Friday, March 25, 2011

Is Ottawa a City of Design?

Over the past few weeks, since reading the City's economic development strategy, I have had even more of an interest in economic development and city branding. More and more I'm seeing why they are so important.

This morning I watched a video marketing Montréal as a UNESCO City of Design. This intrigued me because I had never heard of this designation before.

I discovered that aside from the UNESCO City of Design designation others include: Cities of Literature, Cities of Film, Cities of Music, Cities of Craft & Folk Art, Cities of Media Arts, and Cities of Gastronomy. Once a city receives the designation they become a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

With Ottawa marketing itself as Canada's Creative Economy Capital, should we be pursuing this designation and membership in this network?

According to the website "UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network is developing a fundamental concept of ‘Creative Economy’ and ‘Creative Industries’ which the UK Government Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) define as ‘those industries which have their origin in individual creativity skill and talent and which, have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property."

This sounds like Ottawa.

One of the main advantages of joining the network is that, "The cities which apply to the network seek to promote their local creative scene...Once the city is appointed to the network, it can share experiences and create new opportunities for itself and others on a global platform, notably for activities based on the notion of creative tourism."

When answering the question "Why Join the Network?" they respond:
  • highlight your city’s cultural assets on a global platform
  • make creativity an essential element of local economic and social development
  • share knowledge across cultural clusters around the world
  • build local capacity and train local cultural actors in business skills
  • cultivate innovation through the exchange of know-how, experiences and technological expertise
  • promote diverse cultural products in national and international markets
They believe in the importance of creating of public/private partnerships "that help unlock the entrepreneurial and creative potential of small enterprises, which play an important role in the new economy. To underpin their development, small creative businesses also need innovative talent, and therefore cities with strong contemporary art, fashion, craft, music and design schools are most likely to flourish."

At the moment there are 20 cities waiting to be accepted into the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and we should be number twenty-one.

Ottawa could build a case for being a City of Gastronomy, hosting the only Canadian campus of Cordon Bleu and having such a wide variety of restaurants, which would be great for tourism. Our economic development strategy includes rebranding our city and raising our profile, and this could be one way to do that.

We could also build a case for being a City of Design.

One thing we have going for us is our unique architecture as the capital. Montréal, the other Canadian city on the list, is known for its religious buildings like La basilique Notre Dame and L'Oratoire St-Joseph; heritage architecture including the old government and retail buildings of Old Montréal; and modern commercial design like the Olympic Stadium and village. On the other hand, Ottawa is home to the Parliamentary Precinct, Embassies and High Commissions, and national museums like the Museum of Nature and the National Gallery of Canada. The Château Laurier, Ottawa Convention Centre, National Arts Centre, and Ottawa Fashion Week, which is growing in international representation, would help to support our case. 

Another advantage we have is that we are already a technology centre, and design and tech are closely related. Remember that class in school? Design and Tech? Becoming a City of Design, not just in designation, but in reality, would be a perfect compliment to a capital and technology centre, and with both Japan and China already having two cities on the list there is room for a second Canadian city.

What we have going against us is that design isn't a way of life in Ottawa. We see nice design at the institutional level, but not as much at the local level. We don't live, eat, sleep and breathe design like Montréal seems to and we don't have as many design institutions as other cities. 

I don't usually care too much about UNESCO designations, but this one has me intrigued. Whether Ottawa was considered a City of Design or Gastronomy, the advantages are clear- using the designation on city marketing materials; exposing your creative industries to an international audience; attracting tourists and talent; international networking opportunities; and the accountability of following UNESCO creative policies, reporting on your progress, and maintaining certain standards.

A technology city like Ottawa should have been at the Shenzhen International Conference 2011 on “New technology, new media and creative city synergy”. The event was attended by UNESCO officials, creative city members, new media experts, economists, and creative industry people.  

If Ottawa is serious about rebranding, raising its profile, and being Canada's Creative Economy Capital this would be a great step. To join you simply need to secure the endorsement of your mayor, complete the application, and form a bid management committee.

What do you think? Does this look like a good opportunity for our city? Is Ottawa a City of Design or Gastronomy? Let's talk.

Kevin Bourne

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