«The already considerable debate about what constitutes a ‘creative’ city becomes ever more critical as the world urbanises at a rapid pace. In ...»
Against the assumption of waning nation-state agency, I consider the creative city as a product of direct nation-state policy prescription (Beijing) and then obverse examples – creative city initiatives where the nation-state’s policy parameters are definitively worked around (film festivals; ‘runaway’ production hotspots such the Gold Coast). Then follow cities which lead the way as digital hotspots, where production-consumption is blurred (Seoul); and cities outside the west, and which have risen from inauspicious and informal economies (Lagos-Nollywood). The counter-discourse to that which assumes that only inner urban milieu can be significantly creative must be addressed—the creative congregation as non-metropolitan (creative suburbia, northern rivers, New Zealand). We conclude where we started—with the problematic of production capability in the context of predominantly lifestyle-consumption drivers (Brisbane). The examples I use come mainly from the ‘eastern hemisphere’ and, unashamedly so, for this helps move the discussion well away from CCD’s traditional North Atlantic nexus.
The creative city as policy prescription: Beijing The classic studies that constitute the core of CCD are clear about the complex, organic growth and multivariate causality of success factors for a creative city, and also how evanescent some success was—Hall’s exemplar is Berlin in the 1920s. Despite this, and despite the dangers of template-driven, or ‘cookie-cutter’, approaches (Oakley 2004; Gibson and Kong 2005; Gibson 2010), cities the world over go on promoting place-competitiveness through strategies, policies and programs. And one of, if not the biggest strategy, must be that for Beijing. This is no municipal council boosterism. This is nation-state dirigisme at its most tendentious. The intent of the Chinese authorities is for Beijing to become nothing less than a media ‘capital’ as well as the political capital of an emerging super power.
For Michael Curtin (2003; 2008; and forthcoming), there are three essential elements for a media capital: industrial infrastructure driven by the logic of accumulation, human capital driven by trajectories of creative migration and a successful management of the forces of socio-cultural variation. China has systematically adopted creative clustering strategies to rapidly build capacity in, for example, lower-end animation, but the Chaoyang district in central Beijing is a monster creative cluster charged with bringing together ‘mother ships’— critical ideological infrastructure in the media sector—with foreign investor-friendly new media and large entertainment developments; meanwhile re-asserting Beijing’s priority over Shanghai’s creative industries and the lowered flag of Hong Kong.
According to Angela Huang’s (2010) research, the difficulty of enacting the third of Curtin’s drivers—successful management of the forces of socio-cultural variation—is hampering the development of Beijing as a media capital, even as industrial infrastructure and creative migration are proceeding apace. Foreign companies can exhaust their patience struggling to access China’s domestic market through regulatory and bureaucratic intransigence. The Chinese government acts both as a regulator and market designer as well as a player in supporting national media conglomerates (‘mother ships’) in ways that restrict competition and entrench market power. Content and technology innovation is hampered by intra-government departmental interests. Governmental promotion of socialistic cultural homogeneity compromises the maturity of a competitive market; Chinese audiences are hungry for different cultural products and experience and turn to pirated content if such ‘socio-cultural variation’ is not available on mandated media outlets. While there is overwhelming nation-state investment in the development of Beijing as a creative capital, there are also considerable obstacles to be overcome if it is to be successful.
The creative city as a product of city-region rather than nation-state agency: film festivals and ‘runaway’ screen production Most of the acknowledged world cities of the modern era have achieved that status through a relatively benign interdependency with the nation-state, and have been the pre-eminent urban force in that country over decades if not centuries (London, Paris, Tokyo, New York). But there is also a clear obverse of the creative city as a creature of nation-state agency; these are examples where national identity is irrelevant or the nation-state is actively opposed.
Even though nation-state governance concerns itself with ‘identity building and identity protection’, as the co-editors put it, this remains at the rather
level of Benedict Anderson’s ‘imagined community’ (1991). More concrete, local identity building is usually left to the municipal (or state/province if there is federal governance) level. The contrast between mainstream film industry policies at the national level (production and distribution assistance based typically on national expression and identity, attempting to balance the might of Hollywood) and those of city place-marking through film festivals is instructive.
Film festivals, like festivals generally, are place-marking activity, invested in by burgeoning numbers of cities and towns, all of which are increasingly interested in announcing their status as culturally savvy and prepared to invest and to trigger further investment. It seems as though a festival is as necessary in any given town council’s repertoire as roads, rates and rubbish! Indeed, a substantial part of film consumption now takes place outside the domain of mainstream film distribution and outside the purview of national film policies. A central fact of the film festival phenomenon is that its political economy is not driven by powerful distribution muscle, as the film industry itself is, but by myriad and growing numbers of civic councils, arts and tourism government agencies, states, provinces, regional authorities, private philanthropy, commercial businesses at a local more
than a multinational level, and of course box office—all of whom invest in the film festival for local identity, prestige, and turnover. The proportion of worldwide film festival cumulative revenues sourced from the film industry itself is very small.
