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 / Autumn 2010 / Issue 60(originally published by Booz & Company)


Charles Landry Knows What Makes Cities Great: Distinction, Variety, and Flow

From Amsterdam to Adelaide, this unorthodox thinker has divined the connections between economic prosperity and creative achievement, and their implications for the future of the city.

What sustains great organizations over time? Great talent. And what do talented people want? Most want influence, money, personal fulfillment, and the chance to make a difference. But more and more, talented people also want a great place to live.

The answer seems obvious, but the phenomenon is fairly recent. In the past, the attractions of working for the right company often trumped the desire to live in a great place. No longer: A landmark study by the Chicago-based CEOs for Cities released in 2008 found that 64 percent of highly mobile global knowledge workers said they were more likely to choose a job because of where an organization was located than because of the organization itself.

The reason is not surprising. Talented knowledge workers — people who have choices — know that companies can no longer guarantee their own survival, much less offer their employees a safe harbor in an unpredictable economic environment. To secure a prosperous future, individuals need to put themselves in settings that enhance their ability to build both the relationships and the skills they will need to support themselves over the course of a lifetime. Less dependent on companies than they were in the past, knowledge workers have increasingly come to recognize that putting place first works to their advantage.

Business leaders have been slow to recognize the key role of place in attracting talent and stirring its innovative potential. As a result, many companies continue to over-focus on building internal capacity rather than seeking to strengthen the regions to which they need to attract skilled people. Given the shift in what top people are looking for, leaders who follow the conventional strategy may end up shortchanging themselves in the talent sweepstakes and also undermining the long-term economic viability of their resource base.

But what exactly constitutes a great place in today’s environment? What precisely is it that 64 percent of knowledge workers seek? Charles Landry, an independent consultant, writer, and thinker based outside Oxford, England, has spent his life considering the complex blend of elements that most effectively draw talented people to specific cities and regions. Landry also studies the myriad ways in which place can provide the emotional and sensory stimulation required to stir creative thought and translate it into action.

As founder of the consultancy Comedia, and as an author and peripatetic speaker, Landry works with regional authorities and private-sector clients around the globe to identify and build the systems of support that knowledge-based global capitalism both demands and rewards. He sees his mission as nothing less than to help develop the physical and civic infrastructures that can powerfully support innovative practice.

Landry’s encyclopedic books, such as The Art of City-Making (Earthscan Publications, 2006), The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators (2nd ed., Earthscan Publications, 2008), and The Intercultural City: Planning for Diversity Advantage (with Phil Wood; Earthscan Publications, 2008), offer powerful insights about the role place can play in attracting, retaining, developing, and inspiring world-class people in today’s fast-changing global business environment. The highly original and often spellbinding lectures that Landry delivers in venues ranging from Bali to Abu Dhabi to Bilbao provide a crash course for business and civic leaders seeking to create a regional advantage. He shows them how to align an understanding of what spurs creative effort with relentlessly practical insights about what talented people consider when choosing where to live — the down and dirty basics of transport, livability, and connection to the global grid.

Landry’s own unique career trajectory exemplifies the practices he advocates. Starting in his 20s, he pioneered intellectual entrepreneurship, making a living by moving unexpected and highly original contributions from the margins into the mainstream. Some of the practices for which he is a passionate advocate are innovation rooted in a strong European intellectual tradition, wealth creation balanced with social cohesion, and local distinction reconciled with a global context. By pursuing his self-invented path and ignoring the conventional boundaries that separate culture and economics, Landry has developed a fresh and powerful understanding of what spurs talent to be creative.

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  1. DeAnne Aguirre, Laird Post, and Sylvia Ann Hewlett, “The Talent Innovation Imperative,” s+b, Autumn 2009: Why companies that compete on the global stage must, in light of today’s changing workforce, rethink the way they manage people.
  2. Richard L. Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work, Leisure, Community and Everyday Life (Basic Books, 2002): How the creative ethos is increasingly dominating society, and how it is changing everything from our values and tastes to our choices of where to live.
  3. Charles Landry, The Art of City-Making (Earthscan Publications, 2006): An analysis, aided by international case studies, of how to reassess urban potential so that cities can strengthen their identities and adapt to the changing global terms of trade and mass migration.
  4. Charles Landry, The Creative City: A Toolkit for Urban Innovators (2nd ed., Earthscan Publications, 2008): Revised version of this influential text, which shows how to think, plan, and act creatively in addressing urban issues, with additional examples of innovation and regeneration from around the world.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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