USC Price School of Public Policy

Experts explore how creative economy is revitalizing cities at NY Price event

November 2, 2016

Panelists Vishaan Chakrabarti, left, and Andrew H. Kimball with moderator John Sonego (Photo by Andrew Brown, Documentation Photography Services) More photos available on Flickr »

By Eliza Gallo

The USC Price School of Public Policy brought together creative economy insiders Andrew H. Kimball, CEO of Industry City, and Vishaan Chakrabarti, founder of Practice for Architecture & Urbanism, for an expert panel discussion titled, “Does Creativity Fuel Economic Growth?” The event, held on Oct. 17 at the Harvard Club of New York City, was the third installment of the USC Price Conversations in New York series.

The panelists painted a picture of vitality and change, in which New York is being transformed by outer-borough workplaces, technology-art collaborations, and the desire of millennial employees to live sustainably and walk or bike to work.

Millennial impact

Moderator John Sonego, associate dean of external affairs at USC Price, began with the observation that many metropolitan areas are pushing to become creative cities. “It’s now a major development strategy for a lot of cities that are in trouble,” he said.

“I believe the entire economy is a creative economy,” said Chakrabarti, who is also an associate professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

Chakrabarti explained that millennial workers seek creativity regardless of the field they enter, and prefer sustainable lifestyles in which their homes and workplaces are close together. “Young people in most professions want to recalibrate how we do work, which is great,” he said. “It’s one of the gifts this generation has given us.”

“Young people want to be in buildings with great bones and that speak to the history of making,” said Kimball, pointing to revitalized hubs of art, light manufacturing and technology cropping up in New York’s outer boroughs. He said that millennials’ desire to buy local and see things being made is an important force driving the creative economy.

Building community

The panel also addressed the problem of high rents, and how to help artists thrive amid financial pressures.

“The reason our core is so unaffordable is there’s too much activity conglomerated in one area,” Chakrabarti explained.

Instead of saying we should build affordable housing near core business districts, Chakrabarti advocated the inverse strategy: investing in commercial development in communities where people already live, in outer areas of a city. “We used to segregate all these activities — you didn’t want the house next to the glue factory,” he said, adding that technological changes in the way we work have made it possible to blend commercial and residential.

“If the city loses its creative arts, it isn’t going to be a place where young people want to come,” Kimball cautioned. “Artists or musicians who otherwise might have come to New York in the ’70s and ’80s would go to Philadelphia or Detroit.”

Kimball added that developers must factor this into their plans. “If we don’t have the artists on the same hall as the tech company or the manufacturing, it loses its attractiveness.”

In addition, the speakers stressed that developers and government must integrate employment programs and education into their plans, so that local residents come to work in the new creative economy hubs, instead of being displaced by them.

“Make it the pathway to the middle class that manufacturing was from 1850 to 1950, and accessible to everyone,” Kimball concluded. “We’re not going to be successful unless we’re fully integrated with the surrounding community.”