London as a Creative City

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London as a Creative City

By Charles Landry

Creative cities overview: Twin tracks same destination

London as a creative city
Why are the cultural industries and cultural activities now seen as important?

The cultural policy arena for London

Strategic dilemmas in cultural policy making for London

Creative Cities overview: Twin tracks same destination
The London creative city agenda is involved with two of the most complicated words in the English language – culture and creativity. Creativity is an overused concept difficult to define or grasp and often only associated with the arts. Briefly, genuine creativity involves the capacity to think problems afresh or from first principles; to discover common threads amidst the seemingly chaotic and disparate; to experiment; to dare to be original; the capacity to rewrite rules; to visualise future scenarios; and perhaps most importantly ‘to work at the edge of one competences rather than the centre of them’
These ways of thinking encourage urban innovations and generate new possibilities. Differing types of creativity are needed to develop and address the complexities of a world city, which continuously needs to deal with conflicting interests and objectives. This might be the creativity of scientists to solve problems related to pollution or that of planners to generate new urban policy; that of engineers to solve technical problems concerned say with transport; that of artists to help reinforce the identity of a place or spur the imagination; that of business people to generate new products or services that enhance wealth creation possibilities; as well as those working in the social domain in order to develop social innovations that might help with issues such as social fragmentation.
Thus creative solutions can come from any source whether from within the worlds of the public, private or voluntary sectors as well as individuals operating on their own behalf. The key issue is for a city to provide the conditions within which creativity can flourish.

The term culture is even more elusive because it has multiple meanings. On the one hand there is the notion of ‘culture and development’ and on the other ‘cultural development’. The first is about beliefs, traditions and ways of living and how that affects behaviour and the things people do. So when we talk of ‘culture and urban development in London or Hong Kong’ we are discussing the relationship between cultural factors and their development and how these influence each other. For example, if Hong Kong were to have low self-esteem and confidence this would be a cultural factor determining how it develops. Equally if being imaginative is not legitimised or alternatively if a technocratic mindset is allowed to dominate these would be cultural factors shaping London’s or Hong Kong’s future.

Thus all development is cultural as it reflects the way people perceive their problems and opportunities. Culture is central, because it ‘is the sum total of original solutions a group of human beings invent to adapt to their…….environment and circumstances.’
For cities, especially global cities to thrive in the 21st century there is a need for a culture of creativity – the capacity to think afresh when your world seems to be undergoing a paradigm shift, high ambition, entrepreneurship and opportunity, beauty and acute sensitivity to high quality urban design all of which shape their physical and social environment.
This implies thinking through social, political, cultural as well as economic and technological creativity. It means power holders need to devolve power and to trade it for creative influence within a framework of guiding strategic principles within which it is possible to be tactically flexible. It thus effects a city’s organisational culture. This cultural capital represents the raw materials and scope within which the creativity of people in say London or Hong Kong can operate.
Typically creative cities have a number of characteristics with frame the possibilities for the arts more narrowly defined, they include:

  • Developing a clarity of purpose and ambition

  • Fostering visionary individuals and organizations

  • Being open-minded and willing to take risks

  • Being strategically principled and tactically flexible

  • Being determined in planning rather than deterministic, thus being anticipatory

  • Willing to recognize and work with local cultural resources and local distinctiveness

  • Ensuring that leadership is widespread

On the other hand there is ‘cultural development’ in its humanistic and artistic dimension including the arts as an empowering, self-expressive activity, the arts as helping provide meaning, purpose and direction, the arts as fostering aesthetic appreciation or the arts as creative industries. Today these elements are intimately connected to the objectives above. Firstly because the arts encourage a particular form of critical imagination and innovation, which need to be embedded more deeply into city’s culture if it wants to become a ‘learning city’ that develops on from past mistakes. Secondly, the arts are concerned with quality, attractiveness, performance and beauty and the design of our environment and how it is animated. Thirdly the arts and creative industries play a role both as economic engines of growth as well as in terms of their social impacts. As a consequence the arts and culture in this narrower sense affect as well as draw on the work of other fields from economic development to health and planning.

