The folly of Coalition Creative Industry Policy

This article cropped up on my RSS feed this morning which was interesting and relevant enough to tweet about, but thinking about it a bit more, it got me slightly riled, and not just because it’s Clegg. The headline (as is usually the case with these things) is slightly misleading, but nevertheless, his main proposal seems to be to give cities like Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle the “capital to compete with other cities”. This will presumably be through local enterprise partnerships, that put business leaders at the forefront of policy decision-making. This, by itself, is not a bad idea. In fact, in terms of local economic recovery, it’s quite a good idea as business acumen coupled with local knowledge will encourage wiser investment strategies than would be cooked up in Whitehall. However, what I think Clegg is missing (or more precisely, what the people who tell him what to say have missed) is the fact that the distance between investment and successful development is even further apart in the creative industries than it is in other sectors of the economy. Offering incentives to car manufactures to relocate in a particular region is a fairly straightforward strategy, as long as the labour force is there, it’s a fairly simple equation (negating the complexities of globalisation of course…), but attempting to stimulate the creative industries from a ‘top-down’ approach is a far more risky strategy. The preponderance of SMEs and freelancers in the creative industries creates a complex (socio-)economic regional (more often than not, urban) landscape consisting of social networks, tacit knowledge, informal exchange and untraded interdependencies (to use Economic Geography undergraduate speak). The infusing of everyday knowledge that cannot be codified with more stringent, mechanistic properties of business practices is a synergistic interplay that the creative industries undertake continuously, and, by no means gets it right itself. So why would a local enterprise partnership know any different?

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The UK’s Cultural Quarters

The notion of the cultural quarter is one that has been around for a while, yet is still being refined. Many cities across the UK have initiated the planning and development of a cultural quarter in an attempt to to stimulate growth and attempt to ‘re-vitalise’ the local economy along the lines of culture, the arts and the creative industries. But are they working? Who are they really for? What kinds are there? Who was involved in their development?

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Global Urbanist post

Another quick pointer toward Global Urbanist, for whom I have recently written an article. The post briefly discusses the Creative City concept and the problems with ranking them. This forms part of my wider writings on the city, and I will be speaking on the topic in Istanbul in November, so come along if you’re in the area and have don’t have a better offer! This concept will be the subject of my further publications in the future, so watch this space….

Politics of Creativity or Creative Politics?

It’s taken a bit of time for the dust to settle on the coalition government and already we are seeing them attempting to tackle the chronic economic malaise that we currently suffering from. Public sector cuts seem to be high on the agenda and within that we have already seen the abolishment of major planned cultural projects, such as the £45 million pledge to the  BFI; wider cuts throughout the DCMS have also been outlined. Perhaps of more relevance to the policies surrounding the creative industries is this:

So, what does ‘reviewed and rebuilt’ mean? Clues may have been given to us in Jeremy Hunt’s first speech as Culture Minister. The term ‘creative industries’ has not been completely stripped out of the political rhetoric, but it seems that the cohesiveness that they once purported is ebbing away in favour of a more digitally-orientated taxonomy, one which focuses on infrastructure and local provisioning of content. Since those infamous Mapping Documents of 1998 and 2001, there has been a great deal of debate. This seminar at the Open University a couple of years ago, for me, epitomised these debates, with Jon Newbigin’s talk in particular noting the political drive behind the ‘coalition’ of the creative industries concept (look out for a question by me to Prof. Pratt about 1 hour 5 mins in).

It seems that the 00s was the honeymoon period of the creative industries as a functional concept. I often argued that the ‘siloization’ of the creative industries into subsectors was a vacuous exercise, an attempt to justify the spending on the various councils that exist. But now, it seems that as there is an emphasis now on the delivery of content rather than the production of it, the new government is formulating a politics of individual creativity and the delivery thereof, rather than attempting to herd companies and people together in attempt to statistically justify their spending. This is a positive move. Creative industry activity has always been two or three steps ahead of any policies designed to encourage them, and their mixing of production techniques, their sharing of individuals and their cross-pollination of ideologies, has belied constant labelling and typologies. Now, with a focus on supporting the platforms for this mixing; the more rapid delivery of the content; and the room for innovation; and most importantly a policy for a digital, not analog age; this can only catalyse the productivity of the sector, and provide the financial rewards that the creative industry companies rightly deserve. It would be interesting now to see if any of this is recognised in today’s budget….

GaWC Workshop and Annual Lecture, 28th April: Line up

We have finalised the line up for the Globalisation and World Cities (GaWC) ‘Cities of the Creative Economy’ workshop on  the 28th April 2010. The day includes the GaWC annual lecture by Professor Andy C Pratt of the Centre for Culture, Media and Creative Industries (CMCI), King’s College London, with his talk entitled ‘Global Cities and the Creative Economy’. The line up/flyer is here – please email me (o.m.mould (at) lboro.ac.uk) or Allan Watson (a.watson (at) staffs.ac.uk) if you want a place, although they are limited….

