Are cities still the best place for creatives?

19 : 11 : 2018 Creative : Wellness : Millennials

What if fresh, original thinking was no longer the preserve of a megacity? Karen Rosenkranz, trend forecaster and author of City Quitters, examines what's driving creatives to leave urban constraints behind.

City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz

For creatives and entrepreneurs, ‘making it’ in the city is getting harder. Many are questioning whether the city really is the best environment to establish a sustainable creative practice.

Karen Rosenkranz, author of City Quitters.​

Until recently, moving to the countryside was a step reserved for the middle-aged craving a slower life and a place where their offspring could grow up surrounded by nature. From a professional point of view it often meant a career downgrade. Ambitious folk stayed in the city.

Not anymore. As they become denser and more congested, the pressure on cities and their inhabitants is growing. Competition is fierce and costs of living are high. For creatives and entrepreneurs, ‘making it’ in the city is getting harder and harder. Many are questioning whether the city really is the best environment to establish a sustainable creative practice.

On top of causing financial anxiety, big cities have become overstimulating and distracting, leaving little time and space for reflection. Maybe more surprisingly, they are also plagued by a certain city sameness, a global homogenous aesthetic fuelled by social media. But as urban spaces become ever more controlled and commercialised, it’s no wonder there is a lack of experimentation.

As a result, creative pioneers are ditching metropolitan constraints in search of greater freedom. More flexible work arrangements and modern communication tools have facilitated a migration away from urban areas. For many creative professionals it is no longer necessary to choose between a career and an environment that supports their ideal lifestyle – having both is entirely possible.

Kyre Chenven, for example, is one part of creative duo Pretziada who work with local artisans and international designers from their home base in the south of Sardinia. After New York and Milan, the couple say the rural surroundings have been really beneficial for their creative output: 'Moving here was freeing because it removed all interference. You don’t have to be constantly reminded of what everybody else is doing. The silence that you gain helps you find your voice in a lot of ways.' Their work is a great example of blending rural crafts with contemporary urban sensibilities.

City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz
City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz City Quitters by Karen Rosenkranz
As creatives start to shift their attention to rural areas, a fresh aesthetic will emerge outside of the folkloristic and sanitised expressions of country life.

For others, quitting the city allows them to make more radical lifestyle changes. Lynn Mylou left her career in the creative industry with long hours and high pressure to establish a sustainable existence in Portugal where she lives by her own rules and rhythm. 'I approach every day with ‘what do I want to do today?’ instead of ‘what do I have to do?',' she says. Her project A Vida Fausto, which translates as the luxury life, is a testing ground for prototypes that accelerate the transition towards a circular economy on the topics of food, shelter and wellbeing.

As megacities across the Western world have peaked – statistics show they are either growing at slower rates or sustaining a population loss – rural areas and small towns have huge potential to become hubs for innovation, creativity and experimentation. As a result, communities that can attract creative thinkers will benefit.

Michael Wickert packed in his successful fish smoking business in Kreuzberg’s buzzing Markthalle 9 and set up shop in a small village of 1,000 souls in Brandenburg. While he knows how to attract Berliners, he takes great care not to alienate anyone. 'There are a lot of very fancy, artisanal products out there that are often too artsy for the rural population. My products should be for everybody.'

As Wickert states, for brands operating in this space, respecting local nuances is key. Rather than transplanting an idea from the city, it’s important to work with the particularities of the region and its inhabitants. Initiatives are needed that connect creative newcomers with local communities, creating platforms for exchange and collaboration.

And as the worlds of art and architecture start to shift their attention to rural areas, exemplified by Rem Koolhaas and AMO’s forthcoming exhibition at the Guggenheim Countryside: Future of the World, I hope that a new visual language will emerge – a fresh aesthetic outside of the folkloristic and sanitised expressions of country life; a sphere where the traditional and the innovative can coexist to shape an exciting future.

Karen Rosenkranz is an independent trend forecaster and author of the book City Quitters.