The last two decades have marked the emergence and proliferation in the UK of research and policy agendas emphasising ‘creativity’ as a powerful new ‘motive force’ for economic regeneration, planning and design. In particular, the ‘creative city’ has acted as an influential template and narrative for efforts at stimulating growth and re-imagining and rejuvenating urban communities. Policy-makers and planners have eagerly commissioned and adopted an array of creative city strategies to reap perceived employment and income-enhancing effects, ranging from attempts at nurturing art districts to efforts at ‘incubating’ clusters of creative industries. They have also sought to encourage a critical infrastructure of intellectual resources, social diversity and cultural intermediaries; not only as a way of improving cities’ economic vitality and competitiveness, but increasingly as a means of addressing issues of social cohesion and transforming notions of civic identity. At the level of everyday life the creative industries of architecture, design and software have reshaped the the way business is transacted and public services are consumed.
The credit crunch and accompanying global economic crisis which came to the fore in September 2008 poses significant tests for this creative economic agenda. Arguably the creative city notion has flourished within the context of a long credit-fuelled boom in financial services and real estate. Policy-makers and cultural practitioners have often benefited from, relied on and targeted new forms of upmarket consumption, corporate sponsorship and property-led urban regeneration. The economic downturn and instigation of a new era of fiscal austerity therefore presents significant challenges for the dominant creative agenda of the last 20 years.
This research network will offer an important forum to reassess the place of creativity in urban economic growth. It will draw on critical academic perspectives largely sidelined by policy-makers during the long boom of the last two decades. At the same time it will identify gaps of emphasis within existing research and practice, often stemming from a failure to connect across distinct yet related disciplinary conversations.
The network sets out to address the following four key questions:
i) Why is the relationship of culture, knowledge and cities central to understanding the transforming economic structure of the UK?
ii) What role have artists, architects and other creative practitioners, institutions and networks played in augmenting and contesting economic policy and speculative agendas in recent decades?
iii) How has the urban renaissance and the changing design of the UK’s buildings and cities manifested new divisions of labour, class structures and patterns of uneven growth?
iv) What future democratic role can culture, technology and cities play in issues of sustainability and social economic justice?