Charles Landry

A leader in thinking about cities for nearly 20 years. Charles is Director of Comedia (innovative consultancy in cities and globalisation, city-making, city creativity, the art of city making).

Charles Landry

Charles main points included:

  • Cities are places of encounter, exchange and transaction. Although now ports are more sophisticated than in the past, the driver of meetings/transactions/interactions is still the exchange of goods. In current globalised world, the intercultural/open-city is an obvious need, were interactions include relations between different values/religious/cultures to interact.

  • The art of living together is the central question of the 21 st century city: (A mosque next to a model agency in Constantinopla Istambul).

  • The management of fragility - how to deal with diversity (complexity, loss of cohesion, indigenous flagback and so on) vs creativity potential, innovation.

Some very provocative thoughts for the audience, presented by Charles Landry were:

What is living together about? a process/negotiating values & identity and belonging? How do we deal with old/new values? - the clashes between these. How to bring them together. It is about coming together in whatever possible form (as we are all hear to stay).

I like the word openness but before that we need to create the necessary curiosity (exchange of thoughts, ideas, etc. which then lead to being open). Only when you are open, you can be inter-cultural and put the focus more on what we share than on our differences. The path would then be: Curious ---> open ---> intercultural

What are the qualities of places we think are great?: they have a different culture they feel like home, they give you a sense of being able to do something for you that you have not done before and they can be inspirational. Qualities of great places. Great places do contradictory things (sense of calm and refuge and sense of thrill-ness). For example: allow everyone to feel they belong while the place does have a proper identity. For example: three dilemmas for great places are (Anchoring versus taking on the new) or (Competitive agenda vs quality of life) or (history and future - how do we create tomorrows heritage?).

What are the spaces and places where people from different cultures and religions meet? - the creation and importance of exterior spaces (ie Bryan Park in NY - incredibly carefully managed) and of cultural places (libraries, theatres). Art can do a great deal for the intercultural city.

We need to look at cities differently re-define what we are and can be. Let's switch from the problem focus to the opportunity focus. It is a mind sweep shift (education, upbringing). We must find ways to keep different and come together at the same time. Reassessing our urban design to have streets and not roads inside the city. Openness stretches further than diversity. Cities have been made so far as if they were complicated, segmented, fragmented, etc. but in fact they are not. We need to plan our cities thinking about unity nature ecology people human being. Cities should be looked up as a complex (constant change and relationship) matter, not a complicated (technical issues/views - in fragmented ways) matter.

We should do place-making and not talk about urbanism . The urban engineering paradigma versus creative city making. The second would have a completely different outcome.

Creative City Making is about combining hard and soft, the human and the emotional as well as the engineering. What does it feel like as well as what the purpose is etc. Seeing and feeling the city as well as plan and structure the city. Are we ready to absorb the different changes of cities at current speed of change? For this, money is less important than ideas.

Distinctiveness is key . One aspect of the competitive platform for ambitious cities is to swift from creative economy, knowledge economy or urbanism into what could be the real emerging advantage. What is it? Essentially, it is openness and being able to deal with that in a sophisticated way. Today, 64% of people choose the city before the company and the job. Cities want talent, but talent is the capacity to innovate and create, to connect, to be distinctive. To attract talent cities need not only to provide jobs but to offer places to live. Cities need to be relaxed about ambiguity as this generates innovation.

Cities need to think holistically and break down the silos. The concept of the creative burocracy: A new situation where we are strategically principled but tactically flexible.

Finally, what can we control and what not? City Making is NOT AN ACCIDENT . It is about the political choices we are making now. The fate of the future is in our own hands. We need spaces before we can address city leaders. It also requires leaders (1% of the population 40.000 in Madrid ). There is a difference between the ordinary leader (that provides carparks), the innovative leader (that does more interesting things) and the inspirational leader (tells a story of the unfolding emerging city that makes people feel they are shapers, makers and co-creators). Diversity alone is not going to guarantee success but building opencities in a creative way in a process of leading and intermingling is the way forward.


OPENCities is a BAK project in partnership with cities around the world.