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Urban Futures – Creative Futures

This post was written by Clementine Thompson, who just graduated with a joint BA in Economics and International Development from Sussex. In this post she reflects on her experiences of the creative activities in my Urban Futures module, which she took last term. Thank you Clementine for sharing!

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I have been in some form of education, non stop, for 17 years. Whilst no year was ever the same as another, it has always been obvious to me the ways in which teachers, or rather the educational system surrounding them, have guided our individual choices. From a young age, creativity and exploration were celebrated and encouraged, yet the hierarchy between and within subject fields were blatant: the bias usually away from the arts and the creativity it represented.

Do Schools kill creativity?

Why are we made to feel less intelligent telling our extended family we want to pursue graphic design over History A-Level? Why did my teachers and family convince me I should only choose one arts subject and at least two sciences or a language? Because we have been persuaded that monotonous textbook-memorising that has come to represent these subjects generates successful (and unquestioning) individuals in society, and those which centre on creativity do not.

Unsurprisingly, my thoughts about the shaping of my education are not the first: I recently discovered Ken Robinson’s iconic TedTalk on creativity in education (or rather the lack of) and the positive changes he envisioned from nurturing a more creative educational system. According to him, we have been ‘educated out of creativity’. Whilst I believe this to be true for much of my education, it was not true for my experience of Anke’s ‘Urban Future’ module; it became much clearer to me how her teaching style had been influenced by, and embodied the creative educational system Robinson believed crucial for a flourishing, innovative society.

Imagining urban futures

From the get go, Urban Futures challenged me to rethink how my peers and I best engaged with academic work, and whether the way we had been taught previously reflected this. As mentioned, the short term nature of memorising and regurgitating theory onto an exam paper was rife in school, but entirely lacking proper long-term engagement with the content or any element of creativity. Within the Urban Future module, we were able to bridge this gap through weekly creative group activities which not only contextualised the course’s theory but encouraged us to speak openly with each other about it, deepening our ability to be critical thinkers – a skill which transverses subject fields.

Examples of the group activities included making a ‘Brighton Manifesto’, making and delivering a co-creation week and planning a ‘big virtual build’ which envisioned the future of Brighton with radical conviviality, deep governance and sustainable infrastructure – traits the course had consistently proven as essential for successful urban futures. Not only did these activities promote team work and an engaging learning environment, but they allowed some complex, dense theory to be relatable and fun.

Map of new green spaces around Brighton and Sussex campus created by Urban Futures students as part of their virtual big build

I believe the encouragement of creative thinking was rather unique to International Development at Sussex. As a recent graduate from a dual degree in Economics and International Development, my love for the latter definitely inflated from the innovative, inclusive and creative teaching styles in the Global Studies department. For me, the most important message was that just because a subject isn’t solely about making, dancing or orchestrating, it does not mean creativity should be absent. Creativity can and should be at the centre of any subject, and it will certainly remain at the centre of my educational journey going forward.

Clementine has also been doing research on best academic resource websites for the redesign of my own website, which is launching in time for my book’s publication date on October 1st. This is one of the reasons why there have not been a lot of new posts recently, but the wait will be worth it!


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