Alan Freeman

Alan Freeman

Alan Freeman

Winnipeg, MB

Presenting as part of the session: Cultural Cities - Friday, November 5 at 11:00 am

Alan Freeman is an economist who works for GLA Economics, the Mayor of London's Economic Analysis Unit. He is a research fellow in the School of City Planning at the University of Manitoba.

At the GLA he held lead responsibility for the Living Wage, Innovation, Cultural and Creative Industries and benchmarking World Cities. At the GLA, he authored Creativity: London’s Core Business, produces regular updates on the statistics of London’s Creative Industries, and was lead author for London: A Cultural Audit. He is co-author, with Hasan Bakhshi and Graham Hitchen, of Measuring Intrinsic Value and Not Rocket Science: a Roadmap for Arts and Cultural R&D, both available on  He is the author of The Benn Heresy and has co-edited four books of which his most recent is The Politics of Empire and the Crisis of Globalisation, a collection of critical reflections on the state of the world economy, with Boris Kagarlitsky. With Radhika Desai he is launching a new book series to be entitled The Future of World Capitalism, published by Pluto Press.

His undergraduate degree was in Mathematics at University College London, followed by a diploma in Computer Science at Edinburgh and an MSc in Economics at Birkbeck College, London. His professional career includes 15 years as a programmer, 13 as a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the University of Greenwich, and 7 years in his present job at the GLA. He speaks French, Spanish, Italian, German, and reads Russian and Turkish.

He is coordinator of the UK-based Association for Heterodox Economics.

Description of Alan Freeman's talk:

City, know thyself: the Cultural Audit and strategic planning

As a Londoner who has twice wintered in Winnipeg and plans to make it home, may aim is to look at the Cultural Auditof London, which I caused to be produced, through Winnipeg eyes. The audit compared London, Tokyo, Paris, New York and Shanghai. It studied their cultural offer and activities, in as many different aspects as we could, from the number and frequency of visits to theatres, cinemas and museums to the number of books read, or time spent watching television. Its evidence was extensively used to formulate the Mayor of London’s Cultural Strategy, and has excited worldwide interest. An update is set to appear in 2012, when London holds its next election and hosts the next Olympics.

I want to reflect, critically, on the growing trend towards ‘City Rankings’ provoked by such products as the Anholt Index Y/Zen’s Global Financial Centres Index or Price-Waterhouse Coopers Intellectual Capital index. These induce city planners to conceive their strategic objectives as climbing mythical ladders, like schoolchildren waiting to be graded or sports competitors striving for medals. It obstructs the central goal of strategic planning which is to grasp what is distinct, not what is better, about each city, as a means to frame its relationship to its neighbours, its neighbourhood, and the world.

The authors sought, not always successfully, to steer their audience away from rankings or league tables. We wanted each city to view itself in the mirror of its peers; to understand its value to its citizens and visitors as a product of its uniqueness, not its superiority.

Our study rested on four concepts. The first was diversity and range of offer: the modern city throws together a great and growing variety of peoples, communities and interests. This brings forth an equal variety of cultural expressions, through which these communities learn respect for each other, hopefully come to know more about each other and sooner or later, discover how to work with each other. The second concept was identity: it is through culture that its communities produce the distinctness of their city. New York’s skyline can no more be imitated than Paris’s cafés, London’s festivals, Tokyo’s unique brand of mechanical, electrical, and visual arts, or Shanghai’s complex overlaying of historic purpose with bustling modernity. The third concept is relationship. The Audit drew on the UK’s Global and World Cities (GaWC) Institute, whose fascinating research  show how each city feeds on, and is fed by, invisible nets of trade, travel, information, ideas and art that connect it to all other cities in the world.

Our final concept, which I will explore in my talk, suggests how the audit might be of use in setting strategic goals for the city of Winnipeg: the concept of hub, an over-used but under-analysed idea that I think is needed to grasp the place in the world of an utterly unique great city.

1 London: A Cultural Audit. <>

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