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My networking is not working!

Just a quick post to let you know that my latest paper has been published in Economic Geography (abstract is below). It is a conceptual paper on the merits of latency and dysfunction in the networking paradigm within economic geography literature, and perhaps the wider social sciences as a whole. It stems from my work on cities, freelancers and the creative industries which, as most people who have any knowledge on that field at all will know, are heavily reliant of social networks, project-networks and general collaborative action.  It is a real ‘flag-in-the-sand’ piece by my co-authors (Tim Vorley and Richard Courtney) and I and we hope that it will help to shape the argument regarding networks and how network practice shapes economic and geographical behaviour. The initial conception of the paper was born over one too many glasses of red wine at Churchill College one evening in 2007, so it’s taken a long time, but we feel it was worth it given the (hopeful) impact it will have in human geographical literature. If you can’t access the full pdf but would like a copy, please feel free to email, tweet or poke me and I’ll get one over to you.

Abstract:

Networks have become a major analytical concept in economic geography and have served to extend both empirical and theoretical research agendas. However, much of the literature on networks is characterized as associative, considering them only as cumulative constructs through the constant enrollment of additional actors. Through the lens of social capital and a discussion of the limitations of the networking paradigm in economic geography, this article aims to move beyond this associative nature and introduce variance in network practices in the form of nonworking and not working. By presenting a hypothetical example of a project-based network, we introduce the concepts of nonworking and not working as latency and disassociation as dimensions of network practices. In doing so, we present a more nuanced approach to the networking paradigm in relational economic geography, one that moves beyond a purely associative understanding to incorporate nonworking and not working.

Full pdf link is here for those with the right log-in credentials…


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Creative Recessions: Are the Creative Industries the way out?

moneytile

The last few weeks has seen myself and other creative industry commentators share information (through Twitter, Google Reader feeds etc) about how various institutions, companies, governments and individuals are championing the cultural and creative industries (some saying ‘the arts’) as a way out of the current financial turmoil.

There is no doubt that while the financial sector has been imploding, the creative industry sectors have been steadily increasing their wealth, income generation and presence (in the UK economy at any rate) – or so the rhetoric would have you believe. NESTA’s recent report on how the creative industries will be the engine of growth in the UK suggests “between 2009 and 2013 the UK creative industries – which is responsible for films, music, fashion, TV and video games production – will grow on average at 4% – more than double the rate of the rest of the economy. By 2013, the sector is expected to employ 1.3 million people, likely to be more than the financial sector” (quote taken from here). These are bold statements, given the recent problems that have been reported in the so-called creative sectors. Forster & Partners, the global architectural firm shed 350 workers, Geary has halved its workforce, ITV is facing huge job cuts through a fall in advertising revenue, the music industry continues to battle against online innovations which limit their profits, and a particular issue of mine, the UK computer game industry is still facing a massive brain drain to Canada (also here) due to the fact that the government is still sitting on it’s hands regarding tax incentives for the industry.

However, recently, the creative evangelist himself Richard Florida has been trumpeting how the creative economy is where the US should be focusing it’s efforts, and not bailing out the stagnant and ‘old world’ industries of the banks and the automobiles. There is a sense that we should be enforcing a ‘revolution’, not ‘reseting’ the old and unworkable Fordist economy regime, by encouraging creativity and not supporting industries which got us into this mess in the first place – a message that has been echoed for the UK.

So where does this leave us? The mixed messages coming from the UK government are unhelpful, but they do point toward the fact that their is a consensus that creative and innovate workers need to be encouraged to ‘let rip’ and rebuild a different economic base to that from before. But more than this, it is the ‘atomisation’ (i.e. networked individualisation, or connected fragmentation) of the creative economy that will be crucial in the future. Architecture as an industry is so heavily linked to construction that an economic downturn, which effects the construction of major projects more acutely (one only has to remember the stationary, rusting cranes of the Asian financial crisis of 1997), will always see these firms suffer in one way or another. That is why those innovations that can make things more efficient or more environmentally friendly will win out in the end, not only politically, but economically.

