We must always bear in mind that cities are wealth-creating engines of human development and invention. While many cities have lost their industrial, manufacturing base, cities are now centres of the new financial services, of scientific research and development, of the new cultural industries associated with global broadcasting and publishing, the burgeoning music and fashion industries. In cities the key interplay’s between economic innovation, technological innovation and cultural innovation often go hand in hand. The ‘de-materialisation’ of the economy, through electronic markets and call centres, through the Internet and other on-line services, and through the invisible trade in copyright, patents, contracts and licences produce (rather than the production of the material goods themselves) is only one part of the modern economic story. Finding the right vocabulary to describe what is happening in cities is important. Many of the most astute writers on planning and urban geography have talked about how all the great steps forward in conceptual understandings of cities, regions and urban relationships have been based around developing a new vocabulary.
Static descriptions of space, for example – empty, crowded, attractive, blighted, residential, light industrial – need to be replaced by more active notions of city geographies and economies, with currents, flows, rhythms, exchanges, transactions and forms of connectedness. Most people experience cities in movement rather than from a fixed, stationary perspective: therefore access, flow and ease of mobility are as important as aesthetic design, or land-use planning and zoning. These changes in vocabulary, from the formalistic (and producer-oriented) to the reflexive (and consumer-oriented) also relate to organisational capacity and flair. The intelligent or creative organisation is more likely to succeed in the modern urban setting than the bureaucratic or ‘command and control’ organisation. Hence the notion of the ‘creative city’, which seeks to engage through an imaginative awareness of new environments and new conditions, anticipating change, rather than reluctantly responding to it.
City leadership and management is entering a phase which recognises the need for an integrated approach that brings together a range of public and private services from policing to health. This is about building coalitions and the power of ideas. Town planning, for example, can no longer be based on a set of rules and controls but now depends upon processes of debate and deliberation. As central government acknowledges its own limitations in the face of global economic change, the argument of The Richness of Cities is that the fortunes of cities can indeed be enhanced or worsened by the quality of city management.