London as a creative city

An array of studies on London have shown that London is a city of world status in cultural terms. It has a diversified, sophisticated and internationally oriented cultural industries structure that nurtures and supports a wealth of local and International artistic activity both commercial, subsidised and voluntary. Importantly this hive of activity creates the buzz, vibrancy and sub-cultures that makes London attractive and contributes to its standing as a world city economically, socially and culturally.

In London 680,000 people work in the creative industries representing 15% of the London economy and nearly 20% of the workforce and a turnover of between £25bn and £29bn. It has 12% of the UK’s population but 40% of its arts infrastructure, 70% of its music recording studios and 90% of music business activity, 70% of the UK’s film and television production, 46% of advertising, 85% of fashion designers and 27% of architectural practices.
The occupations with the greatest increases over the last decade were 'clothing designers' up 88% over the period; 'artists, commercial artists and graphic designers' up 71%. 'Actors, entertainers, stage managers, producers and directors' up 47% and 'authors, writers, journalists' up 43%. To this must be added the massively increased number of people working in multimedia, an industry that hardly existed in 1991 the last census. There was also a particularly marked increase among the self-employed up 81%.
Overseas earnings are estimated at £3,852 million against imports of £2,522, leaving a net balance £1,300 million. There are believed to be around 11,700 cultural industry companies and groups in London, in addition to around 25,700 self employed people.
London has been a creative centre for several centuries. Its store of talent continually replenished through domestic and foreign immigration in order to feed this machine. It thus vacuums up global and domestic talent with ever shifting artistic quarters rising and falling but over time these quarters are being pushed to the periphery.
London's cosmopolitan richness from Jews to Indians to the new knowledge workers and asylum seekers has helped develop and sustain London's role as a creative world city. Indeed Greater London residents speak over 300 languages with nearly 50 communities of over 10000.
Throughout London evidence of this contribution is visible in historic buildings, older craft forms, food, traditions and cultural expressions such as the Notting Hill Carnival, the jewellers in Hatton Garden, Little Italy in Clerkenwell, Fournier Street in Spitalfields, the furniture makers in Shoreditch, pottery in Southwark
Equally important was how the creation of the City of London's financial and banking power was supported by immigrant groups as well as how new trades, skills and products helped underpin London's economic strength.
Similarly today this process continues though the technologies are different. Multimedia, film and music talent is both home-grown as well as drawing in outsiders to London.
At the same time London has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any city in the UK, 13 of the 20 most deprived districts in the UK, 64% of the most deprived housing estates, the highest level of homelessness and 40% of urban crime.
A mass of investments, some undertaken in the last century within an ethos of public provision for self-improvement, as well as in the more recent decades and latterly through the National Lottery - approaching £1bn over seven years - has given London a wealth of museums and galleries, internationally renowned theatre, opera and ballet companies, a number of major symphony orchestras, an unsurpassed concentration of live theatre in and around the West End as well as a world respected training infrastructure for the arts.
The national lottery has been a crucial element in reviving London’s subsidized cultural infrastructure. The new Tate Modern, the courtyard at the British Museum, the wing at the Science Museum, Somerset House and the Gilbert Collection, the refurbished National Portrait Gallery, Sadlers Wells ballet and Covent Garden Opera, Shakespeare’s Globe are just some institutions who have benefited from its largesse. These are the more traditional building based institutions and a debate is currently underway to support more radical, innovative art projects and activities. For example only 1.2% of lottery funding since its inception in1993 has gone to ethnic minority groups in London, although they represent 30% of the population. However the current allocation for this year is set to rise to 20%.
Importantly London is also internationally recognised for its popular culture and sub cultures, often cosmopolitan in nature, especially in music, comedy, alternative theatre, design and fashion. London's cultural creativity is not only concentrated in the centre, but also in most inner suburbs such as Hackney, Islington, Camden Town, Brixton or Hammersmith and more recently South of the river Thames to Southwark and Deptford. Indeed London’s centre has largely become a focus for consuming rather than making culture and in some senses is completely uncreative, with the productively creative hubs spread across the inner ring abutting the centre. Yet even here a major crisis looms as property prices have increased so causing severe problems for artists or incubating firms that essentially anchor London’s contemporary creativity.
Although the idea that London is the 'coolest capital in the world' (Newsweek) is overblown, as it is subject to fashion, for example in the DJ scene Paris is now setting the pace, there is an element of truth. It is the ‘cool factor’, the young innovators who need those cheaper places to operate from that form a significant part of the image a city exudes.
This wealth of provision offers not only residents opportunities for participation and spectating, but also is a major attractor for tourists.