Also, I believe that the problems facing ITV (and to some extent Channel 5 and 4) are indicative of a wider social media movement. Spoon-fed media is not what the majority of people are looking for in this hyper-connected, user-generated-content environment; and producing films, televisiual products, music recordings or newspapers for mass consumption is a process that will soon be redundant. Having the ability to produce and manipulate content to your own desires is the future of cultural production and the industrial policies that Mandelson is keen to operationalise will have to take note of this. How? That’s for the politicians to argue over, but encouraging risk-taking and collaborative innovation are essential facets of a creative escape from recession. For example, the success of Slumdog Millionaire at the Oscars is always going to be heralded as a British cultural achievement, but will the filmmakers actually make that much hard cash? Film4 (the funders) will see little of the huge profits generated by the film. The creative talent on show in this product is immense, but this does not always translate into financial reward, which if rectified, could  be ploughed back into the industry. This is not just the case in the UK, with Australia and other ‘inde’ producing countries and cities seeing similar problems.

With the advent of the democratisation of the production of cultural products through social media techniques (on which I blogged some thoughts on recently), investing the right people, firms and products will be crucial and will need to be an important part of future policy developments.


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Mapping London’s skyline

Architecture, the design of buildings and outdoor places is one of the most fundamental processes of human society – the production of where we live, where we work and where we play can all be attributed to the architectural profession. As an urban geographer, I am fascinated with the built environment and as the architects that create city skylines are a fundamental part of the creative industries, it represents an exciting cross-section of my research interests.

I wanted to share some recent work that I’ve been doing regarding social network analysis (SNA) and the architecture industry in London. Using SNA to map connections is becoming increasingly easier with online software such as UCINET and it can aid in the visualisation of networks, and with my penchant for Actor-Network Theory as a methodological tool, it allows for a ‘range-finding’ technique that can be further developed by qualitative techniques. Incidentally, Valdis Krebs, one of SNA’s main protagonists, is on Twitter (@valdiskrebs) and often posts great SNA resources.

Also worthy of note is a former co-worker of mine, Eva Cardoso who is responsible for the wonderful SNA diagrams and helped me with the research – I promised her work would not go unrecognised so here it is!

Before any SNA, the first step is to map London’s industry, and Map 1 below shows the location of the top 100 firms in London (based on turnover).

Location of top 100 architecture firms in London

We can see from the map above the top 100 firms (in terms of turnover) are clustered in central London, particularly the western part and the City of London. However, the clustering is not as intense as some of the other creative industries in the area, although with closer inspection to the WC area (Map 2 below), we see that there are two small dense clusters. The first cluster centres on Oxford Street and Bond Street, while the second is around the Tottenham Court Road and further research and analysis is needed to explore whether or not these companies communicate to produce increasing economic returns through clustering (i.e. the Porter model of agglomeration economies). It is worth noting that the maps only show the top 100 firms (in terms of turnover) and so naturally there would be a large number of small and medium sized firms within these clusters, also looking to gain an advantage through agglomeration.

WC cluster of Architecture firms

There are a number of other groups of people that are important to the construction of buildings – the companies and practices themselves, the globalizing politicians and bureaucrats, the global professionals and the merchants and media (see Sklair, 2005) Therefore, these groups of people (and their relevant institutions) will need to communicate regularly and as a result would benefit from proximity. Therefore, a central London location is not only important for agglomeration economics, but also for institutional and organisational advantages, i.e. to be close to the city planners, the local and national governments, as well as the media and related companies.

London’s Top 20 Tallest Buildings

So the economies of agglomeration are important, but in terms of individual projects, I have found myself asking if this agglomeration holds? Below is a list of London’s top 20 tallest (completed) buildings, with their height in meters in brackets:

  1. One Canada Square (235 m)
  2. 8 Canada Square (200 m)
  3. 25 Canada Square (200 m)
  4. BT Tower (191 m)
  5. Tower 42 (183 m)
  6. 30 St Mary Axe (180 m)
  7. Broadgate Tower (161 m)
  8. One Churchill Place (156 m)
  9. 25 Bank Street (153 m)
  10. 40 Bank Street (153 m)
  11. 10 Upper Bank Street (151 m)
  12. Pan Peninsula East Tower (147 m)
  13. Guy’s Tower* (143 m)
  14. City Point (127 m)
  15. The Willis Building (125 m)
  16. Euston Tower* (124 m)
  17. Shakespeare Tower (123 m)
  18. Lauderdale Tower (123 m)
  19. Cromwell Tower (123 m)
  20. Pan Peninsula West Tower (122 m)

You can see these buildings visualised here.

