¿Florida in La Floresta?

Thinking about creative industries in Ecuador.

What is the role of cities in the 21st century? There are many answers, which sometime can bring about more and more questions. The name Richard Florida may ring a bell when talking about creativity and cities. The academic and well-known theorist on creative cities, published a piece in 2003 where he focuses mainly on the role of creativity in the economic growth of cities — what he calls the Creative Capital Theory. Drawing from a varied selection of academic research on this subject, he points out that “the key to understanding the new economic geography of creativity and its effects on economic outcomes lies in what I call the 3Ts of economic development: technology, talent, and tolerance” (p.8). So what happens when we take Florida’s Creative Capital Theory and apply it to Quito, a city where creativity — particularly in the historically artistic neighborhood of La Floresta — has spurred social change and transformation for the economy of the area?

For many years I have been a great admirer of the disruptive, innovative and trailblazing work of Mariana Andrade in this cultural field. In an interview I conducted with her in November, I had the opportunity to hear about her thoughts on the intersection of creativity and citizenship in Quito. With 35 years of experience in the field, Mariana argues that the neighborhood La Floresta offers a particular model of national development for Ecuador in the cultural sector. To understand what is happening in Ecuador nowadays, I propose to consider the following topics which relate to the conversation I had with Mariana: 1) Florida’s “creative class” concept compared to Mariana’s “creative citizenship” and 2) why creative people are drawn to creative cities. Finally, it is also relevant to talk about the extent to which the Creative Capital Theory serves as a framework to understand “cultural industries” in Ecuador.

“CREATIVE CLASS” VS. “CREATIVE CITIZENSHIP”

The Creative Capital Theory is based on the notion that creative people — notably the “creative class” or those who engage in the creation of “meaningful new forms” (p.6) — are one of the primary forces behind economic growth in creative cities. While the definition of “economic growth” is not defined extensively in the 2003 article, Florida does connect it to concepts such as “innovation”, “technology” and “diversity”. Throughout his argument, he equates these concepts with the idea of growth: the higher the diversity, technology and innovation of a certain city, the higher the development and its growth. Mariana’s larger view of the role of creative people in the growth of a country is similar to Florida’s in this regard. She conceives of creativity as a subset of culture and as an essential force behind the development of a nation, in this case, Ecuador. The importance of creativity in national development is evident in her view of the role of the state as a coordinator, protector and supporter of cultural activities: “Culture is a cross-cutting pillar of growth, and creativity is a subset of culture” (Andrade Interview, November 2016). Given its relationship to culture as a wider field, Mariana thinks of creativity as a type of materialization of culture or a reflection of it, brought about by a cultural worker, who she identifies as the “artist”.

However, she doesn’t see “development” and “growth” as merely economic. Her definition of culture and creativity combined is more interdisciplinary than Florida’s view of creativity alone, and thus, has different implications for what type of “growth” it can generate. For her, culture encompasses all “social activities, from artistic creation to anthropological concepts like national memory.” This “growth” is, following her explanation, better understood as a deep social transformation that takes place through the continuous involvement of “creative citizens”, as opposed to a “creative class”. “Creative citizenship” is a process by which everyone in the city — civil society and people who work across all sectors — takes full responsibility for their “cultural rights and obligations” and engages in a cultural dialogue and in cultural activities (not necessarily just cultural production).

This concept also contradicts Florida’s limited and, to a certain extent, exclusive definition of creative people as only those who “create meaningful new forms that can be readily transferable and broadly used such as designing a product that can be widely made (p.6). This definition assumes that creative people are only those who posses the specific knowledge and skills to produce and design something that can be sold or distributed in a large scale. Mariana’s definition of “creative citizenship” in turn grants creative power to every member of society, regardless of expertise or access to a skill-based education — or the time to teach themselves — which a very significant number of people from more marginal social groups in Ecuador lack and have to surrender in order to perform low-pay jobs to sustain families in the face of limited state protection (e.g. an inefficient and insufficient social security system).

CREATIVE PEOPLE & CITIES: WHAT MOTIVATES CREATIVE PEOPLE?

Diversity, Technology & Creative Identity

The Creative Capital Theory includes some compelling arguments about what draws creative people to particular cities — in this case, creative cities — which could be applied to the case of Quito. Florida argues that what creative people look for is to be part of a community with “abundant high-quality experiences, an openness to diversity of all kinds, and, above all else, the opportunity to validate their identities as creative people” (p.9). He also contests that “creative people prefer places that are innovative, diverse and tolerant” (p. 6). Drawing from personal conversations with friends of mine — many of whom have moved to the Floresta years ago or who are planning to move there in the future — my sense is that those who either self-identify as “creative” — or the sometimes equivalent in Ecuador: bohemian — or who work in the creative sector, are more attracted to places like La Floresta than to other neighborhoods. Moreover, they “validate their identity as creative people” by attending events that take place in one of the many venues that offer cultural programming on a regular basis; ranging from local bars to the independent cinema to cultural centers where both and international and local audience come together. As Mariana points out, “La Floresta has always been a hub for artists, since the very early days”. In this sense, the history and level of diversity of the neighbourhood has important implications for the identity formation of the individuals who either live there or whose social lives happen are centred around La Floresta.

