Uncovering new urban insights at the precarious interface of creative industries and manufacturing

Late last year the good news came through that the Australian Research Council had funded an application that included two AUSCCER geographers – Andrew Warren, and myself – along with our colleagues Carl Grodach (QUT), Justin O’Connor, and Xin Gu (Monash). Entitled Urban Cultural Policy and the Changing Dynamics of Cultural Production, the goal of the project is to undertake comparative international case study research around the changing dynamics of the creative economy, particularly the emergent relationships with a complex urban manufacturing sector.

Carrington Road, Marrickville, Sydney

Towards the creative economy v2.0?

Policy makers have in recent years turned to the creative industries for potential future urban growth and investment, city marketing and employment generation. The creative economy has been positioned as a central part of a knowledge economy defined by advanced services, information technologies, innovation, and a workforce high in human capital. The creative economy, it is argued, drives consumption, attracts mobile knowledge workers, and improves the city image. Cities around the world have spent considerable sums of money to develop arts precincts, flagship cultural destinations, and other cultural amenities. While the consumption-based approach has generated a few success stories, the reality is that this has had limited impact on cultural production. Further, many argue that this approach has contributed to the displacement of preexisting residents and businesses, including many cultural producers themselves.

At the same time, as part of a broader innovation agenda, cities on the leading edge of urban cultural policy are seeking ways to reconnect cultural industries with material manufacture and craft-based production. Mature urban cultural policy is just beginning to consider how to link the cultural industries with other sectors in novel ways that revitalise manufacturing and tap into new opportunities for the development and expansion of a wide range of cultural and craft industries – generating jobs while avoiding the pitfalls of gentrification.

There is a renewed public and policy interest in ‘making things’, encompassing additive manufacturing, bespoke making, and craft-based production. Opportunities abound to pursue urban economic development strategies that build upon, rather than eschew, industrial, migrant and working-class skills and legacies. Cities that foster and deepen relationships between creative industries and urban manufacturing industries, especially in distinctive precincts where the two sectors often organically co-locate, stimulate local jobs and enterprise formation.

Our project’s goals

To that end, our research project considers the performance of Australian cities against counterparts in the United States, UK, China and Germany, on their efforts to foster and deepen the creative industries/manufacturing interface through spatial planning and policy.

The researchers on this project are: examining the production relationships between cultural industries and urban manufacturing; determining how changing industry, urban development, land use change, technological, and policy dynamics affect cultural production; and identifying lessons for Australian cities to develop new policies around cultural production and manufacturing.

Our first activity for the project was conducting a critical review of existing literature on the creative industries-manufacturing interface, summarising key issues identified and establishing an agenda or future policy development. That review was recently published in the international journal, City, Culture and Society. (If you are interested in reading this, but cannot access the paper due to a paywall, please make contact via email). Related to this, we are currently identifying and analysing specific city-scale policy initiatives from around the world, from which Australian cities could learn. A prominent example is the Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center in New York City.

Field work commences

Our second activity is an extensive phase of empirical field work, both in Australia and in cities in North America, Europe and Asia. This field work involves identifying which creative industries and manufacturing enterprises co-locate spatially, and why. As well we are examining what kinds of policy mechanisms are being developed around the world to foster this evolving interface, and their on-the-ground effects.

Sydney is one of the Australian cities included in the study. The Sydney case study we selected in our original grant application was the inner-west suburb of Marrickville and, in particular, two precincts that have both strong industrial histories, with clusters of niche manufacturing activity, and distinctive, growing creative industry concentrations.

Field work began recently at one of these precincts: Carrington Road, Marrickville. In the past few years, Carrington Road has evolved a distinctive mix of creative enterprises and manufacturing firms. In part this is because of its industrial land use zoning, suitable mix of flexible industrial facilities with things like high ceilings, truck access and rigging beams, and generally affordable rent. 

Carrington Road, Marrickville

Craig Lyons, fresh from completing his Masters by Research on the informal urban creative economy at the University of Sydney, has joined the team and hit the pavements with me last week to conduct an initial audit, and preliminary interviews.

We started by documenting all the enterprises present in the precinct. Then, we chose a representative sample across creative industries and manufacturing sectors, and subsequently began interviewing them for information on specific themes, including: employment; locational choices; duration of operation; functional linkages across the city and to other sectors of the economy; and sensitivity to property market fluctuations.

