Charles Landry has just finished his appointment as a “thinker in residence”, in Perth. He has delivered his final report, Perth: Town or City?, which provides a series of ideas and recommendations for policy makers in determining the future planning and economic development of the city. Landry, an internationally recognised commentator on such issues, has completed a similar exercise in other Australian and European cities.
An underlying theme of the report is the importance of “creativity” as an ingredient in policy making. Writers such as Landry, Richard Florida and Charles Leadbeater, have visited Australia in recent years arguing that creativity is a source of competitive advantage for those cities that are somehow able to promote it through government policies. Perth, like other cities, is looking for a competitive advantage in the global economy.
Landry argues that his approach has taken creativity to a new level. He argues his work is a progression on the culture led and creative industries approach to one where creativity needs to become embedded in the thinking of the city.
Being a creative city involves: “Taking measured risks, wide-spread leadership, a sense of going somewhere, being determined but not deterministic, having the strength to go beyond the political cycle and crucially being strategically principled and tactically flexible”.
According to this line of thinking creativity has become the currency of the age, even more important than resources or finance.
My concern is that the approach taken in the Perth: Town or City? report has missed an opportunity to provide substantial directions for Perth, and in turn other Australian cities, as they seek new initiatives for development. More could have been done to provide guidance and/or inspiration to implement much needed improvements in policy making in the Australian context.
In examining Perth: Town or City? to find substantial ideas and suggestions, there seems to be little evidence of the central element being promoted - “creativity”.
The report argues that Perth needs to decide if it is a town or a city because “city” thinking, as opposed to “town” thinking, finds more creative solutions to problems and issues. In this regard “Perth needs city attitudes if it is to fulfill its potential”.
According to the report the fundamental issue for Perth, like other Australian cities, is that it is over governed, and as a result is clogged by red tape and regulations that stifle creativity and the emergence of city thinking.
One solution offered is the ideal of amalgamating the local councils throughout the city to create a mega-council just like Brisbane: this, according to the report, would establish regulatory consistency and reduce opportunities for bureaucratic inertia.
This argument has a long history in Perth: local government amalgamation has been debated in most Australian cities since the turn of the 20th century. In Perth’s case nothing really prevents amalgamation but it would need to be the result of a voluntary agreement between local governments that most have chosen to avoid for a range of reasons. There’s been no push from residents, local councillors or the state government for this to occur.
Leaving aside the debate on the pros and cons of large urban local governments, the recommendation seems to miss the point on creativity. The prevailing view in the literature is that creativity tends to emerge from difference rather than sameness. Large local governments mean large bureaucracies that seek to establish consistency and economies of scale.
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