Each of the companies involved in the construction of each building (the information was sourced from Emporis.com) There are only 18 buildings used in the following network diagrams as there has been no information available for the Guy’s Tower and Euston Tower (*); hence those two buildings had to be excluded from the network.

Remarkably, the whole network as illustrated in the first diagram below, comprises one single component (self-contained unit) as all of its points in the component (companies) can reach one another through one or more paths. Accordingly the density of the graph is relatively high with 5.5%. The density describes the general level of linkage among the points in a self-contained network. The more points are connected to one another, the more dense the graph will be, in this case, it means that a number of companies worked together on multiple projects.

SNA diagram for London's buildings and companies involved

The network diagram below is the network with pendants (i.e. those  nodes with only one connection) removed:

Company-to-building diagram (with pendants – connections of 1 degree – removed)

193 companies were involved in the creation of the 20 tallest buildings in London, with Reef Associates being the most connected company. The majority of these highly connected companies are specialised in certain fields and operate globally, and they are:

  • Reef Associates is a leading Façade Access consultancy. They are based in London with involvements in international projects (including France, Spain, China and Germany).
  • Canary Wharf PLC, a property development and investment group, is the only company that does not operate internationally nor nationally as the group was set up exclusively to focus exclusively on ‘Grade A’ office space and high quality retail facilities at the Canary Wharf Estate and the skyscrapers situated there.
  • Sandy Brown Associates are consultants in the field of acoustics, noise and vibration control and operate in over 50 countries with its headquarter in London, UK.
  • Ove Arup & Partners (Arup) is a global firm of designers, engineers, planners and business consultants providing a diverse range of professional services and is the largest company in London; indeed it has a monopoly status in the capital.
  • Permasteelisa (UK) is leader in the engineering, manufacturing and installation of architectural envelopes (curtain walls), internal partitions and furniture systems. It operates in 4 continents with offices in 27 countries. It started its business in Italy.
  • KONE UK, a leading elevator and escalator company, is present in 50 countries worldwide and has its headquarters in Helsinki, Finland.

I am aware of the limitations of this data set and the presence of these companies may seem obvious, but my main aim here is to show inter-connected the companies involved in the construction are (network mapped here) and how London’s skyline has been built up only a handful of companies. Moreover, as a geographer, I wanted to show where around the world these companies are, showing how ‘global’ London’s skyline actually is.  The video below was created using a Google Earth kmz file of the location of London’s top 20 tallest buildings (the white arrows) and the location of each of the different companies that were involved in their construction.

Obviously companies based in London feature prominently,but as can be seen from the list above, the main companies involved in the network are spread across the world. Also, the presence of a large number of New York-based companies is poignant as it provides some more evidence for the NY-LON thesis purported by the urban geographer, Richard Smith. The project-based nature of the architecture is often thought of as being heavily project-centric (as well as the creative industries as a whole), yet it is the spatial aspects of those projects which is often overlooked, but is what has been exemplified here.

Much, much more could be done here, as this research forms only my initial forrays into the project-based nature of the architecture industy. Hopefully I will be able to continue it in a more formal setting, but in the meantime, I will continue to develop SNA and the GeoWeb in further research agendas.


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Creative Industries: An Oxymoron?

It will be of little surprise to the majority of readers that the creative industries have become big business – they are the focus of a multitude of local, city, region and national governments’ attempts to redevelop, regenerate and reignite growth and development in their ‘place’. But their benefit and how can they be utilised is often criticised and debated vehemently. The UK government’s attempts at ‘capturing’ the creative industries via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) have been criticised for being too arbitrary (see Oakley, 2004; Roodhouse, 2006a; Christophers, 2007) and recent attempts at quantifying this ephemeral and messy industrial sector have been patchy at best. The definitional boundaries apropos the thirteen sub-sectors have come under close scrutiny, with many practioners and businesses alike claiming that these sub-sectors are of little use anymore – arguing that many business activities will straddle a number of different sub-sectors. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of work in the creative industries is now project-based, which encapsulates businesses from a variety of the sub-sectors (Grabher, 2004a, 2004b; Rifkin, 2005; Davenport, 2006), so trying to overtly manage these industries ‘from above’ is a square peg in a round hole. Surely film has more in common with the television industry than it does the video industry? Should television and radio be lumped together simply because the high-end of the industry combines the two (Such as the BBC for example)? The majority of television industry workers (producers, directors of photography, runners etc) will never entertain the idea of working for a radio company.

