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Charles Landry on What Makes Cities Great

The strategy+business magazine includes an exploration of the ideas of author and consultant Charles Landry. Landry’ s pioneering work on the synergies between cities and commerce shows why planners need to ensure the attractiveness and vibrancy of their city centers.

According to Sally Helgesen, article’s author, Charles Landry has studied the complex blend of elements that most effectively draw talented people to specific cities and regions, and that cultivate the conditions for both creative achievement.

Landry declares that:

Distinction, variety, and flow ‘” these are the physical manifestations of best talent practice. Any company or region serious about talent must create infrastructures that reflect these qualities. This is what’ s required to support the evolution of knowledge-based global capitalism. You can’ t control the system, you can only open it up. The street provides the logical starting point.

Distinction means avoiding sameness, offering an experience that cannot be had somewhere else. Most places accomplish this by means of an iconography that lets you know that here is not the same as there. This is the problem with global brands, Landry says; although the streets that welcome such brands may aspire to exclusivity, the brands’ ubiquity undermines that principle. As soon as a great street like rue Saint-Honoré or Calle de la Reina becomes colonized by global retailers, people looking for an individual experience start to avoid it. Sameness creates boredom, and a hub cannot afford to be boring: It exists in order to stimulate.

Variety means creating a way for the small and large to exist together, a well-known company next to a quirky enterprise, a café alongside an art store adjoining a market. Variety exists when an extraordinary, remarkable destination is webbed within an ordinary, expected urban environment. Zoning codes kill variety, Landry reminds his listeners, as does the constant turnover that results from a focus on maximizing rents; the demise of a beloved institution will undermine every business on the street.

Flow, the key concept of the hub, is also essential to the street, being manifested in a particular and idiosyncratic way. Flow results from giving people the ability to control their pace and to stop at will to consider what might be available. “This is what flow does not look like!’ Landry cries, showing a flurry of pictures taken around the corner on Oxford Street, where a cavalcade of signage supplemented by concrete barriers attempts to direct pedestrians along a specific route. “People resist directions that attempt to control their movements,’ he points out. “And the smarter they are, the more they resent it. Urban engineers who come up with signage like this are just trying to keep things moving. They work from a traffic metaphor ‘” the goal is to move people along and out.’

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strategy+business Magazine – Charles Landry Knows What Makes Cities Great: Distinction, Variety, and Flow (free registration is required)