At the European Cities Marketing conference held in Nice this week, the future of cities was top of the agenda. The event attracted a range of interesting contributions on the economic, cultural and social sustainability of cities. It is also clear that culture and creativity are now viewed by city marketeers as important means of positioning and profiling their destination, as well as drawing in high-end cultural tourists.

There were interesting examples of cultural development projects, such as the old docks in Antwerp, where the cultural momentuum originally kick-started by the European Capital of Culture in 1993 is now bearing fruit in the form of flagship developments such as the MAS museum. Perhaps even more interesting, however, was the presentation by Saska Saarikoski on the reasons why Helsinki actually rejected plans for a new Guggenheim museum. Although the plans were backed by a feasibility study projecting considerable cultural and economic benefits for Helsinki, which currently lacks a major cultural icon, the city council narrowly voted against the plan in 2012. There were many reasons for this, including political divisions which eroded local support, a perception of the Guggenheim as American cultural imperialism and the fact that the City of Helsinki would take all the financial risk, leaving the Guggenheim just the benefits of a $30 million management deal. It was also clear that this sort of iconic development strategy is beginning to be questionned in the current economic crisis, and people have the feeling that starchitects are using these projects to proliferate their own image at the cost of cities.

This theme was also picked up by Greg Richards in his presentation on the shift from cultural to creative to collaborative cities. He outlined how traditional models of cultural tourism are being undermined through the serial reproduction of culture and the fact that tourists are becoming increasingly skillful at recognising and avoiding tourist traps. Instead growing numbers of tourists want to develop themselves through creative engagement with the destination and local people. Such forms of creative tourism are now being developed in many parts of the world, and there is now a global Creative Tourism Network that brings creative destinations together. But as Greg Richards has argued in his recent research, the desire to be creative on the part of tourists often masks a more fundamental motivation – the desire to relate to other people. When asked what it is they want from their holiday, people increasingly say they want to ‘live like a local’ and make contact with the ‘real’ culture of the destination.

The everyday creativity of people is increasingly an important reason for visiting places. Another important factor in the growth of ‘relational tourism’ is the fact that the Internet, rather than making us socially more isolated, is actually driving a need to meet people more often. The need to have live ‘co-presence’ as well as virtual connectivity is highlighted by the continuing explosion of events in cities. The rise of the Eventful City is strongly linked to the need for cities to distinguish themselves, and events have provided a more flexible means of distinction than investment in infrastructure. But in order to benefit fully from events, cities need to plug themselves into global networks of culture, knowledge and finance. At the same time they need to build stong local networks to anchor these flows in local places. This means building relationships – within and beyond the city.

These principles were perfectly illustrated by the example of the Montreaux Festival, founded by Claude Nobs in 1967, and which now brings 230,000 people a year to this small Swiss city. Nobs used his personal contacts with artists to develop Montreaux as the ‘place to be’ for jazz in the summer. He also kept the copyright to all the recordings at the festival, which now has a library of over 6000 hours of priceless material. Continuous releases propoagate the Montreaux brand around the world. Montreaux is a good example of the rise of ‘field configuring events’ that are increasingly acting as important nodes in global cultural networks.

The most important conclusion from the conference was that there is a growing need to involve all stakeholders in the development of cities. Not just businesses and public authorities, but also local residents, the ‘switchers’ who link different local and global networks, and the visitors to the city all play a role in urban development. Making the link between these groups is important, and this is why cities like Barcelona are now referring to visitors as ‘temporary citizens’, people who share in the cultural production and consumption of the city.