More generally throughout the creative industries, the idea that there is a common practical interest between the film industry and crafts is highly questionable. Also, film-makers work on computer game development, musicians work with software developers, graphic designers and advertisers collaborate. Designers themselves will work for manufacturing firms or retail outlets – if we begin to scrutinize the way the creative industries operate (i.e. through projects and social networks) then we start to realise the deficiencies and vacuity of trying to pen them in with sub-sectors.

Where does this leave us? After all, the economic strength of the creative industries comes from their political management – something that other countries strive towards. For example, it has been argued that India has no single body that can be called upon to represent creative and cultural industries as a distinct entity. A focal point needs to be established to engage various stakeholders in a productive dialogue, so as to achieve consensus over strategy. This is ossified when an Indian commentator argues, “we can choose not to address the need at our own peril in a world where more and more governments are setting the required infrastructure” (Sethi, 2005).

Therefore, the creative industries’ intrinsic economic value is created through their strategic and political positioning. After all, the creative industries are in no way new – the latest technological developments have helped us to express human creativity to a higher potential, but people have been sculpting, painting, playing, performing and filming for millennia. Creating a political outlet in which these people can reap economic benefits in such a way as to aid the development of particular regions (through cultural quarters (Roodhouse, 2006b) for example) has been the catalyst for the ‘creative industries’ as a political tool, and the main reason for the proliferation of such policies and their popularity around the world.

In many ways, the ‘creative industries’ can be considered an oxymoron. Being truly creative has always been in conflict with making a quick buck. Trying to make money out of talent, it is argued, has always been viewed as ‘selling out’, albeit a view which has been challenged (Orme, 2006). By industrialising creativity, the DCMS has put profitability at the top of the to-do list of creative businesses, and now the majority of policies are engineered to increase the wealth-generation of the sub-sector and economic prosperity of it’s participants. Perhaps this is why these stringent boundaries are therefore perceived to be necessary – to keep them in check, keep them profitable. But this can be to the detriment of the fundamental processes involved. Keeping an industry ‘in it’s box’ obfuscates collaborative efforts, negates networking and can hinder the development of burgeoning industrial practices. A rejection of a ‘top-down approach’ cannot be replaced with a ‘horizontal approach’ either (such as project-based policies). The ethereality and rhizomatic nature of the creative industries should be celebrated – cutting through the ‘soup’ of social networks, informal practices, tacit knowledge etc in a linear and unidirectional fashion will only create the same problems of definitional boundaries and political suitability. Therefore, next time we start to think about how to manage the creative industries in such a way as to improve the quality of life, maybe we should start by rethinking their political ethos – not an easy or comfortable task by any means, but then, has it ever been so?

First image courtesy of Ed Davenport (c) 2008.

All other images courtesy of Jimmy Mould (c) 2008: See more of his photos on his blog.

References

Christophers B. (2007) ‘Enframing creativity: power, geographical knowledges and the media economy’. Transactions. 9: 235-247.

Davenport J. (2006) ‘UK Film Companies: Project-Based Organizations Lacking Entrepreneurship and Innovativeness?’ Creativity and Innovation Management. 15(3): 250-257.

Grabher G. (2004a) “Learning in Projects, Remembering in Networks? Communality, Sociality and Connectivity in Project Ecologies’. European Urban and Regional Studies. 11(2): 103-123.

Grabher G. (2004b) ‘Temporary Architectures of Learning: Knowledge Governance in Project Ecologies’. Organization Studies. 25(9): 1491-1514.

Oakley, K. (2004) ‘Not so cool Britannia’. International journal of cultural studies: 7(1): 67-77.

Orme G. (2006) ‘Special, moi?’ PACT. June, 2006: 31.

Rifkin J. (2005) ‘When markets give way to networks’, in Hartley J. (eds.) The Creative Industries. Blackwell, Oxford.

Roodhouse S. (2006a) ‘The unreliability of cultural management information: defining the visual arts’ Journal of Arts Management, Law and Society. 36(1): 48-65.

Roodhouse S. (2006b) Cultural Quarters. Intellect, London.

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