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Getting Creative About Urban Development

No one attending the "Creative Voices Summit" --- held by Cleveland State University and ideastream® --- seemed to be able to define what a "creative city" was, exactly, but several participants agreed that creative thinking and risk-taking aren't encouraged in many cities. Chicago-based urban planning expert Carol Coletta, suggested that city leaders are sometimes narrow-minded in their ideas about economic development --- often choosing to imitate the success of others, rather than thinking locally.

CAROL COLETTA: Very few cities seem to have the confidence to capitalize on their distinctiveness. We've been taught that what we need to do is to go to other cities, study their best practices, and then bring them home and apply them in our own city. Whereas, I think some of those trips teach the wrong thing.

For Cleveland State president Ronald Berkman, a big block to creative thinking is the lack of collaboration between the various institutions that make up a city.

RONALD BERKMAN: And universities have been poor at this; they've been insular institutions who think that as long as they keep doing what they've always done for 200 years and people come with a diploma, then they've discharged their responsibilities...

But, failing to give those graduates an incentive to stay. Arts advocate Thomas Schorgl argued that there also needs to be more partnering between the non-profit and the for-profit worlds. A survey of those in attendance revealed that most everyone at the Summit was from a non-profit organization --- there were only a couple representatives from the business community.

Akron mayor Don Plusquellic was praised by several at the Summit for the steps his city has made in redeveloping its downtown area with a popular ball park and adjacent night spots. Plusquellic demurred that any city could do what Akron had done --- it was the result of a series of small steps that removed red tape and other roadblocks to creating amenities that brought people back to the city.

DON PLUSQUELLIC: We didn't do it overnight. We didn't have one session and left there with a 12-point-plan and got it done and we were finished. We took one step at a time. You need to believe in yourself and just go do it. Stop talking about it and do it.

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.