London has strengths in all the industrial areas which sell reproducible products, such as records, television programmes or corporate videos. The music business, largely based in London is one of Britain's largest export industries; London is Europe's centre for the commercial audio-visual and the corporate communications area; and its design consultancies and advertising agencies that operate on a world wide basis include some of the world's largest companies. However London is relatively weak in film production and in picking up on the new multi-media opportunities that are emerging based on computer developments where the US may be developing a stranglehold.
A major problem for the creative cultural industries and a problem for London too, was that until recently the sector was rarely viewed as an integrated sector in policy making terms. Theatre, the visual arts, music or film making or design and fashion are seen as separate sectors without recognition of the interconnections between them. Creative artists often work across different cultural fields. A musician, for example, may perform at a live orchestral concert at one moment, then as a recording studio musician in record production and later as a musician involved in a film score. A graphic artist may produce advertising copy, then pictures for individual sale acting in this sense as a 'pure' artist, and then produce covers for records or film publicity. The creative products themselves are now usually not confined to one medium. Most are cross-media products: the book of the play, the film of the book, the record of the film, and so on. Underpinning this convergence and cross-media recycling is the way the cultural industries themselves are being linked to and shaped by the development of the communication, computing and 'knowledge' industries. It is increasingly frequent for creative people to work in teams across disciplines and move between them, as has traditionally happened between, for example, between actors in the theatre, radio and television. Looked at in isolation each sector may seem relatively small, but looked at as a group they are powerful. Compared to the situation in other world cities London cultural economy is in second position after New York. Its particular strengths are in the performing arts and music and increasingly the visual arts. At the moment London is certainly seen as the world leader in street fashion and pop culture.
Why are the cultural industries and cultural activities now seen as important?
Four years ago the government acknowledged the central role of the sector for the future of the UK economy by setting up a Creative Industries Task Force. This has attempted to track activity on a consistent basis and to develop policy accordingly in areas such as dedicated financial support, rethinking legal requirements, intellectual property law and the regulatory and incentives regime in general.
A decade of lobbying and the provision of evidence by the cultural sector has brought focus as to why the creative and cultural industries have crucial characteristics that explain their importance to the development and maintenance of global cities like London and boroughs within them. For this reason London policy makers even outside the cultural field are recognizing the centrality of culture as a driving force for development. They include physical planning, social services, economic development and leisure.
Taking a broad view of cultural activities they have recognized that the arts are more than purely an aesthetic experience so expanding ts possible contribution to urban regeneration and visioning. It involves recognising the multi-faceted nature of what arts and culture can offer.
Cultural activity can weave its way like a thread through endeavours of all kinds adding value, meaning, local distinctiveness and impact as it proceeds. Making a successful partnership between the arts, culture and urban regenera­tion thus requires a more imaginative understanding of arts and culture, and the way they work. Policy makers have begun to appreciate that ‘high’ art, ‘low’ art, popular art or ‘community’ art each have something to offer London. The arguments policy makers use include:
° Cultural activities, both traditional and new, create 'meaning' and thus are concerned with and embody the identity and values of London, both in terms of what it was and is becoming – here the intercultural and social inclusion agenda is moving to the fore. These activities express local distinctiveness - ever more important in a world where places increasingly look and feel the same. Heritage especially local heritage and stories are seen as inspiring to residents and visitors alike, perhaps because in the headlong rush to develop economically people find solace and inspiration in buildings, artefacts and skills of the past and because in a globalised world they seek local roots; connection to their histories, their collective memories - it anchors their sense of being. The wealth of culture is linked in policy makers minds as engendering civic pride. This pride in turn they argue can give confidence, can inspire and provide the energy to face seemingly insurmountable tasks that may have nothing to do with culture.
The difficulty for London is that it is a city of multiple identities, whose should be cherished and which are being left out, should it be forward looking or nostalgic? Should it be locally focused, nationally or internationally? Simultaneously the drivers of commercial culture are seen to be wrapping up ‘real’ experience and throwing it back to Londoners in a disembodied form as they attempt to create urban entertainment districts made up of well known brand names that have nothing to do with London.
° Cultural activities are inextricably linked to innovation and creativity and historically this has been the lifeblood of cities as a means of unleashing their capacity to survive and adapt. Creativity is, of course, legitimised in the arts and increasingly is also seen by business as the key attribute they look for in employees. In many emerging business fields well beyond multi-media it is people with arts training that are in particular demand.
A key aspect neglected is that in encouraging deeper seated creativity institutional inertia needs to be tackled as do support mechanisms that tend to favour the tried and tested rather than the radical.

