The Agile City (Creative Innovative Cities: Part Two)

Creativity takes many forms and to solve pressing challenges facing our communities will require the collective creativity of people across many professions. This post is part of an ongoing series investigating creativity and innovation in cities.

Creativity and Innovation - Similar but Not the Same

Innovation and creativity are key to designing agile and resilient cities that can avoid or at least mitigate potential crises or catastrophes. While 'creativity' and' innovation' are often used interchangeably they are not the same. When discussing a ‘creative innovative’ city there are two layers that should be defined. First, the difference between creative and innovative in the context of the industry, and second creative and innovative in the context of the city. In terms of the difference between creativity and innovation, all things that are innovative are by nature creative, as innovation is the result of a process of creativity through trial and error. However, not all that is creative is innovative. For example, many forms of creativity iterate on current conditions and norms (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Innovative vs. Iterative

This does not mean iteration is of no value, because iteration is a tool of exploration and is an integral step to innovation. Iteration should always be used to support innovation, however in some cases it can become a barrier, especially when the culture of iteration overtakes the need for experimentation. 

“expertise is what enables you to make quick and informed decisions, it's also the single biggest barrier to innovation" – Duncan Wardel, TEDx AUK 

Innovation is often the result of exploring the field laterally and testing the boundaries. Edward de Bono was the first to use the term “lateral thinking” and described it as using an indirect approach based on creative thinking and reasoning that at first is not immediately obvious [1]. In the model below (see Figure 2) iteration moves vertically following a logical progression. Innovation sits firmly within the sphere of creativity however iteration straddles it. In this sense not everything that is iterative is creative.

Figure 2: Creativity Within the Industry

Creativity and Innovation in the Context of a City

Creativity can refer to the community that lives within the city, the culture it inspires, the industry it generates, and in another way the character of the city. Innovation meanwhile can describe the city regarding management, sustainability and mobility. A city could be creative in the sense that it attracts and nurtures a creative community and culture. However, it may not be particularly innovative in the sense that it is mismanaged, rigid, has failing infrastructure or remains very traditional or conservative. On the other hand, a city could be innovative by offering an excellent quality of life and sporting a comprehensive sustainability strategy backed up by competent governance. However, it may not hold or inspire a creative industry, instead focusing on other trades such as large business, industry or chain stores with very little incentive for small businesses, entrepreneurs, or creatives.

“They are related, but crucially they are not the same...Bilbao said something very brave: 'we know we are innovative, but we are not sure how creative we are'.” - Charles Landry, The Creative City Index [2]

Figure 3: 'Innovative City' - 'Creative City' - 'Creative Innovative City'

The creative innovative city succeeds at both, inspiring a diverse and resilient community of creatives and delivering a progressive and comprehensive strategy for the future based on research, reflection and critical assessment which most importantly emphasizes vision rather than regulation. These two compelling identities both enhance and advance one another.

Getting from Here to There

Is there a way of conceptualizing cities that are further or closer to becoming a creative innovative city? Co-Director of the Collaboratory for Urban Resilience & Energy at the Manchester Urban Institute, Dr. Joe Ravetz, sees successful future cities are ones that will connect many issues in a ‘synergistic’ way. Dr. Ravetz calls the next-generation city Urban 3.0 [3]. There are, however, many cities around the world that exhibit qualities of a 'City 0.0', 'City, 1.0', 'City 2.0' as well. Building upon this work, we suggest, the 'City 3.1' could be another addition to this categorization, a city that looks both inwards and outwards fostering creativity and innovation.

  • The City 0.0 (The Dormant City, Often Forgotten)
  • The City 1.0 (The City of Power and Performance)
  • The City 2.0 (The City of Beauty and Expectation)
  • The City 3.0 (The City of Collaboration and Aspiration)
  • The City 3.1 (The City of Innovation and Cognizance)
Figure 4: City 0.0 to City 3.1

While this may provide a useful conceptual tool, cities are complex. The qualities that a ‘City 3.1’ holds is not a checklist. There is always activity happening in cities around the world that do not conform to the wider city. Take for example, any local sustainability efforts in specific neighbourhoods and districts, or neighbourhood citizen engagement. Despite limitationsa to such categorization, cities can strive to achieve more elements of a ‘City 3.1’ in greater parts of their city to enhance quality of life for their citizens.

Static, The City 0.0 (The Dormant City, Often Forgotten)

The City 0.0 is the complacent city, a city which sits on its laurels and fails to enact a vision or establish a direction. The complacent city focuses entirely on the sort term and as a result deteriorates over time. It follows a day by day ‘business as usual' method. These actions are often caused as a result of mismanagement, political conflict, underfunding, disinterest from both citizens and leaders, lack of confidence, lack of pride or stubbornness. 

“Many cities unfortunately become complacent, considering only the tried and tested, losing energy and maybe just hoping that luck will come their way.” – Charles Landry, The Creative City Index [2]

Top Down, The City 1.0 (The City of Power and Performance)

The City 1.0 is the hard city, the city built of hardware and infrastructure in which people simply exist alongside one another. The hard city is often the one in which there is only a top down approach. One based primarily on data and statistics with little input from the residents. It is a city of its time, one in desperate need of infrastructure following the industrial revolution and later as the world returned from war. It is a cold city, but a city constructed for the sole purpose of performance. Even at the expense of residents, often its most vulnerable. 

