The Creative City’s Potential for Urban Improvement

The creative city is a contestable model for urban redevelopment because of its repercussions on displaced members of community, on artists, non-profit organizations, as well as on nearby neighbourhoods of lesser affluence. Downtown Toronto has pockets of redevelopment that have focused on carrying out the creative city model in the hopes of placing Toronto on a national and international competitive scale for talent. The case of the creative city is outlined by Charles Landry who suggests that cities of the future can be better because they can harness the potential of creative employers as well as creative governance to improve city life (Landry xxi). The origin of this model is a positive and hopeful one that could be more successful over time if participants of urban development move forward considering the impacts of the creative city on the ground. Although the model is theoretically popular for cities to justify redevelopment plans especially after deindustrialization, the effects of the project are unfolding quite recently. Liberty Village, West Queen West Triangle, and Entertainment District are a few of downtown Toronto’s creative neighbourhoods that show the changes that have occurred in the city fabric because of their new development. Place-making and branding of downtown neighbourhoods has changed who can interact with certain places and certain people. Richard Florida’s idea of the creative class operates in the creative city for attracting a certain group of people to the neighbourhood that will generate economic growth (8). Considering the above prospects and their effects in downtown Toronto, this paper proposes that the creative city model has benefits for Toronto that will help more of its residents over time but with a reassessment of the stakeholders and their degree of involvement.

Florida’s work has evoked backlash about his creative class thesis and its negligent attitude to people not part of this elite group. This is because redevelopment can result in new people and businesses overtaking older residents and workers without considering the issue of displacement. The abuse of power that is justified on grounds of creative strategies for economic growth is a problem for those that get neglected under the polished appearance of the creative city. An example of such a neighbourhood is Parkdale. Against Liberty Village’s polished appearance, Parkdale with unaffordable social housing and a low income population can appear a world away. Dufferin Street that separates Parkdale from Liberty Village, carves a divide that symbolises the polarization of communities within downtown due to the creation of spaces that are unevenly and unfairly managed. Despite the disparity, this paper argues that the city has to start somewhere. Better informed on residential dissatisfaction and the impacts on surrounding neighbourhoods, the city can now work on improving those areas surrounding the creative neighborhoods. Instead of maintaining boundaries, the creative city can help to improve its surroundings. In fact Landry posits the nature of the creative city as the “conditions need[ed] to be created for people to think, plan and act with imagination in harnessing opportunities or solving seemingly intractable urban problems” (xxi). The creative community has the potential to solve urban problems and to improve city life but they have to be encouraged to do so since excessive focus within the creative community circle can inhibit its expansion. With this in mind, it can be suggested that Florida’s creative class has immense power over the urban landscape within but also beyond their hub. The creative class includes those who engage in works that “create meaningful new forms” and which include the “creative professionals” many of whom have higher education degrees such as scientists, engineers, professors, architects, and designers to name a few (Florida, 8). These people can reform the urban design outside of the creative city plot if the city insisted on their organized input.

Although the creative class could improve areas surrounding the creative city, there are other factors that need to be assessed. For one, this is assuming that the creative class lives in the creative city which is not always true although Liberty Village somewhat depicts such a model. In another case, Toronto’s Entertainment District is an area that has become a mixed-use neighbourhood where residential areas exist among large tourist attractions. The CN Tower, the Rogers Center, Ripley’s Aquarium, and a number of nightclubs are a few such places. Many people that are not part of the creative class live and work in this creative district like those employed in tourism and hospitality as well as those looking for entertainment. The creative city model in this area is used to attract businesses and tourists as well as new residents. This is contrasted by what Florida suggests is attractive to the creative class. Florida says “creative people are not moving to these places for traditional reasons like entertainment, malls, or tourist attractions. What they look for in communities are abundant high-quality experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and, above else, the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people” (9). In contrast to the Entertainment District, Liberty Village can provide such a community because of its “isolated campus feel” with an “atmosphere of flexibility and freedom” that is “distinct from the business district” (Catungal et al. 1103). This suggests that creative work for profit can validate the identities of the creative class but so can the provision of space for creative thought and mingling.