° In a world dominated by images the cultural sector is inextricably linked to the image of a place and a strong culture is believed to create positive images. Culture is associated with a high quality of life. For this reason city marketing strategies the world over tend increasingly to focus on their cultural offer, the presence of arts institutions, artists and creative people and cultural industries in general. Culture is thus seen as a means of attracting international companies and their mobile workforce who seek a vibrant cultural life for their employees. Thus by helping to create positive images the cultural sector has a direct impact on inward investment.

The key dilemma though is whose images are legitimised. In an ‘experience economy’ world corporate cultural offers are blandifying cultural inventiveness, smoothing any radical edges and creating merely ‘sanitized razzmatazz’ that feels safe for consumption.
° Culture's role in tourism is key, it is the primary reason a visitor comes to an area in the first place. And tourism might be the first step that allows someone to explore and know a place and later perhaps invest in it. Tourism offers are largely focused on cultural activities, be this the national collecting institutions like museums or galleries which exude presence and power as well as the live activities like theatre, clubs, festivals or locally distinct rituals.
Again the danger is that London’s heritage culture is forefronted. An intensive debate is underway as how to project both tradition and innovation simultaneously. The ill fated ‘cool Britannia’ notion emerged from this debate.

° The recognition of the cultural industries as an economic sector has become an anchor in the debate about the future of culture. In particular their role as a platform to provide content for the IT driven knowledge based economy. Here the catalytic role of higher education institutions such as the four colleges of the London Institute or the Royal College of Arts in replenishing content is seen as key. Their capacity to attract the best students world-wide through their global scanning activities is seen as significant. The dynamic links between the subsidized and commercial sectors are increasingly acknowledged. For example, actors working in subsidized theatres often end working for the BBC whose research and development has then effectively been supported. Thus the decline in arts funding throughout the Thatcher era and beyond has been reversed.

In spite of an encouraging recognition in policy terms little action has hit the ground. There is, for example, much discussion of dedicated venture capital funds, yet the only one in Britain as yet to emerge is Creative Advantage West Midlands around Birmingham.

° The social inclusion agenda has been central to government policy since 1997 and this has been reflected in the government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sports thinking in relation to those mainly national institutions it supports directly. The same applies to the London Arts Board - a regional offshoot of the national Arts Council. Funding is largely shaped by the extent to which these funded entities incorporate social inclusion objectives within their programming and outreach work. Much of this policy direction was based on research that assessed the social impact of culture. It has been argued that cultural activities help engender the development of social and human capi­tal and transform the organisational capacity to handle and respond to change, that it can strengthen social cohesion; assist in personal development and increase personal confidence and improve life skills; that they can create common ground between people of different ages; improve people’s mental and physical well-being; strengthen people’s ability to act as democratic citizens and develop new training and employment routes.