So-called ‘runaway’ screen production is typically regarded as the willing extension of cultural dependency and abject capitulation in the face of Hollywood hegemony. At the time, in the 1970s and 1980s, when Hollywood was beginning systematically to take production offshore, it would have been inconceivable for most national cultural policy and screen policy settings to support the development of facilities and creative skills to attract runaway Hollywood productions. Nevertheless, since that time, a growing number of cities have built studios, developed their creative human capital, and engaged in place-competitive bidding for large-budget Hollywood, but also Japanese and increasingly Bollywood, screen production: Wilmington NC, Orlando, Vancouver, Alicante, Montréal, Capetown, Toronto, Louisiana, Rome, Wellington, the Barrandov studios in Prague, Babelberg in Berlin, and Budapest.
Goldsmith, Ward and O’Regan’s Local Hollywood: Global Film Production and the
Gold Coast (2010) tells the story of another ‘local Hollywood’, Australia’s Gold Coast:
if we want to understand Global Hollywood, we need to attend not only to the design centre in Los Angeles, but also the many Local Hollywoods which have sprung up around the world.
There is one Los Angeles; there are numerous Local Hollywoods.... To get at these ordinary places we need a different attention… these places and interests have not only transformed Hollywood but also transform themselves in the process’ (2010: 29).
Investing in such a volatile industry, the authors argue, was consistent with a city which had remade itself many times over as it grew on the back of national and international tourism, itself a highly volatile industry. The key urgers, investors and decision makers in this case were international studios (Warner Bros), commercial film exhibition interests, provincial
government and city council. The strategy to attract offshore high budget US movies and television and to justify it in terms of industry and skills capacity and infrastructure building set it resolutely apart from, and indeed directly at odds with, the intent of national cultural and screen policies designed to regulate for, and subsidise, only identifiable national content.
It is inconceivable that such national policy settings would or could have supported the development of Warner MovieWorld Studios on the Gold Coast (and the associated major theme park).
Creative city as digital city: Seoul Seoul is the most wired mega-city in the world, with around 80 per cent of the population having broadband and personal computers (MIC 2008). Superfast broadband and digital saturation are everyday affordances; online, Seoul netizens are globally connected but come together in highly communal, locationally-specific bangs (ubiquitous communal online social spaces). Scott and Storper’s ‘large-scale agglomeration’ occurs in games and film, nationalcultural assertion is strong (although local film exhibition quotas are being wound back under the US Korea Free Trade Agreement), but also the new conditions of ‘produsage’ (production-consumption blurring) are played out through massive social investment in usergenerated content and web 2.0, a hyperactive blogosphere (OHMYNEWS), massive multiplayer online games (MMOG) (Hjorth 2008; Choi 2010). This is all mediated by the Korean language which is bound to act as a locative moderator of global-local flows. It is here in Seoul that many of most advanced experiments in connected living, in fostering ‘smart and connected communities’ for home, office, shopping, learning, wellness, sports, and also every other dimensions of social and personal activity, are being developed (Lindsay 2010; Dignan 2010).
The creative city fashioned out of dire circumstances: Lagos It would be hard to think of a greater contrast to the pantheon of culturally creative cities extolled by Peter Hall than Lagos. Lagos is projected to be the fastest growing city in the world, exploding from 288,000 in 1950, to 14 million in 2010, to 23 million by 2015. Lagos is one of the most chaotic, least planned, cities in the world and yet out of it has grown the newest major film industry in the world: Nollywood. Evolving out of an informal economic base reliant on pirate networks that have gone commercial, with absolutely no state subsidy or other support mechanisms, Nigerian video is low-tech, low production quality, high
volume filmmaking servicing mostly the urban poor:
... thinking of Nollywood as an example of low-tech, informal innovation gives us a new understanding of what an innovative media production and distribution might look like. If we think of innovation in this way... then Lagos would surely be the innovation capital of the world. (Lobato 2009: 194; and see Lobato 2010).
The creative city as non-metropolitan: New Zealand, the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, and ‘creative’ suburbia Much CCD has given rise to the widespread perception that the prototypical creative city is represented by inner urban milieux—dynamic, bohemian, innovative, and cosmopolitan— while that which exists outside, particularly the outer suburbs of large cities and smaller towns in predominantly rural landscapes, are dull, static, and culturally backward.
The case of Aotearoa New Zealand makes this perception difficult to sustain. The successes of filmmakers such as Peter Jackson; the best practice screen infrastructure he has built in Wellington (the WETA studio complex); design-led innovation into manufacturing and tourism; leading strategies for cultural and eco-tourism – these are all examples of world class creativity on a very small national population base (4.3 million), with only three cities of significant size. Those seeking to understand the creative dynamics of the country gesture