Following in this regard, inclusionary and exclusionary politics of space come into play because many artists and non-profit art organizations actually argue that “the space that was once easier to access for a diverse group of people, is now more corporate controlled; the creative class elites have better access to space than others do in Liberty Village” (Catungal et al. 1104). Rifts among artists exist because although they can be recognized as creative producers, not all creative production is done for profit or for corporate gain. Artists that work for larger companies have access to creative city space in order to work while displacing those artists that were there before them. One reason that artists in Liberty Village are being displaced is because of the property value increases resultant from LVBIA’s effort to upgrade the area’s profile (Catungal et al. 1102). Moves like this remove personal and small profit creators away and concentrate the area with wealthier creative options. This also drives the polarisation of neighbourhood economic productivity which can divide geographical space and therefore divide the people with different privileges away from each other. Instead of the creative city being a tool for improving the quality of city life for all people, this kind of creative city promotes divisions. An example of space that separates classes is suggested in Liberty Village where “private actors, especially property management firms promote alternative environments of socialisation and collaboration; parties that double as networking opportunities” (Catungal et al. 1104). Public space can be a place for the meeting of different class of artists to support one another but by privatising and securitizing the creative neighbourhood, there is little opportunity for real mixing.

Yet, the initial sense of security is necessary to attract and retain people in the neighbourhood so that they will grow comfortable there. A key factor that people look for in their environment is safety. For outsiders settling in to a newly developed area, good security is important. What widens the gulf between the two neighbourhoods of Parkdale and Liberty Village is the latter’s regular security patrol and constant maintenance. Issues that come to the forefront due to the contrast are disproportionate city management and poverty neglect. Since the city is a supporter of the liberal economy, it will provide spaces for businesses and people to raise their profits if they are profitable to the city’s capital too. This two-way relationship is important to the city’s reputation as a hub of talent and wealth. Actually where the success of the creative city model lies, is in the outward expansion of the privileged neighbourhood to reach out to their less funded neighbours. The shift in urban development to create a mixed-use neighbourhood is one way to harness the potential of the creative city. More residents in the creative city will mean that stakeholders aside from businesses and developers have a say in development plans. Landry recognizes this as “a shift from thinking about lifting production volumes and quantity to addressing how to add value; how to create innovations and how to increase urban quality” (xxii). Economic growth is necessary for improvement but it fails to create quality lives without the voice of different members of the community who have needs outside of making a profit. To acquire more people who can help the urban problem of disproportionate management, an initial concentration in the creative city is required with the hopes that they can expand outside of their elite core over time.

Besides the creative class, who has agency to decide where they want to concentrate thereby influencing urban development, there are other important players to consider as well. The city planners, urban developers, residents, pre-existing community members, business improvement associations, non-profit organizations, and artists that fall outside of the creative class are some important stakeholders in the development of creative cities and culturally vibrant communities in downtown Toronto. With the redevelopment of West Queen West Triangle, McDonough and Wekerle’s case study found that initially the policies of redevelopment for the area were unware of the potential impacts they would have on the majority of artists who lived and worked in the neighbourhood (38). The eventual malcontent brought their considerations into view with the formation of Active18. Active18 is a group of citizens, residents, and business-owners of Ward 18 who inform the city and the ward of development planning (Active18). This collective community effort rose due to the redevelopment proposals in West Queen West Triangle which lacked knowledge about the actual residents living there. The residents were artists working inside the buildings which were going to be torn down. The mediator that took initiative to find a creative solution to the malcontent was Artscape. Artscape is a non-profit organization that “makes space for creativity and transforms communities” (Artscape). Artscape managed to provide artists with space for living and working at reduced rents but they had to work around many of the initial policies for planning that neglected the city’s cultural plan. This shows that in order for the city to plan successful creative neighborhoods it has to consider the cultural work of the pre-existing community.

