.

While all of these objectives are worthwhile for the city, implementing them with the political and managerial infrastructure we have in Toronto's public sector is unlikely. Why" A while back while writing an article on innovation for a major U.S. technology site, I talked with some of the leading innovation strategists in North America. These were very bright, thoughtful, and well-educated people who had the attention of political leaders in Canada. I learned a lot from speaking with them. One thing I learned is that their models all shared what I think is a fatal flaw: They were all the top-down, macro-economic models that bureaucrats love. Big money, big initiatives, bad results.

We can use an architectural reference to illustrate the point. After the second world war some nations embraced heroically modern city visions. They embarked on building whole cities based on the plans of one or two master planners. The results were a disaster. The complexity and texture many small design decisions bring to great cities were ignored. The result was people did not want to inhabit these heroic cities.

That's the kind of economic modelling that our current city management is capable of now. Top down grand visions without street-level input. I do not doubt Miller's noble vision for a creative city - much has changed under his tenure as mayor. And we do have some very capable people in the institutional arts sector who have a finer-grained, non bureaucratic view of culture. The list includes Samantha Sannella, William Thorsell, Matthew Teitelbaum, and others. However, the city's corridors of power do not have the bench strength to pull it off Miller's vision. It is unlikely that situation will change in the short term.

When the city amalgamated we lost huge swaths of capable people and the skills they possessed have not been replaced either in the city's internal bureaucracy or by an accessible private sector initiative the city could draw from. There are ways of attaining Miller's creative city vision. I wonder though if we have the organizational and tactic ability to do it.
[email this story] Posted by R Ouellette on 11/06 at 02:50 PM

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