Hope to see you there.

GaWC workshop and Annual lecture

Another call for papers…

The Globalization and World City Research Centre (GaWC), based in the Geography Department at Loughborough University is hosting a workshop for young researchers and postgraduates on the creative economy and the city on the 28th April 2010 at Loughborough University. We will be looking for presentations that explore the role of the creative economy in the production of cities through globalization, and the outcomes that this has on those who occupy the urban environment. Please email me (o.mould@lboro.ac.uk) to submit an abstract for presentation (no more than 250 words) and the deadline is the 5th March 2010.

On the day of the workshop, GaWC will also host their annual lecture, which this year will be delivered by Andy C Pratt, Professor of Culture, Media and the Economy from the Centre for Culture, Media and Creative Industries (CMCI) at King’s College London. Professor Pratt is a leading academic and international policy advisor on cities and the creative economy and his talk will complement the themes of the workshop.

The flyer can be found here. Please feel free to distribute it through your own networks.

New York, LA and London: A Creative Industry World City Network

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Being the newest member of the Globalisation and World Cities Research Group at Loughborough University, I thought that it was worth splicing together my interest in the creative industries and cultural economy with the methodologies of my new Ivory Tower.

What GaWC pioneered in recent years was a methodology to produce hierarchies based not on what is inside cities (such as what Sassen (1991) with her famous book title ‘London New York and Tokyo’, and others previously had been doing), but on city connectivity of multinational companies (see Taylor, 2004). One of the first papers (Beaverstock et al., 1999) published by the GaWC group compiled a hierarchy of world cities based upon the connectivity of business service firms, as opposed to the attributional factors that previous scholars used (Such as Hall, 1966; Friedman, 1986). This study was important because it was the first to rank cities upon relational data. In other words, it used the connectivity of the firms (APS firms, not creative industry firms) being studied as the barometer for the hierarchy, not attributional data that had previously been adopted. Using data on the location of the headquarters of major business service firms, and the location of those firms’ subsidiary branches, the connectivity of each city was ranked, thereby creating a relational hierarchy based on communication and connectivity; rather than counting the number of firms in any given city and comparing them.

This paper became was a seminal research agenda which spawned a number of other authors to conduct simiilar  into the connectivity of world cities, which are all available as research bulletins on the GaWC site. One which is ofrelevance here, is that of Krätke (2003) who produced a similar connectivity index, but this time based on media conglomerates, again using the headquarter locations and subsidiary branches as the basis of quantifying the connectivity. The production of the quantitative relational empirics by Beaverstock et al. (1999) for advanced producer service firms and Krätke (2003) for media firms, produced a preliminary visualisation of the world city network, and were the first empirical steps into a new conceptualisation of world cities. However, Krätke’s (2003) work used 33 media firms, using specific criteria;

“In order to carry out an empirical study of the network of globally linked media cities and the relative importance of the various urban nodes in the global cultural economy an analysis was made of the location networks of 33 global media industry firms with a total of 2,766 business units (establishments). To qualify as “global” a media firm had to have a presence in at least three different national economic areas and at least two continents or “world regions” (USA / Canada / Latin America; Europe; Asia / Australia; Africa) with its branch offices, subsidiaries and holding firms”.

(Krätke, 2003: 610)

Therefore, the hierarchy in this blog post is put forward as an extension (and update) of Krätke’s initial work, by including more firms from an official ranking – namely the Financial Times Top 500 and the Forbes Global 2000 – the (arguably) two most recognised (and utilised), list of global companies by business. These sources rank companies by turnover and value, which provides are more objective economic representation of the ‘global’ companies in any given sector (this list is given here).

The categories that aligned most with the ‘accepted definition’ of the creative industries (by this I mean in the UK) were media, software and services and leisure goods. While these are not exact matches for the DCMS’ sub-sectors, they represented those companies which deal in services and products that are considered part of the creative economy. The methodology involved having to select which cities the selected companies were located in, and where their subsidiary branches and wholly-owned companies were located. This information was gathered from hoovers.com, and where needed, research on the individual company’s website. Each city where an office was located was given a score of 1 and added together to give the final score. The list of cities and their scores are listed here. Below is a map of the cities that scored 3 or more (for reasons of clarity).

It is worth considering the consequences of this hierarchy in light of the methodology used. First, as can be seen, there is very much a North American bias to these cities which comes about from the nature of the companies used in this methodology. The majority of the top global companies are media conglomerates and software companies (the top 5 being Microsoft, Time Warner, Viacom, Comcast and Walt Disney) and the large number of small to medium sized firms and freelancers that populate the creative economy are not represented. However, it can be said that while these global firms do not represent the ‘whole’ of the creative industries globally, they are the most accurate portrayal of those global, trans-national companies which produce and deal in products that are considered ‘cultural goods’ (Scott, 2004, 2005; Lash and Lury, 2007). And as they represent a large proportion of global trade in these products, their inter-city connectivity data can provide valuable information regarding the cities and regions of interest to the global firms in contemporary creative industry activity. So, in using these firms (which are predominately based in the US) then this data set will have a tendency to skew toward a North American bias, as many of these firms will have offices in cities across the US before they branch out overseas.

