Executive Summary: an emerging creative city
Charles Landry: an international authority on the use of imagination and creativity in urban change.
This report is the result of Ghent’s participation in The Creative Cities Index which measures the pulse of creativity – in its broadest sense – in participating cities around the world. The assessment is made across 10 domains using a mix of qualitative and quantitative research – including 420 questionnaires and 80 face to face interviews.
The evaluations are made both by those within the cities concerned and also by the consultants undertaking the study. The resulting report is intended as a living document to be refined by those working with it.
How Ghent scored
Ghent’s overall score was 64.41% (Very Good), the highest of all cities so far analysed including Bilbao, Freiburg, Canberra, Oulu and Perth. In general, all scores across the domains were high, no domain overall scoring less than 56%. The highest scores were for Distinctiveness, Diversity, Vitality 73.73% and Liveability & Well-being 70.92%. The lowest were Entrepreneurship, Exploration & Innovation 56.25% and Openness, Tolerance & Accessibility 56.89%.
The key findings are that for the large majority of people Ghent is a great city. It provides the quality of life, sense of well-being and possibilities that most cities crave for. A set of exceptional circumstances make Ghent’s position special. It punches above its weight and operates rather like a capital city, with typical capital city institutions. Ghent can be called a pocket sized metropolis, as it still has many of the attractive features of a smaller city, but a big city feel. However, as a pioneer Ghent faces a set of challenges including the issue of first mover advantage and disadvantage.
Within each of the domains there were many findings, and here just the key ones are picked out:
- Political & public framework: Ghent City is seeking to establish a new organizational ethos and public framework that is open to non-standard solutions, encouraging self-regulation, willing to re-assess procedures and to work horizontally. This requires a more collaborative culture within the city administration as well as between sectors. This is not an easy task and there remains some resistance.
- Distinctiveness, diversity, vitality and expression: there are many distinctive themes present in Ghent but they may as yet be underexploited (the arts, the green agenda, music, vegetarianism, etc).
- Openness, tolerance, participation and accessibility: Ghent has a strong identity and is an open fair minded city – but it is open rather than cosmopolitan.
- Entrepreneurship, exploration and innovation: Its level of entrepreneurship leaves some room for improvement, despite being at the centre of Belgium’s digital industries. The three key institutions of City, University and Port need to come together more to drive this area forwards.
- Strategic leadership, agility and vision: People do feel that Ghent has a clear vision for the future and an awareness of emerging issues, and that there is strong leadership across a number of fields.
- Talent and learning: the University and the high school system increase the talent flow and replenish Ghent’s lifeblood but the University may need to be more outward looking.
- Communication, connectivity and networking: Ghent could communicate in a richer way and strengthen its story – but it should go for quiet targeted viral communication rather than loud mass messaging in order to assure quality rather than quantity
- The place and place making: Ghent is very attractive but must be careful to maintain its qualities as it grows. It has ambitions are greater than its scale and must be careful to maintain its intimacy and character especially as major projects like St. Pieters come on stream.
- Liveability and well-being: this is exceptionally strong but house prices are high and aspects of inward migration are a risk.
- Professionalism and effectiveness: While there is a strong sense of professionalism, there is often a gap between talk and the reality, policies that are not delivered upon and petty rules that impede action.
The principal recommendations of the report are for Ghent:
- to become a leader in creating the 4th clean, lean, green industrial revolution
- to communicate its creative intent and ambitions more strongly and show that it is ‘walking the talk’
- to take steps to ensure that Ghent is associated and strongly identified with certain qualities and activities
- to connect with key global thought leaders and create an annual exclusive summit called perhaps: The Ghent Conversation.
- to develop an observatory function so that it is in touch with the best knowledge in the world within Ghent Council, to strengthen cross-cutting initiatives and encourage greater links between departments, such as urban planning and the cultural sector
- to build a greater culture of trust within the city administration and overcome petty rules through an rules audit
- to promote civic thinking in order to foster commitment to and pride for the city
- to encourage the arts should to connect more broadly with other across disciplines, such as with health and well-being, science or social matters.
- to foster an entrepreneurial attitude within the creative economy and strengthen this sector, for example in fashion and design – physical space should be provided for this sector which in turn will be a means to develop new creative hubs outside of the city core
- to fully explore the potential of design in its widest sense
- to reinforce the social enterprise culture which applies business approaches to meeting social and public interest needs
- to build on the unsung strengths of the city, such as its green credentials, its emerging ICT companies and research breakthroughs
- to consider developing niche events such as unusual festivals for pioneering ideas or science implemented in unusual ways
- to increase attractive hubs outside of the city core, such as Wondelgemstraat, Ledeberg Leeft and Oude Dokken.
- to improve the physical attractiveness and facilities of the tech park environment
- to develop incentives so the city administration can act as a catalyst for green development
- to take steps to show that Ghent is a place for business and entrepreneurs by improving signposting and joining up the available initiatives and incentives