Stimulating economies built on creative knowledge

Promoting culture and creativity in European cities can improve quality of life, but there is no guarantee that it will make those cities more economically competitive. Instead of investing in off-the-shelf measures to stimulate urbanised creative-knowledge economies, policy makers are advised to first identify a city's unique local assets (and legacies) and then devise tailored strategies to capitalise on them.

After studying the development dynamics of 13 cities across Europe, an international consortium led by the University of Amsterdam has identified three features considered crucial for designing and implementing policies to foster creative-knowledge locations: pathways, place and personal networks (PPP). The importance of these features for a city's creative-knowledge development potential is explained in a practical booklet entitled Making Creative-Knowledge Cities: A Guide for Policy Makers1. The booklet contains numerous case studies based on surveys and interviews with managers and employees in all 13 locations examined by the research project ACRE.

ACRE (Accommodating Creative Knowledge: Competitiveness of European Metropolitan Regions within the Enlarged Union) set out to assess the impact of creative and knowledge-based industries on the competitiveness of EU metropolitan regions. During the course of their work the researchers produced several recommendations for policy makers relating to economic development measures. The recommendations are built around the ‘3 Ps’:


To properly assess the economic development potential of a city's creative knowledge, policy makers must first understand the development pathways that have shaped the city and made it what it is over the course of time. These pathways embrace a city's accumulated economic, social, political, cultural, physical and functional structures. Together they play an important role in determining a location's capacity for change.

Because each city boasts its own unique set of pathways, the researchers argue that “it is impossible to transfer policies to Europe from other parts of the world or to copy Western European policies in Eastern Europe”. This does not mean, however, that generalisations cannot be made. To illustrate this point, the researchers offer separate recommendations for cities with different developmental trajectories. In order to improve the competitiveness of non-capital cities, for instance, the consortium says it is important to “develop a diverse economic base” and “improve connectivity”. Post-socialist cities in Central and Eastern Europe, meanwhile, are advised to “build on the positive aspects of past legacies” and to “stimulate public–private partnerships which encourage trust between local government and local businesses and a sharing of power”.


Suggesting that significance of place may have become more (not less) important since the internet revolution, the ACRE researchers consider it essential that cities know which “place characteristics” make them distinctive. These characteristics include not only the built-up environment and physical infrastructure but also the roots of local organisations and institutions. Regardless of how these legacies are viewed – as obstacles to change or resources for future development – identifying them is considered “the starting point for understanding the distinctive attributes of any city”.

As the researchers explain, these legacies and their attributes play important roles in the processes of place-making, place marketing and branding. Significant as these attributes may be, however, ACRE's findings confirm the importance of basic factors in determining business location. “Attracting creative-knowledge industries”, say the researchers, “is less about the promotion of amenities and more about providing high-quality facilities (such as quality working and office accommodation, good transport links and housing).”

Personal networks

The third key feature of economic development linked to creative-knowledge in European cities is what ACRE terms “personal networks”. These networks, which are largely informal, include family, friends and colleagues, and vary significantly from region to region. Such personal networks seem to be “tighter and more fixed” in Europe than in North America, the researchers observe, while within Europe itself important differences are seen along north-south and east-west axes.

Multilayered and dynamic, personal networks in European cities are deemed “vital” for economic development based on creative-knowledge. Personal “connections”, the researchers stress, are “often the most important factors when creative-knowledge workers are deciding which city to move to and whether or not they stay”. Fostering and strengthening these networks is therefore considered “crucial”.

Policies aimed at accommodating personal networks, however, must take cultural differences into account. The ACRE consortium notes the significant role that language plays in defining cultural differences in Europe. Given its potential to influence mobility of talent, Europe's linguistic diversity is a factor that policy makers need to acknowledge in developing an effective approach to building economic development on creative-knowledge industries.


1 Making Creative-Knowledge Cities: A Guide for Policy Makers (October 2010, University of Amsterdam. ISBN 978-9490312398). See:

ACRE - Accommodating Creative Knowledge: Competitiveness of European Metropolitan Regions within the Enlarged Union (duration: 1/10/2006 - 30/9/2010) was an Integrated Project funded under the 6th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 7 - Citizens and governance in a knowledge-based society.


Contact: Olga Gritsai,