The Answer Is Cities


September 1, 2011 in PROJECT BLOG, R&D Process

“We get smarter by being around smart people. Cities make that happen.” – ‘Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier’ by Edward Glaeser.

Glaeser’s big question is, “How do we come up with the new, new thing?” The answer is that we do what we did in Newcastle at Northern Stage – people who have different skills and interests share some of what they know, and fingers crossed something new comes out of it. What Glaeser would add is that where-as we were convened, cities are a technology that makes this knowledge exchange and invention happen serendipitously, just by jamming a lot of people together in a small area. He uses the arts as an example of how this happens. Perspective in painting was invented in Florence, but it wasn’t invented by a person so much as being a product of the city itself. This is something that people in the arts can recognise quite readily, that a “scene” is useful. ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ is a good example – that was a product of the musicians, the producer, the record label and the designer, none of whom planned to work together on what they worked on, plus countless hours spent listening to and watching other music. Plus something intangible which is “f*ck it lets just get on with it”. The technology that made those connections and knowledge exchange possible was Manchester, its sewers and bus stops just as much as its music venues (without bus stops people can’t get to see bands, and without sewers they die of cholera on the way).This might be one way in which the arts can contribute to the viability of places in the north – by making the process of creating a “new, new thing” visible – the Industrial Revolution was the new, new thing once, in fact Manchester itself was the new, new thing – and by asking whether the city-regions in the north have what they need to work as technologies for invention

There is a podcast recording of Glaeser giving a talk in itunes if you search for “CNU 19 Glaeser” then find “Strong towns CNU 19…” The audio quality is bad but it’s a good quick introduction.
Image: ‘Tuned Suburb’, copyright Ron Herron, Archigram.