«The already considerable debate about what constitutes a ‘creative’ city becomes ever more critical as the world urbanises at a rapid pace. In ...»
8. THE CREATIVE CITIES DISCOURSE: PRODUCTION AND/OR
The already considerable debate about what constitutes a ‘creative’ city becomes
ever more critical as the world urbanises at a rapid pace. In this chapter the author
argues that the key tensions in discussions over what makes cities more conducive to
and supportive of creativity revolve around perspectives that are either productioncentric or consumption-centric. Scholars are increasingly prepared to claim priority for the city-region over the nation-state as an economic and cultural agent in the contemporary world, but are they ready to deal with major changes in the nature of cultural production and consumption themselves? A number of examples of new challenges for the creative cities ‘discourse’ rounds out the chapter.
Introduction I live in a place called Brisbane. The city, along with the entire city-region of southeast Queensland (reaching south to the Gold Coast, north to the Sunshine Coast, and westward to Toowoomba), has undergone rapid population growth over the last decade or two, fuelled mostly by internal migration from Australia’s southern states. Indeed, for a period of time in the 2000s, it was the second fastest growing city-region in the western world, second only to Phoenix, with growth rates exhibiting classic signs of sun-belt migrations during that period.
Like Phoenix, southeast Queensland attracted retirees, together with those escaping higher housing costs in the larger Australian metropolises. In the most recent wave of such migration however, professionals have, for the first time, become a significant part of the cohort moving into the region, attracted by challenging career opportunities along with the well-established lifestyle, family rearing and housing affordability factors. Although internal migration slowed down when the global financial crisis impacted on Queensland’s economy, the demographics of this most recent wave would count among Richard Florida’s (2002) creative professionals.
That said, Brisbane is no real contender for the upper tiers of creative cities. Indeed, in creative cities place-competition, it would stand a long way back—in the third or fourth tier—and is still emerging from a long history of political and cultural backwardness. The well-known Australian satirist Barry Humphries was at his coruscating best when he proposed that Australia is the Brisbane of the world! Nevertheless, the data show clear growth in the professional class, and this has had beneficial impacts on cultural participation and consumption. Between 2001 and 2006, the percentage of tertiary-qualified workers rose from 19.2 per cent to 23.3 per cent, whilst conversely the percentage of the lowest qualified
workers decreased from 50.8 per cent to 43.0 per cent (Australian census data in ID 2010:
27). Accompanying this trend has been a corresponding growth of the specifically creative workforce, by which I mean the creative and support jobs related to arts, design, media and communications, not the generalised white- and no-collar workforce as defined by Florida (see Cunningham 2011). Indeed, between the censuses of 2001 and 2006 more of these creative workforce jobs were created in Queensland than any other state, accounting for almost a third of national growth (10,359 new creative workforce jobs appear in Queensland, which is 30 per cent of all new such jobs in Australia).
Yet, one of the defining features of Brisbane’s creative workforce employment is its continuing lack of producers—the people who assemble resources, do deals and create wealth for the whole of the creative workforce. At the time of the most recent (2006) national census, Brisbane’s total workforce was about 43 per cent the size of Sydney’s, and its creative workforce was 29 per cent compared to Sydney. However, Brisbane had only 15 per
cent of the number of producers that Sydney had, and only 18 per cent the number of directors, across screen, theatre, radio, and events. The proportion of these key creative professionals has grown a little since 1996 (when the number of Brisbane producers and directors were respectively only 12 per cent and 14 per cent of those found in Sydney). But the key point remains: the producer/director pool has always been low in Brisbane and has remained so.
Likewise, the key producer services ‘soft’ infrastructure in Australia is mostly found elsewhere. All the large employers and firms in the creative sector, and the bureaucratic support infrastructure, are headquartered in Sydney and Melbourne. This includes the major broadcasters, pay-TV and telecommunications companies, federal government funding agencies, regulatory bodies, Internet service providers, the professional associations representing the interests of the creative sector in games, film, TV, radio, multimedia, Internet, and even the consumer bodies which agitate on the consumption side.
Thus, while there has been record growth in internal migration, and a corresponding growth in the professional and creative workforces and also (following what we might expect from Florida’s thesis) cultural consumption, there has not been a commensurate increase in the capacity for Brisbane to be a significant producer and wealth-creator of culture. However, the great variety of indexes available for ranking cities always provides the chance for a good news story: in The Economist Intelligence Unit’s survey of 140 cities worldwide, Brisbane is currently 16th, while the Globalization and World Cities (GaWC) research network slots Brisbane in as a third tier Gamma+ (see Infrastructure Australia 2010: ch 2 and Taylor et al.