The over-riding issue for culture in London is property prices which are driving locational choices and thus the feel of various parts of London. Where high value added can be created the West End remains crucial as the headquarters centre, but design consultants, suppliers to the film industry, artists, or music recording businesses are largely locating to inner urban rings or outside the city in a telecommuting mode.

A good way of viewing London is as a series of concentric circles. These circles are largely determined by property prices. This logic is well known and applies to places as diverse as New York, Berlin, Sydney or Madrid.

In the hub at the centre are the high value added services - finance and business services, retail, activities such as advertising or estate agenting and high profile cultural institutions or the headquarters of cultural industry organisations. Surrounding this core is an inner urban ring which provides supply services to this hub - be that printers, couriers, catering. It is also usually the home of the less well established creative industries that provide the innovative and buzzy atmosphere on which cities thrive such as design companies, young multimedia entrepreneurs even artists. It is they who tend to experiment with new products and services. London’s City Fringe is a typical area of this kind. This fringe is currently expanding to South London – Greenwich and Southwark generating what is called the South London phenomenon.
The jump occurred once the Tate Modern was built in Southwark and the ill fated Dome in Greenwich supported by new transport nodes – the Jubilee Line - which focused on high class architecture. The new Laban Centre in Lewisham to be completed in 2002 will reinforce this drive.
As is known 'cultural types' in turn tend to provide the clientele for the interesting restaurants, to which ultimately the more 'staid' people from the hub want to go to. The buildings in London’s inner urban rings are usually a mix of old warehousing, small industrial buildings and older housing with a large element of mixed uses. It has a more higgeldy piggeldy feel.
The strategic struggle local authorities are facing is whether to allow change of use to housing and where they can sell sites if owned by the public sector for considerably more than for cultural incubators and the like. For example Lewisham in South London has just announced a ‘creative business enterprise zone’ and has sold sites at below market value to ensure cultural activities remain part of the mix. A few developers are foregoing larger profits by anchoring developments around contemporary and radical cultural facilities, rather than a mainstream store so as to let ‘the soul’ of culture infuse the developments. One example, undertaken by Urban Catalyst has raised city of London funds to put an ethnic arts organization Innova at the core of a development in a deprived area – Peckham.
The danger is that over time some of these inner areas themselves become gentrified, as Sharon Zukin exemplified over 20 years ago, and that in turn pushes out low value uses such as artists or local shops who cannot afford the new higher rents. The artists then in turn look for another low value area .... and so the cycle moves on.
As incubating companies grow and become more profitable they either then move into the hub or gentrify their inner area as has already happened in Camden, Chiswick and Islington. This inner urban ring has historically proved vital for London as it provides the breathing space and experimentation zone - it is the incubator unit for London - as well as a buffer between the richer core and housing developments beyond. However this fringe is now filling up and the pressure is to move further out, yet the housing estates and suburbanised areas have few buildings of interest and planning authorities are beginning to take a more imaginative look at how this more outer rim can be allowed to develop.
The transition zone between London’s hub and the inner urban ring is where London’s biggest urban renewal battles have taken place, because the inner ring community usually seeks to resist the encroachments of higher value uses such as office buildings as is happening in Spitalfields where the economic dynamic and property profits to be made is pushing the hub to expand beyond its natural location. If the City of London is allowed to expand into Spitalfields the charm, distinctiveness and uniqueness of Spitalfields will have gone.

The policy arena

The policy environment for London can be looked at through three levels – the national governmental, London wide agencies and at the local borough level.


The national department for culture is called the department for Media, Culture and Sport. It has no specific policy for London, although much of its funding and many of its initiatives inevitably affect London. Its cultural policy can be summed in a few words – fostering wider access, which links to the social inclusion agenda both in terms of consumption and production; here the policy of free access to national museums is an example of this policy in action; secondly education, which is linked to the above and finally fostering innovation and creativity – the main channel here is its emphasis on the creative industries where the department is seeking links with ministries of trade and economic affairs and so on.

