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Published: August 24, 2010
 / Autumn 2010 / Issue 60

 
 

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

Variety means creating a way for the small and large to exist together, a well-known company next to a quirky enterprise, a café alongside an art store adjoining a market. Variety exists when an extraordinary, remarkable destination is webbed within an ordinary, expected urban environment. Zoning codes kill variety, Landry reminds his listeners, as does the constant turnover that results from a focus on maximizing rents; the demise of a beloved institution will undermine every business on the street.

Flow, the key concept of the hub, is also essential to the street, being manifested in a particular and idiosyncratic way. Flow results from giving people the ability to control their pace and to stop at will to consider what might be available. “This is what flow does not look like!” Landry cries, showing a flurry of pictures taken around the corner on Oxford Street, where a cavalcade of signage supplemented by concrete barriers attempts to direct pedestrians along a specific route. “People resist directions that attempt to control their movements,” he points out. “And the smarter they are, the more they resent it. Urban engineers who come up with signage like this are just trying to keep things moving. They work from a traffic metaphor — the goal is to move people along and out.”

Landry points out that some cities dominated by old-line industries, such as Glasgow, Perth, and Boise, have reinvented themselves in a dramatic fashion by focusing on cultural strengths rooted in their own historical uniqueness and by building on the distinctiveness of their streets. Other regions can make this leap if they stop focusing on generic livability indexes based on quantitative measures, like the number of hospital beds per resident or the frequency of trash pickup. He explains that great talent magnet cities of the world — London, New York, and Shanghai, for example — routinely come up short by these livability measures. But they claim status as vital hubs because people flock to their streets.

“Distinction, variety, and flow — these are the physical manifestations of best talent practice,” Landry declares, his voice dropping to a hush. “Any company or region serious about talent must create infrastructures that reflect these qualities. This is what’s required to support the evolution of knowledge-based global capitalism. You can’t control the system, you can only open it up. The street provides the logical starting point.”

Landry’s consulting work is in great demand today, as cities and regions compete for talent and dollars by committing ever-greater resources to cultural and physical renewal. It’s significant that Landry’s first job out of school in 1978 was to think about what Europe might look like 30 years down the road, because today his ideas are helping to shape Europe’s future. Cities such as Copenhagen, Madrid, Amsterdam, and Barcelona — global talent draws — have brought him in to share his gospel of distinction, variety, and flow, and to find ways to implement these concepts at the level of the street. Smaller hubs such as Mantua and Savannah are applying his lessons about the cultural rewards of entrepreneurial efforts. By finding a way to address the future of place that links wealth creation to culture, Landry has created a body of work with startling relevance for the decades still to come.

Reprint No. 10306

Author Profile:

  • Sally Helgesen is an author and leadership development consultant. Her books include Thriving in 24/7: Six Strategies for Taming the New World of Work (Free Press, 2001) and The Female Vision: Women’s Real Power at Work (with Julie Johnson; Berrett-Koehler, 2010).
 
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Resources

  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: www.strategy-business.com/global_perspective
 
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