Cultivating the collaborative city

Creative Places + Spaces
Creative Places + Spaces

Building on a legacy is never easy. Building on the legacy of legendary urban activist and writer Jane Jacobs is particularly daunting.

When the Creative Places + Spaces conferences debuted in October 2003, Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida and 50 other speakers led a captivated delegation from across Canada, the U.S. and U.K. in an exchange about the growing importance of creativity to cities and the new economy. It was a watershed event in the advancement of the creative cities movement in Canada, which expanded in 2005 with the second offering in the conference series.

The dialogue continued in Toronto last week at Creative Places + Spaces 2009 with study tours, dynamic keynotes, provocative panels, video spotlights and breakout sessions for a national and international audience gathered over two days at the Carlu and MaRS.

Programmed by Artscape in partnership with MaRS, Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business and the City of Toronto, the conference offered up pan-Canadian examples of collaboration – in science and medicine, art and culture, education and urban development – and set those against the perspective of global thinkers from the worlds of art, the academy, education and beyond. The result was a rich mix of ideas designed to inspire and activate the keys to the collaborative city.

Atop the list of persuasive (and thoroughly charming) speakers was Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources. He works with governments in Europe, Asia and the U.S., with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations.

With bone-dry wit and penetrating wisdom Sir Ken outlined and coloured in his core idea: creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value and, although public education may have squeezed it out of us, creativity is a process of “applied imagination” that can be understood and, most importantly, can be taught to everyone regardless of age and perceived ability.

Urban studies consultant and professor Richard Florida spoke passionately about the need to transform our burgeoning service sector into a locus of active creativity, just as the shop floor became a source of innovation for leading manufacturers like Toyota.

U.K. artist and climate change activist David Buckland offered impressive evidence of the power of art and performance to unlock the passion for making change through his Cape Farewell tours of the Arctic. Lyn Heward, Executive Producer of Cirque du Soleil lifted the veil on the widespread success of Montreal’s hottest cultural export. And Charles Landry unpacked his ideas on “creative bureaucracy”, the reinvention of complex systems to re-energize effectiveness and harness greater human potential.

Among the panels, MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht moderated an accessible discussion titled Open Science, with Structural Genomics Consortium CEO Dr. Aled Edwards and Dr. Pekka Sinervo of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, teasing out the practice of and broader lessons from the vanguard of collaborative science.

At the heart of conference emerged some essentials underlying successful collaborations, among them:

  • Trust, which must be earned in order to be valued, is the ultimate foundation.
  • Time and patience are key; don’t rush to judgment or try too quickly to quantify the success of a given collaboration.
  • Insight is often intuitive and even esthetic in nature; find ways to value the intuitive.
  • Flexibility is paramount; constantly challenge what you take for granted and rethink the question you’re collaborating on if your project is floundering.

Is there one handy toolkit out there to ensure your collaborations are fruitful? Would that it were so simple. But there is a wealth of material to tap into from CP+S. Check it all out at in the days and weeks ahead at

And in the words of Abraham Lincoln, as delivered to Congress in 1862 and as quoted by Sir Ken: “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.

“We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”