Although London’s role as a world city is continually discussed there is thus no cultural vision as to what this could mean.
A further area where the government has a significant impact is in its guidelines for the national lottery where roughly 25% goes to the arts. Until recently there has been a very strong emphasis on physical developments – that is a focus on the containers rather than the contents. Indeed many of the new icons may look interesting yet their contents leaves much to be desired.


London suffered for nearly 20 years because it did not have a strategic authority. In the early 1980’s the Thatcher government abolished the Greater London Council, largely because it was a difficult and powerful political competitor. The effect of this in cultural policy terms was that no strategic overview of London took place.

In 2000 a new Greater London Authority (GLA) was set up by the Blair government with a London mayor – Ken Livingstone. The authority is charged by government with developing a cultural policy – I have seen draft and the timetable for approval after consultation is the of 2001.
Importantly the new authority is a slim entity with no direct funding capacity – it can only influence other agencies, although that power of influence is strong.
Its broad priorities mirror those of the DCMS and the language of the draft is even stronger in terms of issues such as social inclusion even though its cultural themes include phrases such as ‘a creative, world city’, ‘giving people a sense of identity and pride’ , making ‘London everyone’s city’. Its emphasis is thus on equality and equity, celebrating diversity and creating partnerships and linkages, for example between arts issues and transport needs or arts and safety in the city. Its definition of culture is broad - verging on the anthorpoligical notion of culture as a way of life, including not only the arts but also parks, sports.
In practical terms this means finding access to low cost housing for artists, developing incubators units for the creative industries – effectively a property development strategy for the arts; creating a talent development fund, establishing a cultural diversity partnership and four major building based ethnic arts centres, initiating inter-generational arts projects and providing more opportunities for children to be participants in the arts; or finally developing a coherent London wide major events and festivals strategy.
At the same time the GLA, through its links with London wide investment agencies, is seeking to reinforce the infrastructure for film development along the lines of what New York and Toronto are doing. A kind of one-stop shop to strengthen London’s role as a film-making hub. Another initiative is help digitalize the cultural sector such as archives, museums or galleries; thirdly to reinforce local cluster development such as variations of New York’s Silicon Alley.

Other London wide agencies

The main agency is the London Arts Board, an autonomous part of the national Arts Council of England. Its autonomous status is currently under threat as the national council would like to centralize its activities. The heated debate is on-going and will be solved one way or the other by the end of 2001.

LAB has budget of around £30million and its priorities are again access and the development of new audiences, investing in a sustainable range of arts activity based on quality and innovation – both definitions of which are contentious and subject to continuous negotiation. Other key phrases that appear are concerned with being risk-taking and radical or multi-disciplinary. The focus on access has also meant that LAB is concerned with outer sub-urban estates as distinct from the core of London.
At the same time large proportions of their funding go to established institutions such as the London Symphony (£1.5m) or Wigmore Hall (£250,000), but here they are trying to bend their programming to LAB goals. Smaller amounts perhaps adding up to £6million are being spent on the more innovative, contemporary and challenging aspects of the arts.

Strategic dilemmas

In sum the strategic dilemmas policy makers face and which will discussed in the presentation include:

  1. Framework dilemmas

    • Culture as the arts or culture as a way of life

  1. Spatial dilemmas

  • A focus on the city centre or the inner fringe, suburbs and outer-lying estates

  • The establishment of cultural districts and clustering versus spreading provision

  1. Economic dilemmas

  • Subsidy and intervention driven or market driven

  • Consumption or production focused

  1. Infrastructure dilemmas

  • Hard infrastructure focused (containers) or activity focused (contents)

  1. Social development dilemmas

  • Prestige/icon development versus community focused development

  • Community emphasis or emphasis on communities

  • Heritage and tradition or innovation and contemporary culture

  • Resident or visitors

  • External image focus or internal reality

  1. Implementation dilemmas

  • Consultation or active participation in decision-making

  • Public or private

  • Local, national or international orientation

  • Direct control or insulation from the political process

  1. Management dilemmas

  • Centralization or decentralization

  • Direct provision or contracting out

  • Artistic control or managerial control

  • The arts or the artist

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