2010). Its ‘liveability’ has allowed Brisbane to score well in some indexes, which has been a source of civic pride and a new branding strategy, in which it is recently touted as ‘Australia’s new world city’ (www.brisbanemarketing.com.au).
However, faced with cultural infrastructural deficit within the nation-state, Brisbane and southeast Queensland increasingly look to cultural export markets in the Asian region to align with Queensland’s massive focus on commodities exports into, and tourism from, this region. Brisbane has seven sister city relationships; all are cities in east Asia or the AsiaPacific, none is North American, South American, African or European. Major cultural initiatives such as the Asia Pacific Triennial (an art exhibition), the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (a screen competition) and the World Theatre Festival (a contemporary performance season) further turn the city-region’s strategic focus outside the nation-state.
This consideration of Brisbane serves to illustrate several key points I wish to argue.
Relationships between cultural consumption and cultural production are complex and may not necessarily align; indeed the tension between production-centric and consumption-centric accounts of what makes for a creative city or city-region is, I argue, its central motive force.
Brisbane exemplifies this tension. It also partakes in what is a global shift of attention from the nation-state, as the locus of economic and cultural agency, to the city-region—a central feature of the creative cities literature.
Creative Cities Discourse (CCD) and production-consumption tensions To engage, as this volume does, with cultural policy and politics in its urban setting, must be to engage with the creative cities discourse. Speaking to the book’s themes of political economy of culture at the city level, the attraction of creative talent, city branding and urban planning, CCD is a rapidly growing literature across many discipline fields: urban studies, urban planning, architecture, design, media communication, and cultural and economic geography. (To think of creative cities discourse is, in an instrumentalisation of Foucault, to propose that such bodies of knowledge-practice are always ordered in ways that produce as well as inhibit understanding; they are structured by tensions that need to be made explicit.) It
is hybrid; the corpus consists of historical and analytical work (Hall 1998; Sassen 1994;
Saxenian 1996; Scott 2000, 2005), work which is more focused on urban planning (Montgomery 2007) and work which is concerned with place-competitiveness (Florida 2002, 2005, 2006; Florida and Tinagli 2004; Landry 2000, 2006). It is a broad and deep academic discourse, often strongly policy-oriented, and thus also highly technical, when it engages with urban zoning regulations, architectural design, and the vagaries of statistics. Equally, it can be highly rhetorical, with place competitiveness provoking what many academics might regard as egregious and tendentious displays by civic officials as they jostle to put their city on the map. Tensions, and confusions, between the descriptive and the normative abound.
Increasingly ubiquitous place competition often draws on rigorous research and analysis but also, in the hands of many of its practitioners, is driven by the need for both hard economic and symbolic capital. Yet this strong element of ranking and tiering contrasts with approaches where every city can have its day and be creative. In the battle for city profile, there is a fundamental tension between the established pantheon of truly world leading cities (as extolled by Sassen 1994 or Hall 1998) and the approach that offers, with appropriate strategy, policy and programs, virtually any city the opportunity to bootstrap itself into contention (as developed by Richard Florida, Charles Landry, John Montgomery and others).
Tensions in CCD are structured by what I would call its master polarity—the tension between production-centricity and consumption-centricity. A sense of this polarity can be gleaned from the recent and quite neutral definition of the creative city by cultural economist
The concept of the creative city describes an urban complex where cultural activities of various sorts are an integral component of the city’s economic and social functioning. Such cities tend to be built upon a strong social and cultural infrastructure; to have relatively high
concentrations of creative employment; and to be attractive to inward investment because of their well-established arts and cultural facilities. (Throsby 2010: 139) Beneath Throsby’s appealingly Arcadian vision of the creative city lies a seething, dynamic debate structured by this tension. In his important and influential The Rise of the Creative Class, urbanist Richard Florida (2002) neatly reversed the usual economic booster strategies employed by governments and councils throughout the developed world. Instead of inward investment to build industrial-scale production infrastructure and capacity, he famously promoted the idea that city growth strategy can be based on ‘building a community that is attractive to creative people’ (Florida 2002, 283). The ‘creative class’ (by which he meant everyone from bohemian artists to young urban professionals), by virtue of their lifestylebased locational choices, drive city renewal and growth. The argument is that ‘places with a flourishing artistic and cultural environment are the ones that generate economic outcomes and overall economic growth’ (Florida 2002, 261) not because of the economic muscle of the cultural/creative industries but because of their high-tech workers’ pulling power.