“Expansive Creative Economy”, Part 1 an introduction

An Expansive Creative Economy (ECE) is a forward thinking creative cycle that rejuvenates neighborhoods and launches economies that grow.

It happens in many cities, a burst of creative energy that spawns a movement, invigorates neighborhoods, and propels the local into the national spotlight. Think of Seattle’s “Grunge” that both spawned a bevy of mainstream bands and put the coffee-cafe scene on the map. Would Starbucks be as successful without Grunge? I don’t think so.

The trick is to nurture an environment where these economies can blossom, the goal is to sustain them.

There are many ECEs at different stages all across the states as well as over the world. San Francisco has a matured ECE (The Castro) and a mid-life ECE (Mission District). NYC’s East Village is mid-life while Soho has matured. Mostly ECEs are founded by a small businesses (West London’s Rough Trade Records, NYCs CBGBs), a group of artist/creative individuals (Beat Poets in San Francisco, Musicians in Austin) and/or anchored by happenings (Charleston’s Spoleto Festival, New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival).

In general ECEs need two things to launch: Supportive Infrastructure and Inclusive Behavior.

Supportive Infrastructure:
– Cheap rent within mixed-use areas (apartments over shops, lofts that can be shared)
– Easy/Quick access to affordable food (small restaurants/cafes, corner markets)
– Flexible employment (full-time/part-time, causal/expressive dress, unorthodox hours)
– Close to transport hubs (near the freeway, bus stops, train stations)

Inclusive Behavior:
– Invite the current neighborhood to participate. (Rough Trade opened in a West Indian neighborhood, they created an Island/Reggae section in their store)
– Accept all who are interested (CBGBs was for Country/Blue-Grass not post-punk, but that’s what it became)
– Seek to be a magnet for national migration, invite people from all over to be part of the process

ECEs start small and build up over decades (Austin’s SXSW festival built-up over 20 years, Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory for 30). Cities looking to grow their economies should strongly consider fostering environments where ECEs can blossom. I’ve seen cases where cities seek short-term gain and build Arts Districts at a mature levels (fancy shops, expensive housing) instead of the seed level, allowing them grow naturally, fostering a stronger foundation. For a much lower cost cities can support ECEs (zone areas for live/work, tax incentives for small creative shops/biz, not-foir-profits).

Patience is key, but the rewards are greater. We need more ECEs!

Coming soon: Part 2, stages of neighborhood growth.