cities and creativity

by Hugh

Mike announces that free community wifi group ilesansfil is proposing a project to the City of Montreal for a million dollars over five years to increase hotspot coverage. Kudos and good luck. Article in La Presse.

In a related idea, Jon Udell talks about the cities and the creative class:

…the creative class values place above employer. To a 25-year-old European marketing or software professional, the choice of Barcelona over some less desirable city is now more decisive than the choice between working for IBM or Microsoft.

You still need to make your city attractive to IBM and Microsoft, because these companies help create and sustain the quality-of-life conditions that attract the creative class. But companies don’t have a direct interest in those conditions, people do.

It was fascinating to see how these cities are now thinking explicitly about competing — in terms of their housing, transportation, safety, culture, and IT enablement — to attract the creative class. Success produces a compound benefit, because the creative class is an engine of prosperity. Not only does it spend money, it also germinates new businesses. And those tend to be just the kinds of businesses that appeal to the creative class, so it can become a virtuous cycle.

Is it elitist to focus on the needs of the creative class? I don’t think so. Every citizen cares about housing, transportation, safety, culture, and IT enablement. If cities do better in those areas in order to attract the creative class, everybody wins.

From my personal experience, ISF has been a prime driver of much of the creative interaction among the people I know (which is a small group, granted) … hanging out and working at Laika — with free wifi — helped germinate many of my ideas about the web … at least one of which (LibriVox) has been successful.

Patrick’s co-working project is nearing launch, so that’ll add some good spice to the creative mix.

Another related thing that I’ve been thinking about (without doing any analysis) is that the web and small start-ups are egalitarian employers, and hence could be important for integration of new communities in Montreal.

In the (mostly ill-making) Bouchard-Taylor Commission, one of the things that came up recently was the inability of trained professionals (doctors, teachers, engineers) from other countries to get work in their domains in Quebec – despite a shortage of doctors, teachers and engineers. That’s the nice thing about the web – I can say, talking from experience as a small (unfunded) web start-up, that I couldn’t care less about official qualifications, where you’re from (indeed, where you live) … all I want to know is: can you do the things that I’m hoping can be done (which you’ve learned just by hacking, and can demonstrate by showing me things you’ve done on the web), and do I think we’ll get along?

That’s important since one of the big problems for immigrant communities is finding good work. So finding ways to support small start-ups (whatever that means) *could* be one way to give more interesting avenues for employment for young, keen immigrants. Helping people in general become hackers is another way to give avenues to prosperity, without having the mainstream constraints that our traditional education systems impose.

Montreal is ideally attractive to the creative class — funky, cheapish, fun, mixed, vibrant etc — but there are all sorts of problems here. For pros and cons, see the discussion from a while back over at Heri’s MontrealTechWatch.

I wonder how City of Montreal’s planning & policies compare with other hubs of innovation?