With this in mind, we can see from the map and the list of cities, that New York, Los Angeles and London form a triumvirate of cities in the creative industries. Other notable cities include San Francisco, Chicago and Atlanta; and the cities with any significance that occur outside the North American region are Paris and Tokyo. The lack of other regional cities in the UK is significant, with Birmingham the next highest with a score of only 3.

This data is designed to provide an overview of the world city connectivity of the creative industry, and while it is a ‘snapshot’, this exercise could be repeated at regular intervals in order to provide temporal aspect to the data, which will highlight which cities are increasing their creative industry internationalisation practices through their global firms.

Creative Recessions: Are the Creative Industries the way out?

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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.

Technologies, Local Governance and Community Informatics

The global economic downturn has forced us all to re-evaluate our economic, social and personal assets. A panacea that is often heralded for the general community malaise that is a consequence of the global crisis is community engagement and increased civil participation. This can take many forms, however a key arena is local politics.

The UK government is trying to encourage local people to engage with their local governments in order provide solutions tenable to the local situation. The release of a decentralisation Green Paper by the Conservatives ‘Control Shift‘, released in February 2009, which stated the aim was to give more power to local councils and people, echoed many of the sentiments of the less recent (July 2008) white paper by Government’s Communities and Local Government department (CLG) ‘Communities in control: real people, real power‘, which signaled the governments commitment to “shift[ing] power… away from existing centres [and] into the hands of communities and individual citizens” (CLG report, 2008: page 1).

These reports/papers are a timely contribution as there has been research which suggests that 63 per cent of local residents do not feel they have any influence is decisions made by local councils and governments, and more generally, only one third of people vote in local elections. So there is a distinct sense of apathy which is a barrier that needs to be addressed if the goals in the white paper are to be achieved. That said, community involvement has always been part of the ethos of local government. Councils and boroughs have often engaged with local residents in innovate ways in order to gain their opinions/help in their administrative and bureaucratic processes. From the improvement of services, influencing important budgetary and regeneration issues to running local services; there are a number of ways in which the council can engage with local people. For example, councils already have an obligation to involve their community through the ‘Statements of Community Involvement and Planning Application‘ procedures required for all planning documents. So, there is a sense that the recent white paper(s) is(are being) aimed at building on existing processes by local governments as well as stimulating a fresh impetus, yet there is huge room for improvement.

Because in parallel to this, the increased technological participatory powers of citizens through the Internet and Web 2.0 techniques, has meant that the technological barriers to entry for community or civil engagement have been lowered, and the uptake of information from a variety of sources has intensified. Governments across the world and at various levels (federal, national, state level, local and district) have started to embrace this technology to further their reach and to encourage feedback and participation.

Hence, while the perceived apathy of community engagement in local government decisions is therefore one considerable barrier to entry for some people, techniques such as open-sourced websites, blogs, wikis are all facilitating the way in which information can be fed back from residents to governments, and are relatively inexpensive to implement; shortening the distance between decisions of the collective and the results of those decisions. We have already seen how Web 2.0 techniques were used strategically by Barack Obama’s campaign in the presidential victory of 2008, and now the White House has a specific technological ‘new media’ director to aid in its Web 2.0 capacity.

However, as yet, there is still very much a digital divide in the UK with 26 per cent of the UK population unable to receive a digital broadband connection. Lord Carter said in a recent NESTA speech that he wanted a minimum of 2mbps for all homes in the UK, however this has been criticized as not being enough for modern day Internet usage. And at any rate, if the research by Point Topic is anything to go by, then there is still a lot of work to do (particularly in Northern Ireland). Charles Leadbetter has questioned the effectiveness of this policy on the growth of the creative industry sector by suggested that the increase of broadband to the population will only serve to increase user-generated content and therefore decrease the market share/penetration of large media corporations and perhaps stifle the growth of the industry. This may be true, but in terms of creating a platform for local voices to effect local government then this policy is a must. Community Informatics is a burgeoning discipline, but it seems to tie in with the processes of increased technological capabilities of civil society in effecting local policies and change, particularly for disempowered or marginalised (socially, economically and geographically) communities – with the recent papers by the government and its shadow have argued for.

So, it is important to question Lord Carter’s proposal as being too narrow or not enough for the needs of modern creative industries in the UK (which as we are being reminded are the panacea for the world’s current economic turmoil). However, by increasing local engagement with local governance, the broadband roll out, however small in terms of badnwidth,  could be crucial as it seems to be a genuine and achievable option. Both the government and the conservatives have said they want to ‘decentralise’ power, so for all that entails, a digital Britain is crucial.

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.