Having secured some funding to study MediaCityUK in-depth, it is a great opportunity to grapple with that old problem of the ‘spaces’ of creative industries. I have always tried to write/research/teach around the intersection of urban geographies and the creative industries, yet it seems that despite much academic literature to the contrary, there remains in the ‘real world’ (for want of a more academically-friendly term) a distinct disconnect between the importance of place (and getting that place right) and creative industry development.
It will come as no surprise to anyone reading this that the city has always been considered the place where creativity and innovation is nurtured. Collaboration, serendipity, ‘buzz‘ – they are enzymatic agents of a productive creative industry, and all almost entirely exclusive to urban environments. These characteristics of intrinsic urbanity can not easily be formulated in the short term, despite the planning policies of many city and local councils. It requires a certain amount of trust in the local creative business communities to engender something that is more than the sum of its parts. This is not an easy (nor politically viable) mantra – doing nothing is often given more scorn that interfering and failing. And indeed often the businesses themselves will call for intervention. However, having been researching creative economic activity from an urban perspective, particular the actions of freelancers, it is clear that there is an intrinsic value of a place that creates a ‘creative buzz’ without the need for top-down political intervention. A recent visit to the Stoke’s Croft area of Bristol highlighted just how a place can create a Floridian ‘vibe’ all of it’s own accord without help from policy (or in this case, the direct resistance of it). The number of freelance artists, film-makers, musicians, bohemians etc that call Stoke’s Croft their home is ever-increasing as the area continues to gain a notoriety for being the ‘place to be’. Indeed, it could be argued it’s overtly anti-hegemonic stance (typified by the strong opposition to Tesco, which by the way was pretty full when I went in…) has become a source of attraction for individuals and freelancers looking to find that creative spark needed to be a success.
But somewhere like Stoke’s Croft would hardly register on any policy tool for ‘creative city’ development strategies. I am currently writing a paper around Stoke’s Croft and the role local government has had in it’s history, so to offer up any insights into this would be premature at this stage. Needless to say, it’s development as a ‘cultural quarter‘ (if I may use that rather loaded term) is markedly different from somewhere like MediaCityUK (or Salford Quays more generally). Clearly, trying to align Stoke’s Croft and MediaCityUK would perhaps seen as folly, but then thinking about it for a bit, we find that both areas are developing a ‘buzz’ enabling helps creative businesses thrive. One by accident perhaps and the other by design; and one is encouraging freelance and ‘small scale’ business incubation and the other, multi-national corporations. But nevertheless, both locales play into the way in which urban spaces are influencing the creative industrial landscape of the UK and vice versa.
The creative industries are key to the development and growth of the economy and will be increasingly so in the coming years. But it is crucial to note that this will be reliant on the development of our cities as places in which the creative industries can be performed. Even beyond the creative industries to the wider knowledge economy, creating places that foster an environment of inclusivity, collaboration and experiment will be imperative for economic growth. Private-led, community-orientated development may be slower and not attract the levels of investment and wealth needed for short-term benefit, and may not be as (politically) popular as pumping billions into the development of the latest cultural quarter. But either way, as long as time and effort is spent on getting the place right, the rest will surely follow. But as a geographer, I’m bound to say that….