The Creative City: Crossing Visions and New Realities in the Region
The interest in cultural transitions and recent developments in post-socialist countries of Southeastern Europe has led us to analyze the position of cities and their cultural role. This encompasses the further progress of cities, the evolution of cultural industries, the growing use and application of new technologies (particularly in the creative arts), the reconstruction and renovation of cities and the impact of these processes on tourist industries and the service sector in general.
The processes of de-industrialization in the Southeast European region have been connected to the fall of socialist systems. The transition periods have involved economic and social decline alongside the initial efforts invested in economic and social restructuring. Quite painful social decline has mainly been caused by the unemployment of large layers of city dwellers, former industrial workers who had been drawn from the rural areas to the cities over only one or two generations. The war over the dissolution of Yugoslavia has also negatively affected the functioning of cities. Break down of city infrastructure has been quite common, either caused by de-industrialization and economic decline or by the war operations. Some cities were damaged and largely de-populated; some fell victim to the heavy inflow of refugees; some became isolated, and this damaged many of their functions, particularly those related to communications, transport, the tourist industry and suchlike. Some were exposed to an overall slow decline reflecting systemic changes heavily linked to value changes and to a kind of de-culturalization experienced all over the region. Indeed, the repositioning of the cities is still strongly linked to their newfound identities.
Now, as the region has stabilized and is approaching integration into the European Union, the issues of city development and restructuring are more present in discussions on development in general, and cultural development and cultural industries in particular. Considerations of city growth and restructuring are also linked to the rise of decentralization policies and the possible new role of cities as promoters of post-industrial development and as places attracting investment in various well-known productions and activities. The overall development of the new urban zones reflects economic and technological restructuring which has had a heavy impact on all cultural and creative developments and productions.
The concentration of cultural activities and cultural creativity within cities reflects the decline of rural areas that never recovered from previous depopulations during the period of heavy industrialization. Now the focus on cities appears to be in line with the systemic changes linking and harmonizing regional developments with global neo-liberal trends. The change of the role of cities reflects this transition from the city as a kind of self-centralizing system that functionally unites different economic and social functions to a city that offers a choice of possible functions and therefore relates to specific expectations and multiple possibilities that depend on interaction among individuals and possibilities put forward by the geographical and physical characteristics of cities.
This new role may profile and more strictly define a number of city functions. Cities in Southeastern Europe now appear more as places providing possibilities for specific interventions in cultural development and in cultural activities and industries, rather than as places that would influence major changes in societies in the region. They acquire a kind of specific communication and exchange-providing role and serve as channels for investment, trade, tourism, technology and cultural development processes fluctuating in the global arena. This might be the reason why they need to insist on the re-evaluation of their proper cultural histories as well as on creative, knowledge and natural resources that may turn them into multifunctional and multicultural centers able to attract various industries or activities.
Such a new and perhaps not yet fully visible role of the cities of this region is discernible in all case studies assembled in this book: from Ljubljana, that is quickly adapting to new consumerism, to Tirana, that has just superficially intervened in its own appearance, or Dubrovnik that submits itself to tourist exploitation yet is unable to elaborate a form of sustainable cultural policy. At the same time the larger cities and ex-metropolises of the region, such as Budapest or Belgrade, announce substantial inner restructuring that might put them once again on the map of European expansion centers. Zagreb is making an effort to turn itself into an open regional metropolis. Many smaller cities of the region (e.g. Pančevo) are investing serious efforts into reconstructing themselves and turning into places that might become attractive to live in.
The texts assembled in this collection touch upon other pertinent issues representing a kind of intellectual infrastructure that supports contextualization of city changes: culture becoming a resource of city development and the importance of cultural city policies in this respect; the impact of creativity and creative industries on city development, creative cities online and cities in the global market.
The list of possible city/culture interactions and cultural activities within the city or linked to the city is far from being exhausted. They represent just the first steps taken in the region in respect to city restructuring and functional regionalization. However, it is important to note that all these issues are slowly becoming considered and re-considered in the framework of city development and reconstruction as well as within the framework of city cultural policies.
Indeed, the cities of Southeastern Europe have hardly been equipped by either cultural or city development policies. Their restructuring and development is at the moment rather chaotic, submitted to specific short-term projects that depend on voluntary decisions usually not based on serious professional considerations or promoted by the majority of citizens, who might be able to influence democratic procedures in the decision-making processes. Moreover, the relationships between political power and professionalism are not the only ones that have been at stake. There have been and still are many problems and aspects of city development at the mercy of certain dominating interests: trade centers invading the old city cores; traffic systems killing communication between different parts of cities and opening them up to rapid extra-urban content and functions; tourists invading the inherited, long preserved parts of old cities, etc.
All this points to the need to invest efforts in conceptualization of city development and city functioning and to particularly stress the creative and cultural aspect of this problem in the Southeast European region. The texts collected here might serve as a stimulus.