Uncovering hidden gems

Although field work has only recently commenced, it is already clear that this part of Sydney houses an otherwise unheralded cluster of creative industries and manufacturing firms, with impressive diversity, and history.

The largest holding in the Carrington Road precinct is the former General Motors-Holden car plant, which originally opened in 1926. The last remaining Holden plant from this period, this complex has retained its industrial character, now housing scores of manufacturing businesses and creative enterprises, from jewellery makers and clothing designers, to photographers, ceramicists, t-shirt screen-printers, embroiderers, cabinet-makers and architectural leather installation experts (a specialism we didn’t previously know existed). An avenue we aim to explore in more depth in the months ahead is how the changing morphology of the precinct itself mirrors changes in the nature of industrial work over the past 90 years.

Inside Sydney’s leading theatre, film and event prop making supplier, Carrington Road, Marrickville

In addition, we have discovered unique clusters of inter-related enterprises in the theatre, props, stage design and support sectors; niche publishing; food processing and artisanal food production; photography; studio hire (incl. photography, music, theatre rehearsal spaces); fine woodwork/carpentry and architectural installations; events management and related production (incl. bespoke installations, t-shirt screen-printing for the festivals and concert markets); clothing and jewellery design and small-scale making.

Urban redevelopment pressures and uncertainties

Adding to the intrigue is that the very same Carrington Road precinct we have identified for its potential as Sydney’s premiere creative industries-manufacturing interface, is slated for re-zoning, and re-development, as part of the NSW Government’s planned Sydenham-Bankstown metro rail line renewal scheme. The scheme purports to ‘promote urban renewal and development’ through Sydney’s middle-ring industrial suburbs, while ‘also protecting neighbourhood character and heritage’. Whether current plans for the Carrington Road precinct to be rezoned to enable high-rise residential apartment developments fit with this description, is debatable. In years to come much of the precinct may be subject the same real estate pressures that have seen Sydney lose creative industries and enterprises sensitive to rent rises, and that need access to good, functional industrial spaces.

We will be consolidating our findings into an interim report, that we will share with the NSW Government and relevant local council planners and community groups, as well as analysing the data for academic papers, and for future policy recommendations. A new dedicated website for the project is also up and running, where you can stay tuned and learn more as the local and international field work progresses.

Chris Gibson is Professor of Human Geography with AUSCCER and the Director of Global Challenges Program – a strategic interdisciplinary research initiative at UOW. You can follow him on twitter @profcgibson. 

Risk Assessment

Pondi Unleashed Bulleteers, south India

I have nervously watched the institutionalised mayhem of Indian traffic for years, ‘safely’ as a passenger: India has the highest number of annual traffic incidents in the world. This year I actively took part – in Pondicherry I rented a Royal Enfield ‘Bullet’. Old style, heavy, single-cylinder 350cc: lovely motorbike design dating from the year I was born.

Joining the traffic in the Bullet taught me many lessons – no helmet is better (improves peripheral vision); check the fuel tank (we pushed it down dusty roads for a kilometre the first day); it’s a delicate balance between assertion and deference in Indian traffic, and almost every Indian out-asserted me. Ananth Gopal was the perfect pillion passenger: balanced, navigating, laughing. Risk is broadened on a motorbike: Ananth, me, the people on the bikes next to me I might bump, pedestrians… It is all about flow: after ten days it was just exhilarating to negotiate insanely crowded intersections and nudge through crowded marketplaces. Continue reading

Art, air and ideas in the Anthropocene: field notes from Berlin

Within the space of a week my world has been inverted. From experiencing unseasonably warm autumnal days on Australia’s east coast I’ve been transported to a cool spring in eastern Germany where the daytime highs are half the night-time lows from where I’ve come. Just before dawn the air temperature is a little above freezing, and I’m now wearing all the clothes I’m travelling with, standing on an old airfield just south of central Berlin. The sun has not long risen and its rays are only just beginning to find their way over the tops of buildings and trees. Huddling with others, also gathered here on the field, we intuitively position ourselves in patches of growing sunlight, warming ourselves from the early morning chill.