While creative people in Quito are indeed drawn to a diverse environment that validates their identity, they do not all come from a privileged background like the “highly educated” individuals Florida refers to in his definition of the “creative class”. Another appealing factor of La Floresta is the different levels of socio-economic background among its residents; students, professionals, and also tourists who live in this centric neighbourhood, strategically located in the northern area of the city, near universities and small and big businesses. In addition, Florida’s claim that the 3 Ts: “technology, tolerance and talent” must all be present in order for a city to attract creative people is not necessarily applicable to the case of Quito. Having had experience in the local government and public policy, Mariana asserts that while there may be an image of innovative uses of technology during certain city celebrations, such as the past “Festival of Lights and Colors” that took place as part of the Habitat III Conference, there is still a “lot of work to do”. The main idea of the festival was to project lights and moving images on the most iconic buildings around the city. While the audience seemed to really enjoy the spectacle, she believes events such as this “don’t create any type of transformation” or change the ways the audience relates to each other and to technology. Citizens are not actively engaged in this type of cultural event: “people are only clapping and what type of impact does that leave on their memory?” (Andrade, Interview November 2017). An active engagement with technology in cultural events would be, in Mariana’s view, an example of creative citizenship.

Community Ties

For Florida, an important factor that attracts creative people to creative cities is the type of community they offer and to what extent the ties within the community are either loose or strong: “where strong ties where once important, weak ties are now more effective” (Florida, 4). Furthermore, he creates a correlation between high economic outcomes and weaker community ties by claiming that: “traditional notions of what it means to be a close, cohesive community and society tend to inhibit economic growth and innovation” (p.5). To a certain point, this claim can shed some light on another reason why creative people chose to live in La Floresta. The neighbourhood is perceived by many young people as open to different types of individuals, given the diversity in socio-economic and cultural backgrounds as well as age. Just by walking around one the main streets in La Floresta, one is able to see difference materialized in the looks of its residents, the many local initiatives — from small shops that sell handmade clothes to experimental gastronomic ventures. This level of difference and diversity provides a sense of openness to people who want to bring new initiatives to the neighbourhood or to move there to join the community. This is reinforced by the fact that many students from universities and educational institutions or centers in the neighbourhood — for example the well-known “INCINE”, one of the largest film universities in Ecuador — engage in the life of the neighbourhood (participate in artistic events, work at the local cafés, collaborate among each other, and even get together and launch new ideas).

On the other hand, residents of La Floresta seem to prefer more traditional “social structures” (Florida, 5) and a more cohesive arrangement than the one Florida claims attracts creative people. Throughout the years, La Floresta has maintained a “more traditional small-neighbourhood feeling” (Andrade, Interview November 2017). Despite the large business centers located close to the neighbourhood — with their high buildings and increasing traffic — La Floresta’s residents, with the help of the municipal administration, have managed to implement laws that set limits to urban design decisions, such as the height of buildings (it is not allowed for companies to come and build offices higher than the average height of the houses already in the area) and the extent to which commercialism influences the neighbourhood. However, as Mariana points out, “this doesn’t mean there aren’t any social tensions between the old-time residents and the newcomers (mostly artists)” or issues with trying to protect that “small neighbourhood” feeling from a more corporate and commercial influence that “threatens La Floresta every day.”

SO…CAN FLORIDA’S IDEAS BE APPLIED TO LA FLORESTA?

The Creative Capital Theory developed by Richard Florida is helpful to understand the importance of creativity in national development as well as the motivations that drive creative people to particular cities or neighborhoods. However, while the points Florida makes in these particular topics can be comparable to what happens in La Floresta and in Quito at large, there are limitations to his approach for a country like Ecuador. As the case of La Floresta shows, a creative environment does not only thrive based on the existence of the 3Ts or of loose community ties, but can still be diverse, innovative, and open to new ideas and to new people within a more cohesive social structure. La Floresta residents actually seem to prefer these stronger ties and a model of community where people know each other, collaborate among themselves and help the local businesses flourish by actively engaging with them. Besides the factors that Florida lists as motivations for choosing certain cities over others, there is also the historical factor that contributes to young people wanting to move to a neighborhood like La Floresta, which has had a long history of artistic involvement.

In regards to technology, not all cities can be judged by the same standards as Florida’s when it comes to the level of technological advances that they exhibit (i.e. Quito is not at the same level as a city like San Francisco or any other global city on the indexes used by Florida to present his argument). With a history of colonialism, Quito is a city where modernity and tradition mix on various levels on a daily basis, and one of those is certainly in the creative field — as Mariana notes: it’s “still hard to talk about an the cultural industries in Ecuador; the field is still lacking definitions, laws and procedures.” The role of the state is certainly relevant in the process of facilitating an environment of dialogue in which these definitions can be agreed upon with the residents of each neighborhood of this “city of cities” like Mariana classifies Quito, who all have different collective interests and a potential for “transformative creative citizenship” (Andrade Interview, November 2017). In Mariana’s opinion, “cities need the state to help provide common definitions and to coordinate the different areas involved in the cultural sector”. Hence, the “economic and social shifts”(16–17) of contemporary times that Florida describes in his theory, may not impact all nations — and even neighborhoods — equally. This case can suggest a need for further research in countries similar to Ecuador to expand the reach and applicability of the Creative Capital Theory.

REFERENCES

Andrade, Mariana. “Interview with Mariana Andrade.” Online interview. Nov. 2016

“Mariana Andrade: “Una Secretaría De Cultura Se Mide Por Su Nivel De Influencia” | La República EC.” La RepúblicaEC. N.p., 09 July 2016. Web. Dec. 2016.

“Hablemos De Festivales Y Festivales.” GKillCity. N.p., 08 Aug. 2016. Web. Dec. 2016.

“La Floresta Busca Convertirse En El Barrio Cultural De Quito.” El Comercio. N.p., n.d. Web. Dec. 2016.

El Telegrafo. “La Floresta, Un Barrio Que Guarda Su Aire Residencial.” El Telégrafo. N.p., 12 Apr. 2014. Web. Dec. 2016.

Florida, Richard. “Cities and the creative class.” City & Community 2.1 (2003): 3–19.

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