“1.0 linear change: ‘functional systems’ which respond to short-term change.” Joe Ravetz [3]

Bottom Up, The City 2.0 (The City of Beauty and Expectation)

The City 2.0 is the soft city, the one developed through software and implementation in which people inhabit and not only exist in. However, do so primarily in social isolation and focus on self interests. Residents begin to take ownership of the city and become actively involved in the development process. This is characterized in the war against ugliness. The city begins to rediscover the human scale signifying a paradigm shift in power. The city is tackled from both ends, bottom up and top down. It is also a city of conflict as power becomes decentralized and excessive regulation is implemented on both sides which in turn stifles growth and creates a ‘us versus them’ culture. Importantly the City 2.0 is built upon the hardware of the City 1.0 and has evolved as priorities and aspirations shift due to Improvements to vital services and healthcare, industrialization and economic growth. Both are key steps on the path to a creative innovative city. 

“2.0 Evolutionary change in ‘adaptive Systems’: evolving with longer term changes and transitions, but with an evolutionary model of ‘winner takes all’.” - Joe Ravetz [3]

Middle Out, The City 3.0 (The City of Collaboration and Aspiration)

The City 3.0 is the interactive city, the city in which residents not only inhabit but also contribute and in return receive. It is the city that actively encourages creativity, collaboration and personal development.  

“3.0 Co-evolutionary change towards ‘synergistic systems’ are shaped by human qualities - thinking, learning, questioning, strategy, self-awareness, intelligence. This is a ‘co-evolutionary‘ model of ‘winners are all’.” - Joe Ravetz [3]

The City 3.0 adopts the middle out approach which unifies the top down and bottom up, often through multidisciplinary professionals placed in the field (see Figure 5). The governance and regulatory system implement policies which focus on effectively and efficiently delivering a shared vision, rather than a vision shaped by the rules of policy. The process switches from a linear policy driven approach to a cascading vision driven approach allowing the transition from a complicated mechanized system to a complex ecosystem. One which actively encourages citizens aspirations rather than discounting them and importantly, harnesses that potential to develop and enhance the city. This is the definition of a creative city.

Figure 5: Top Down - Bottom Up - Middle Out, Multidisciplinary Approach [4]

“A creative place is somewhere where people can express their talents and potential which are harnessed, exploited and promoted for the common good.” – Charles Landry, The Creative City Index [2]

Inward Outward, The City 3.1 (The City of Innovation and Cognizance)

The City 3.1 is the Agile City. The agile city, in a sense, is not an upgrade but instead an update. It is a key component that should be present at every stage of a city’s development. It addresses the city's place within the wider network and relates to resilience, adaptability and sustainability. As previously addressed, there will come a time when unsustainable cities can no longer be justified. This will be followed by a plateau and an eventual downturn. However, before that point there are likely to be many scenarios which will arise, for example, an economic crisis or recession, an eventual peak in production or demand, local or foreign competition, a natural disaster or a pandemic.

During the pandemic many agile local governments seized the opportunity to trial pedestrianization of their streets. How prepared are we for the next crisis?

It is important that a city develops a level of agility so that it can avoid or at least mitigate these potential crises or catastrophes. In many cases urban planning and governance are too slow to act with visions often taking decades to materialize. It is incredibly difficult to obtain a high level of oversight especially in a world which is moving at an ever increasing pace. 

“We need to act spontaneously, to improvise and to build in small increments. Spontaneity, as a quality of practice, is vital because most problems and opportunities appear and disappear in fairly random fashion and need to be dealt with or taken advantage of accordingly.” - Nabeel Hamdi [5]

The agile city (creative and innovative) needs to have plans that not only envision a period 20-40 years down the line but also consider the time line from a couple of months onward. Importantly these visions need to have the flexibility to evolve, adapt or be completely reinvented depending on the climate and conditions but not be taken advantage of by the political cycles. Innovation, creativity and understanding are key in this process and should be harnessed. When cities are united under leadership that enables creativity and innovation, they are more effective at tackling major issues and agile to tackle emergent challenges (to read more about unlocking the creative potential of urban professionals see our previous article here). It is under these conditions that a creative innovative city develops.

In the next article in the series we investigate creativity and innovative cities from around the world.


  1. [1] De Bono, E. (2014). Lateral Thinking: An Introduction. Random House.
  2. [2] Landry, C. (2012) The Creative City Index. Near Stroud: Comedia.
  3. [3] Ravetz, J. in AlWaer, H., & Illsley, B. (Eds.). (2017). Rethinking Masterplanning: Creating Quality Places. ICE Publishing.
  4. [4] Al Waer, H., Speedie, J., & Cooper, I. (2021). Unhealthy Neighbourhood “Syndrome”: A Useful Label forAnalysing and Providing Advice on Urban Design Decision-Making? Sustainability, 13(11), [6232].
  5. [5] Hamdi N. in Campbell, K. (2018). Making Massive Small Change: Ideas, Tools, Tactics: Building the Urban Society We Want. Chelsea Green Publishing Vermont.

Additional Resources

  1. Creative city Index
  2. Creative-Based Strategies in Small and Medium Sized Cities: Guidelines for Local Authorities:
  3. Neighbourhood Co-Efficient: A Guide to Making Massive Small Change
  4. Massive Small Collective

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