I’ve come to Berlin to be a a part of an extended workshop bringing together some 120 or more scholars, researchers and artists interested in issues that the Anthropocene concept exposes. This is the second ‘campus’ that the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Culture) in Berlin has organised, with this one focused on investigating the idea of the ‘Technosphere.’ As part of a workshop we have been invited here, to Tempelhofer Feld, an airfield used until only recently and now a recreational reserve, to participate in the launching of some artistic sculptures by Berlin-based artist Tomás Saraceno. Saraceno’s work grapples with Anthropocenic issues and today we will have first-hand experience with some of this work – large sun-powered lighter-than-air membranes – what he terms aerosolar sculptures.

Gathering at dawn for the aerosolar launch, Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin.

Gathering at dawn for the aerosolar launch, Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin.

Put more simply, these are large balloons fuelled only by the warmth of the sun which, warming the internal air air of the structures, has the potential to power it indefinitely. This removes the device from the grip of petrochemical power – both physically and politically. And for Saraceno these sculptures – indeed the wider aerosolar project – provoke a rethinking of our engagement with energy, elemental forces, space and each other:
To become aerosolar is to imagine a metabolic and thermodynamic transformation of human societies’ relation with both the Earth and the Sun.  It is an invitation to think of new ways to move and sense the circulation of energy. And, it is a scalable process to re-pattern atmospheric dwelling and politics through an open-source ecology of practices, models, data—and a sensitivity to the more-than-human world. (Saraceno, Engelmann and Szerszynski 2015)

But more than just a piece of conceptual art, aerosolar experiments take different forms. One configuration – Museo Aero Solar – is a large aerosolar membrane fashioned from everyday plastic bags and contributed to by different groups in different locations around the world. Indeed by taking the simple idea out into the world – into communities and inviting people to engage with the making process (the materials required are in their basic form plastic bags, sticking tape and sunshine) engages people with the concept in more everyday ways. And at the same time – in its simplicity – they are an iteration of the sociality it calls attention to: a networked, social and ultimately less hierarchical model that might operate both spatially and politically.

At its core the project is one of reimagining; reimagining how we might do things differently in light of the intractable problems we face at the seeming culmination of the modern project. In Anthropocenic terms, if we consider the Technosphere to be the assemblage of material and immaterial technologies that envelop the surface of the planet, this project inserts a wedge into this to open up other ways of configuring technology and resultantly our relationships with others entities – both human and other.

Nurturing the balloons for flight

Nurturing the balloons for flight

Back on the ground, I’m reminded of the kind of attention that this activity calls for. Working with these simple and abundant elements – air and sunlight – calls for a close attentiveness to conditions. The weather, of course, is a key determinant. Having sunlight is necessarily determined by the presence – or not – of clouds. The amount of wind also impacts the viability of launch – as well as determining trajectories of travel; and the reason for the dawn scheduling is because this time of day often best provides still atmospheric conditions. Indeed we have been blessed with a clear and still morning for this launch.

The impact of such attentiveness has two particular outcomes. Firstly, it is an ongoing attunement to elemental conditions; and enhanced awareness of the environmental conditions – weather in relation to season, also geography, but also an understanding of how different elemental conditions impact the activity. What comes with this reliance on conditions of environment is the requirement for patience and timing. One has to wait for the right conditions; there is no guarantee that they will occur when you want them, and indeed no way to induce them. They require you to wait; to have an understanding that your own desire to act must yield to agencies beyond human control. In a sense you must learn to be humble; to relinquish the ability to control.

Waiting – an integral part of the experience

Waiting – an integral part of the experience

And, as we wait in the warming sun there is a bustling of activity on this now disused runway. The conditions have been deemed suitable for launch, and two nylon membranes are unpacked and the process of inflating these takes place. The procedure for filling these with air appears to be – rather simply – trailing them behind someone running. If nothing it is effective. Once inflated these structures have the appearance of gigantic otherworldly creatures. They sit, after their initial expansion, grounded. As the surrounding air begins to warm, it gently stirs these creatures making them seem somehow alive. And over the next hour I’m interested to watch the amount of attention these gentle structures require in being nursed to life. They are well attended; inspected and adjusted, as they prepare for activity. The process is highly tactile. There is much touching, stroking, prodding and adjusting, I assume providing feedback on things like temperature and pressure. This technology, with its relationship to elemental forces and its sensitivity to conditions calls for a nurturing disposition, and a continued attentiveness to conditions as they change.

