Culture is Key to Cities' Future Success

10/08/2012 16:19 BST | Updated 10/10/2012 10:12 BST

In a week of ultra sporting competition between different nations, 12 of the world's greatest cities came together in a slightly different spirit to look at how they fared in the field of culture. Following a year of intensive research, the Mayor's Office launched the World Cities Culture Report 2012 at an international summit of city government and arts leaders.

The biggest study of its kind ever conducted, this report lays bare for the first time ever the scale and breadth of cultural production and consumption in twelve major cities around the globe: Berlin, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Mumbai, New York, Paris, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo. As well as showing their differences, it highlights the similar challenges and opportunities they face.

Whilst other city comparative reports might mention culture fleetingly, this report drills down using 60 indicators - from how many museums and galleries a city has, to the number of foreign language films it screens, to the number of library books its resident take out.

What can we learn from a study like this? That a great world city is not simply a place of exchange, finance and commerce, but offers great opportunities for culture. All these cities, without exception, saw culture as key to their future success.

In London, for instance, our 1,030 museums and galleries and 214 theatres helped attract 15 million international tourists in 2011. With 349 live music venues, 108 cinemas, 10 major concert halls, 337 night clubs and 37,450 restaurants, London punches well above its relatively tiny weight and gains massively as a result. Overall, London's creative industries contribute £19 billion to our economy and employ 386,000 people. Hardly surprising when you consider the long history of public and private investment, and London's position as a global hub for artists of all kinds.

This research shows that maintaining cultural vibrancy is vital to attracting talent, business, visitors and our quality of life in an increasingly competitive global market place. As Mayor Bloomberg, whose office also participated in the report, wrote in March, "The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities... [where the] most exciting things in the world are happening - in music, art, design, food, shops, technology and green industry."

Certainly, the Olympics has been one, summer-long advertisement about London's cultural life. From June to September, we are putting on the largest and most ambitious citywide arts programme, providing free access to world-class culture in every one of our 33 boroughs. From a Terry Jones production of the Owl and the Pussycat along London's waterways, a thrilling performance by New York dance company Streb suspended from the London Eye, to the upcoming Northala, an installation of wooden towers on man-made hills where a ritualistic celebration of the Paralympic flame will take place, this is what we're calling 'A Summer Like No Other'.

One of the most crucial nuances in the report, however, is that culture works best when it is free to develop according to its own logic. A thoughtless instrumentalist approach, which sees culture merely as a tool will not attract the best and the brightest, or ignite the imagination. London's cultural scene - which scores highly on most of the indicators - probably owes more to the free spiritedness of its independent artists and organisations, and the intellectual richness of its universities and colleges, than the box-ticking demands of funders.

World cities also have to be open to new influences, including migrants and visiting artists. The reputation of London's arts institutions creates opportunities to create exciting new international partnerships, such as the V&A's recent work with craftspeople from India, Turkey and Japan. In the Mayor of London's Office, we have argued hard about the importance of allowing artists and academics in through the visa points system, and welcomed the recent reforms introduced by the UK Government to make this easier.

Ironically, the more world cities become interconnected and speak the same commercial language - become more 'globalised' - the more opportunity there is for cities to harbour new cultural forms and ideas that reflect the lives of their people. Cities like London offer the chance for artists to work across disciplines and cultures, yet also cultivate niche audiences and specialisms. The world need not be flat.

Cities have always been places of new possibilities; where all that is solid melts into air. We can see in this report that, when taken seriously, culture is the great driver and beneficiary of this.