Business improvement associations are another important player in the urban redevelopment project. Their place in considering the needs of commercial property owners and tenants in the area provides a collective view of the way in which development can move forward to improve businesses. If there is a clearer framework for cultural and creative city projects that a BIA can work with, there will be a better chance that the urban redevelopment of creative cities will be more successful. Toronto’s implementation of the creative city model has other drivers like developing a unique culture for branding the city differently from other world cities. On the international scale, Toronto’s attraction can be a source of economic growth if visitors enjoy their time in the city. On the other hand, Darchen finds that “globalized culture can make a location more anonymous” so instead “culturally based urban regeneration should aim at rediscovering a sense of place and belonging by involving the pre-existing community” (191). So culture can be a tool to attract outsiders but it is also a part of the community that is resident in the city. The Entertainment District’s BIA, for example, changed the nightclub area by introducing residential plots in order to make a mixed-use neighbourhood and then collaborated with large corporate entities that have cultural significance, like the ROM, to brand the city to an international market (Darchen 195). As a tourist destination, the entertainment district is a space for investment in place-making on a global stage. One thing that is unclear is how local artists can take part in the regeneration of larger scale investments. In this case, the powerful and wealthier stakeholders seem to acquire the majority of space in the city.

Toronto’s image is a sellable quality for the city that can attract workers, students, creative professionals, and developers to the region so that the city of Toronto is known as a unique place for quality work and living. Toronto’s urban image construction through architecture and artwork is unfairly managed as not everyone can influence the city landscape. One example is that for their beautification, private businesses seek to improve their space and alter the urban streetscape on their own terms. This is especially true in the creative city where most business is privatized and secured. The public cannot easily (if at all) work with the private sector to collaborate on image construction here. An example of this is in Liberty Village where the LVBIA “replaced unofficial random art with carefully sanctioned and prescribed art” (Catungal et al. 1109). Removing graffiti from walls is one way to literally scratch out the presence of older artists. With Liberty Village’s “attempts to keep buildings and public spaces in constant repair and management” Catungal et al. sees this as a way “to prevent the perception of vulnerability or disarray” (1107). This idea ties into the need for secure space to attract a certain kind of people – indeed a certain class – to occupy the creative city. Other ways of marking security is through good street lighting, anti-crime architecture, and the presence of people during the night and day. Residents and workers besides the elite creative class should have a say in how safe a place needs to feel. An elite image can keep outsiders away from the neighbourhood and can become a problem to the successful creative city as outlined by Landry where urban problems are solved instead of exacerbated by their creative potential. An elite image can be a dividing factor so it is not helpful to Toronto’s economic and cultural diversity. Although the image of a creative city can be necessary to attract educated creative professionals and private businesses, in moving forward, there should be a branching framework for the creative city potential to spread and improve urban quality in neighbouring communities as well.

Considering three different downtown Toronto neighbourhoods that have undergone redevelopment in junction with the creative city model, it is evident that there are clear gaps in planning that need to be improved but these are gaining attention over time. The concept of the creative city by Charles Landry is an ideal that can be striven toward for constant improvement on urban redevelopment in Toronto. Landry sees that “legitimizing the use of imagination within the public, private and community spheres; the ideas bank of possibilities and potential solutions to any urban problem or opportunity will be broadened” (xxii). The interplay between stakeholders needs to be better organized so they have equal voices in planning. A clearer concept for cultural policy would help with urban development as expected by different members of a community. In order to listen to people instead of businesses, Florida suggests that there is “the need for some conceptual refocusing and broadening to account for the location decisions of people as opposed to those of firms as sources of regional and national economic growth” (8). A fairer balance of what people need, as well as what businesses require, can shape the cultural vibrancy and the creative city potential for Toronto’s downtown neighborhoods.

Works Cited

Active18, Accessed 22 Mar. 2018.

Artscape, Accessed 22 Mar. 2018.

Catungal, John et al. “Geographies of Displacement in the Creative City: The Case of Liberty Village, Toronto.” Urban Studies, vol. 46, no .5-6, 2009, pp. 1095-114. doi:10.1177/0042098009103856.

Darchen, Sébastien. “The Creative City and the Redevelopment of the Toronto Entertainment District: A BIA-Led Regeneration Process.” International Planning Studies, vol. 18, no .2, 2013, pp. 188-203. doi:10.1080/13563475.2013.774147.

Florida, Richard. “Cities and the Creative Class.” City & Community, vol. 2, no. 1, 2003, pp. 3-19. doi:10.1111/1540-6040.00034.

Landry, C. The Creative City. London: Routledge, 2009.

McDonough, Alexandra and Gerda R. Wekerle. “Integrating Cultural Planning and Urban Planning: The Challenges of Implementation.” Canadian Journal of Urban Research, vol. 20, no. 1, 2011, pp. 27-51, ProQuest,



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