What comes to mind is ideas of ‘working with’ – with elements, conditions, currents – which has sensibilities of eastern philosophy, notably Taoism. One has to be able to let go thoughts of expectation, to be patient, to let go a certain human desire to control. Critical Anthropocene scholarship points to fundamental flaws in modernist thinking, and suggests this needs serious rethinking. Simply, we need new and different models for understanding and engaging with the world – quite differently, and less on our own terms.

Artist Tomás Saraceno tests the lift potential in one of the sculptures

Artist Tomás Saraceno tests the lift potential in one of the sculptures

The Aerocene project makes some wild suggestions: aerosolar travel, aerosolar communities, aerosolar space exploration. These are best not to be taken as practical proposals. Rather, I read them as design fictions: imaginative proposals which aid us in thinking more wildly about future possibilities. What makes these proposals slightly more intriguing is that the technology they employ is actually simple, practical and real – it’s not based on some yet-to-be-invented configuration.

But, rather than seeing these as end points, the real point is in experimenting with the ideas that these technologies and ideas open up. For example, there has been a recent collaboration with the Red Cross/Red Crescent which is exploring the use of aersolar technology to launch camera payloads to map disaster affected areas. My designer mind appreciates seeing artistic ideas taken into the world and finding distinctly practical application.

At its heart the Aerocene project shows that simple ideas have the potential to have large impacts; and these can be driven by different kinds of sensibilities than we are used to. In the same vein it avoids the trap of trying to offer solutions. Rather its proposals open up possibilities and stimuli for novel thinking about how it might well be applied. In the context of considering the implications of the Anthropocene and navigating new and different pathways through this, the provocations of the Aerocene help spur us to consider the possibilities provided by the potential of the very air around us.

Aerosolar launch 5

Bee poop, BBQ corn and a Burundian community in search of farmland: reflections from fieldwork in Australia’s Sunraysia Region

Post by Olivia Dun & Natascha Klocker

It’s been over a year since we started working on the project Exploring culturally diverse perspectives on Australian environments and environmentalism. The project is funded by the Australian Research Council and also includes our colleagues Lesley Head, Gordon Waitt and Heather Goodall. So far this project has prompted us to think about Australian landscapes, agriculture and back/front-yard spaces in new ways. Farmer_Olivia blogOur work on the project primarily centres on the town of Robinvale and the rural city of Mildura within the Sunraysia region. This region spans a corner of north-western Victoria and south-western New South Wales united by the Murray River and the possibility of irrigated agriculture. We were drawn to the Sunraysia because one third of horticulturalists in the region speak a language other than English at home (Missingham et al. 2006). The Sunraysia is also host to diverse horticultural industries including table grapes, dried fruit, citrus, almonds, olives, carrots, avocado and asparagus, accounting for much of the national supply of these crops. Our aim is to explore the contributions that ethnically diverse residents make to farming in this region – through their labour, businesses and growing practices.

Continue reading

On One Breath

Flying in to the Big Island of Hawai’i, the two largest volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, are capped with snow and surrounded by an aureola of clouds. Driving east to west across the island between the volcanoes, I pass through several climatic zones and multiple ecosystems. The journey takes me from the wet, windward eastern side to the much drier lee coast on the west.

It’s my second time on a tropical archipelago in a few months. In February I accompanied ten UOW undergraduates to India’s Andaman Islands for our pilot iteration of GEOG334 ‘Geographies of Change: International Fieldwork’. A great trip with a fantastic group of students – fun, resilient and very hard-working. Relevant to this research blog because each student completed their first ever independent research project while there, ranging from studying the territorial behaviour of damsel fish, to a detailed supply chain analysis of everything we ate. Great work.

apneista

The Apneista team, Indonesia (http://apneista.com/)

But I’m in Hawai’i to continue research on freediving, which I started last year in Indonesia. Freediving, or breath-hold diving, is at once a commonplace and unique form of engagement between humans and oceans. Continue reading

Fieldwork food

Written by Lesley Head, with culinary and photographic contributions by Natascha Klocker, Olivia Dun, Ananth Gopal, Sophie-May Kerr and Lulu.

