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Trailer Creativity and the Capitalist City

In a prologue of the Blicke Film Festival (Ruhr area, Germany), the Rottstrasse Gallery in Bochum is screening Creativity and the Capitalist City, a film about the search for creativity linked to struggles for affordable housing and working space in Amsterdam.

What’s refreshing about Creativity and the Capitalist City is that it actually delves into the creativity inherent to affordable housing, going beyond the oft-heard institutional critique to the infamous Richard Florida formula, now the prevalent urban boosting cliché. Directed by German urban planner Tino Buchholz, the documentary analyzes the city of Amsterdam through a systematic journey across the heterogeneous spectrum of cheap accommodation in the Dutch capital. After watching a screening at Filmhuis Cavia, I exchanged a few e-mails with him.

‘Creativity and affordability are crucially interconnected,’ he tells me. ‘Affordability is a pre-condition for creativity, and one has to be very creative these days to be able to make a living in a creative capitalist city. Most striking, however, is the role of the drivers in a creative city (artists, squatters), who are rapidly co-opted and may easily become the victims of their own success.’

Although Tino’s movie focuses on Amsterdam as a case study, it really is about contemporary cities in general. ‘Today, Western re/developments are driven by fashionable concepts, vehicular ideas (Peck, 2011) and hype, close to Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle. There are good critical examples, though, which reflect the role of conflicting interests in the political economy. I can see rising awareness of urban movements and art-squat initiatives in Hamburg and London, who politicize “the right to the creative city”. In Amsterdam the case of Gallery Schijnheilig expresses this conflict. Dominik Wulf and I have a video about it on YouTube.’

In Amsterdam, right now, the most interesting location is perhaps the NDSM Wharf in the Noord. ‘NDSM can be seen as an art colony that serves as source of inspiration (breeding place) for the neighbourhood and the city. They are pioneers. I would usually expect increasing pressure to make more out of it (money, prestige) or extend their creative impacts to the neighbourhood. In this respect, one could argue that the neighbourhood benefits from a certain disconnection to NDSM. In any case, both will face a next step of pressing gentrification. They should find ways to resist this pressure together.’

I asked Tino if he thinks creative communities have a responsibility towards the areas they colonize. ‘There is nothing wrong with creative upgrading processes in the neighbourhood, if they benefit the local residents. The problem is that any improvement is seen as an investment to stimulate market prices and raise rents. Interventions, however, would always have to be a community issue in need of a wider discussion and mobilization. The creative class can surely show commitment here, politicize the issue and, for example, argue for rent control. On the other hand, creative people would also need to look for their return in this. Creativity has a lot to do with self-exploitation and endless competition is not necessarily admirable or healthy. In this sense, the task may be to reclaim creativity from the capitalist city.’

Buchholz’s documentary discusses squatting and anti-squatting policies, something quite specific to the Dutch ground. ‘The Netherlands have developed a variety of urban regulations that are internationally exceptional and socially progressive. Extensive social housing is assisted by the free market, the right to buy, temporary contracts, anti-squat etc. The right to squat surely benefited the Dutch creative status quo and the civil squatting option made a unique difference here, a simple but fundamental difference from ordinary global business.’

After such a thorough investigation of one of Europe’s key creative hubs, I was sure Tino had more coming up. I asked him about it. ‘I am interested in the future of advanced capitalist cities and drastic changes: eroding middle class, tent cities in the US, increasing informal settlements. Housing is increasingly treated as commodity instead of a social good. For Europe, the most challenging is the transformation of social welfare, social housing, and the emergence of anti-squat – which from the Netherlands has spread over to Belgium, France, Germany, and the UK. It may work for artists and students, and may provide temporary workspace, but it is not an adequate option for people in need of affordable housing, since it undermines tenants’ rights and keeps them precarious. If this is the future of housing, this is scary.’

20.11 @ Rottstrassen Gallerie, Bochum (prologue of Blicke Festival),
22.11 @ sub.40, Kassel

Nicola Bozzi

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