Building Creative Communities: The Role of Art and Culture; A Leading Authority on Information Technology Argues That Cities Must Nurture the Creative Potential and Community Engagement of Their Citizens

Article excerpt

Cities across the globe are struggling today to reinvent themselves for the postindustrial economy anticipated by sociologist Daniel Bell and others in the 1960s.

Many communities have been adapting their communications infrastructure to meet the needs of an age in which information is the most valuable commodity. Most of these initiatives, such as the U.S. National Information Infrastructure and Singapore's Intelligent Island, focus on the technological aspects of the postindustrial economy.

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San Diego even commissioned a City of the Future committee in 1993 to make plans to build the first fiber-optic-wired city in the United States in the belief that, just as cities of the past were built along waterways, railroads, and interstate highways, the cities of the future will be built along "information highways"--wired and wireless information pathways connecting every home, office, school, and hospital and, through the World Wide Web, millions of other individuals and institutions around the world.

These new information infrastructures are undoubtedly important. But creating a twenty-first-century city is not so much a question of technology as it is of jobs, dollars, and quality of life. A community's plan to reinvent itself for the new, knowledge-based economy and society therefore requires educating all its citizens about this new global revolution in the nature of work. To succeed, cities must prepare their citizens to take ownership of their communities and educate the next generation of leaders and workers to meet the new global challenges of what has now been termed the "Creative Economy."

At the heart of such an effort is recognition of the vital roles that art and culture play in enhancing economic development and, ultimately, defining a "creative community"--a community that exploits the vital linkages among art, culture, and commerce. Communities that consciously invest in these broader human and financial resources are at the very forefront in preparing their citizens to meet the challenges of the rapidly evolving, and now global, knowledge-based economy and society.

Cyberspace and Cyberplace

The mammoth global network of computer systems collectively referred to as the Internet has blossomed from an obscure tool used by government researchers and academics into a worldwide mass communications medium. The Internet is now recognized as the leading carrier of all communications and financial transactions affecting life and work in the twenty-first century.

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Internet usage statistics point to one billion users worldwide, with a growth rate of 15% per month. The World Wide Web, the Internet's most popular component, is being integrated into the marketing, information, and communications strategies of almost every major corporation, educational institution, charitable and political organization, community service agency, and government entity in the developed world. No previous communications advance has been adopted by the public so widely so rapidly.

Many people are concerned about where this phenomenon ultimately will lead. Predictions range from electronic "virtual communities," in which individuals interact socially with like-minded Internet users around the world, to fully networked dwellings in which electronic devices and other appliances respond to the spoken commands of residents.

In recent years, people habitually have referred to the domain in which Internet-based communications occur as cyberspace, an abstract communications space that exists both everywhere and nowhere. But until flesh-and-blood humans can be digitized into electronic pulses in the same way that computer scientists transform images and data, the denizens of cyberspace will have to continue living in some sort of real physical space--a home, a neighborhood, and a community.

Many communities, often without being directly conscious of it, are beginning to design the initial blueprints for the cyberplaces of the twenty-first century. …