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


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

He was particularly frustrated by the distinction the EEC made between economic and cultural activity. Influenced by the rich entrepreneurial history of the towns around Bologna, and deeply inspired by the cultural ferment that dominated university towns in the early 1970s, Landry was coming to view economic prosperity and creative achievement as strongly linked. Although excited by what he thought a more integrated Europe could do in fostering open markets, Landry also believed that markets were social and cultural vehicles that offered people a means of creative expression, which he saw as the true engine of prosperity. He longed for work that would enable him to connect the dots between economic development and creativity, a pursuit the EEC then had no structure to support.

Deciding to follow his own path, he horrified friends and family by not accepting a new contract with the EEC when it was offered. As one of his classmates at Johns Hopkins, American journalist Elizabeth Bailey, observes, “It was the early ’70s, when there wasn’t much potential in being a free agent. But even then Charles was a wildcatter, an intellectual entrepreneur. I also think his passion to explore the role of creativity in cities and regions evolved because creative freedom was so important in his own life.”

Landry’s tenure in the EEC convinced him, he later recalled, that “the single biggest problem in the world is not finding great ideas but getting great ideas to move, to flow. New ideas need decentralized channels so that people who might implement them can find them and create the kind of systems needed to put them into practice. In the early ’70s, there were lots of brilliant ideas, but they had no way to capture the world’s attention or move from the margins into the mainstream. So everything felt kind of stuck.”

Trying to address this problem, Landry helped to found a distribution service for the many innovative small journals, studies, and manifestos that were being published in the U.K. and Europe at the time. He particularly sought out work that blurred boundaries between culture, economy, and governance. His goal was to disseminate the commodity he loved and understood best — new ideas — with maximum exposure and minimal filtering. His interest in distribution was fueled by the same kind of “open source” enthusiasm then spurring proponents of computers as community billboards in Berkeley and Boston. Landry stuck with his venture through the ’70s, and although it would ultimately prove a detour for him, it served his evolution by giving him hands-on experience in creating a market for new ideas. It also put him in touch with cultural innovators across Europe, in whose work he saw untapped economic potential. At the end of the decade, he decided he wanted to exercise the practical talents he had developed by helping cities and regions apply the kind of creative ideas he had been involved in distributing.

A Platform and a Haven

In 1978, Landry applied for a grant from a British foundation focused on strengthening regional and community development. With money in hand, he founded Comedia, a cultural planning consultancy that would provide him with a platform for writing, consulting, and setting up collaborative ventures over the next 30 years. At the same time, he moved to the Cotswolds area of west-central England. Magnificently set with mellow stone churches, tightly hedged fields, fantastical topiary, and roaming sheep, the Cotswolds region had historically been a center of industry and commerce, but it fell by the wayside during the Industrial Revolution. More recently, the region has undergone a resurgence, offering global citizens who can work where they please a pastoral experience of deeply rooted community life, along with close proximity to London and Bristol and easy access to Heathrow. By every criterion, it qualifies as a great place to live.

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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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