There are few things more important to successful fieldwork than food. It sustains the bodies and the community of the fieldwork team. It provides points of connection with the broader community. And in our current project on Exploring culturally diverse perspectives on Australian environments, it is an important dimension of the research itself. We are currently in the Sunraysia region of Victoria (around Robinvale and Mildura), where irrigated agriculture provides an abundance of late summer food choices. In the midst of such abundance there are puzzles and challenges – people who don’t have enough to eat, farmers who don’t eat their own produce, and widespread concerns over pesticide use and the changing political economy of Australian food. Here are some moments in our food journey so far. Continue reading

Fieldnotes from Christchurch: ‘A wonderful disaster’

I visited Christchurch in New Zealand recently. This is the second largest city in the country, and one that has been dealing with the after effects of a series of major earthquakes which first struck almost 5 years ago. The impact of the quakes is most visible in the centre of the city. A great deal of the city’s buildings were damaged and had to be pulled down. I hadn’t visited the city for some 15-odd years but was unable to make any sense of the city from memory.

The view inside the 'Red Zone'

The view inside the ‘Red Zone’

The quakes have had a raft of impacts on people living in Christchurch – apart from damaged buildings that is. There were service disruptions, housing shortages, work relocations and, of course the psychological impacts. Financially the quake has taken a toll, both for individuals but also the country. The estimated cost has ballooned to over NZ$40 billion making it New Zealand’s costliest natural disaster. And, interestingly, it’s the third costliest earthquake (nominally) worldwide – apparently New Zealand has a high rate of building insurance.

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Fieldnotes: 3D Printshow London

While I have been aware of 3D printing it’s just been a cursory interest – I haven’t paid it too much attention. So when I was shoulder tapped to help out with some field interviews at a 3D print expo in London I thought I’d go along as it might be interesting, though not because I thought it’d be particularly relevant to my own research. I was wrong.

3D Prinshow London

The floor – 3D Prinshow London

The 3D Printshow is an expo organised in cities around the world – London, Paris, New York, Berlin, Dubai, Mexico and others – to showcase applications and developments in 3D printing, or additive manufacturing as it is also known. The one in London just happened to be on while I was there doing some fieldwork of my own. The show ran over three days at the beginning of September, catering to everyone from your simple back-room tinkerer to your industry heavyweight. Held in a large display space in the heart of the City of London, the show was packed with stands, exhibits and talks that ran throughout the three days.

The reason for being there was part of an exploratory project funded by University of Wollongong’s Global Challenges Program investigating the potential of 3D printing in reenergising manufacturing in the Illawarra, being undertaken by Thomas Birtchnell, Robert Gorkin and Chantel Carr. Continue reading

Embodiment in Miami – final thoughts from America

Post by Nick Skilton

America is a bewildering place. The best and worst of everything. Sometimes it’s difficult to pull the whole scenario together into a comprehensible picture. You can grasp at the edges. Make mosaics out of fragments. Recall all the pop culture you’ve ever accumulated and attempt to overlay it upon reality. Doing so, certain nonsensical things begin to make sense, like American patriotism for ‘the greatest country in the world’. There is a lot to like about it. But there is a lot that isn’t great. For example, the real poverty and hardship of living with a minimum wage less than $10/hour. It’s a beautiful place visually, but sometimes life isn’t pretty. This is what confronts me in Miami, 8th most populous city in America. After 2 days, I have no idea what to make of this town. It’s too big and weird. The only way I am able to write about it, is to tweeze apart the layers and concentrate on one striking aspect of this place: Bodies. The differences in bodies were remarkably different on each day, almost dichotomous in nature. Hence I have attempted to write as such. Continue reading

When The Saints Go Marching In NOLA

Post written by Nick Skilton

It’s a weird thing to fall in love with a place, but that is what has happened. I have fallen in love with New Orleans. What does that mean exactly? Is it the way that a place makes you feel? Is it the people you connect with that give life to the place? Is it the opportunity that a place represents? Is this a ‘gut feeling’? There is obviously no one answer to that question. It is likely a combination of those things, and many more included. Trying to articulate the connections, opportunities, and gut feelings associated with loving a place in any meaningful kind of way, especially a place as chaotic as New Orleans, is part of the same impossible tragedy as describing any other kind of love (and better writers than me have failed at describing love). I’m not even the first writer from AUSCCER this month to make an attempt to uncover the words that will describe the ‘rawness’ and the ‘mesmerising’ engagement with this place. What this is then is an oratory, an attempt to tell New Orleans what made it so impressive, so beautiful, and so compelling. Continue reading