Creative Clusters

Tom Stearns is coming to Vernon, BC. He’s one of my heroes. If you don’t know him, you’re about to hear who he is. He’s the owner of High Mowing Organic Seeds and one of the residents of Hardwick, Vermont who helped to save their town by focusing on the local food system. Or as they like to put it, “The town that food saved”.

The granite companies had shut down there and the community of 3,000 hit hard times. But a handful of agricultural entrepreneurs banded together creating close to 100 jobs in the process. Tofu and cheese makers, working together with seed growers, sharing equipment and processing space and even capital. Helping each other out, strengthening their own businesses, the local economy and the food system all at once. It’s an inspiring story, which you can read in the New York Times.

Another inspiring story about a city that became a much healthier community by making a dramatic shift, was in Seoul, South Korea. There a brave mayor decided to rip up a freeway that ran through the capital to let a river flow through its heart again. In the article by John Vidal in the Guardian one of the citizens reflects on the effect the redevelopment had.

“Our life has been changed,” says Inchon Yu, an actor and cultural adviser to the former mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung Bak. “People feel the water and the wind. Life becomes slower. Many people are changed. Economic life has changed, too. The price of land nearby has risen. But it reminds people of their own hearts. It gives a new heart  to the city – 30,000 people use it every weekend.”

When the pulp mill near Nanaimo shut down, local millworkers decided to never say die. Along with forest companies and private businesses, they restarted the mill and haven’t looked back.

Next week, a group of us will be looking at a number of neighbourhoods including the much anticipated Olympic Village during a three day course on sustainable community development that I co-facilitate for Simon Fraser University. We will explore the idea of a complete community and the kind of creative, holistic and comprehensive thinking that is required to balance environmental, economic and social well-being in their design and function.

Later in the month, I lead another set of tours, this time for the Gaining Ground Conference. The theme: Resilient Cities: Urban Strategies for Transition Times.  Cities around the world are declaring themselves “Transition Towns” and are following a set of guiding principles, that are designed to buffer the effects of climate change and peak oil – “ so that instead of falling off a cliff, the downhill slide is a little less dramatic. This too is a model for a complete community.

As I was rereading the Guardian article on Seoul, I noticed an announcement for another conference that was held back in November 2006. It was called Creative Clusters. One of the city councillors from Seoul spoke there about his city’s redevelopment. I checked out their web site and read this:

Creative Clusters believes that creativity is the key factor driving development. Across the world, enterprises based on individual creativity are booming. Furthermore, knowledge and culture-based activities now play a central role in the activities of all businesses. This is the era of the creative economy.

These changes are having a dramatic impact on global culture and on the economy. Our goal is to help people engaged in the development of the creative economy to communicate and share resources with one another.

That sounds like the perfect definition of a complete community to me.

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