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. 

Would you like to share your views on climate change and the future?

AUSCCER-308 Stephanie EditAUSCCER’s Stephanie Toole is currently seeking residents from the Greater Sydney area who are willing to share their experiences of weather, thoughts about climate change and views on the future. The study encourages contributions from residents from a diverse range of ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds.

 

 

You can take part in two ways:

  1. A one-hour interview. The interview can be organized for a time in July (including weekends) and a place that is most convenient for you (e.g. your home, a café, or library).
  1. A 30 minute online survey, titled Preparing for climate change? A survey of views and practices in culturally diverse Australian households. You do not need to believe in climate change in order to complete the survey – all views are valued. If you provide your contact details on the final page you will have a chance to win one of five $100 shopping vouchers.

The survey is available in:

 English: https://surveymonkey.com/s/D2H2FPK

Simplified Chinese / 中文: https://surveymonkey.com/s/XBSJ2KS

Vietnamese / tiếng Việt: https://surveymonkey.com/s/XBT6HNG

Arabic (please contact Stephanie for a hard copy)

 

If you would like to take part in an interview, require an Arabic version of the survey, or would like more information, please contact Stephanie at st921@uowmail.edu.au             or 0475 200 881.

It would be great to hear your perspective!

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Stephanie has also published the post Exploring climate change in culturally diverse households.

Exploring the everyday experiences of inter-ethnic couples in Australia

New research from the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) has found that Darwin and Sydney have higher proportions of inter-ethnic couples than any other Australian city. These couples are those in which the two partners involved have different ethnic backgrounds. Continue reading

Buy no Moore: society versus the shopping mall?

A vote from the City of Sydney Council backing the Buy Nothing New Campaign has reignited the economy-versus-environment debate. On Tuesday, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote of Clover Moore and the City of Sydney’s decision to back the campaign, running in October, which encourages consumers to question their buying practices, along environmental grounds. The Herald largely framed the Council decision as a ‘boycott’ on Sydney retailers, and both NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and Small Business Minister Katrina Hodgkinson called on readers to ‘completely ignore’ the initiative.

There are two problems with the way that the Herald and the NSW State Government framed the story.

The first is by incorrectly describing the motives of Clover Moore and the City of Sydney. In backing this campaign, the City of Sydney Council has waived the fee to rent the Customs House Forecourt; an offer that has been given to many other organisations, including those that support pro-business initiatives such as Mercedes Fashion Week (yes – promotion of clothing consumption!).

The second is misrepresenting the central aims of the Buy Nothing New initiative. Will Buy Nothing New drastically change Sydney’s retail economy?

Pitt Street mall

For those not familiar with the initiative, the challenge is to buy nothing new (with the exceptions of essential items, such as food, hygiene and medicines) for one month. Buy Nothing New doesn’t work on the premise of anti-consumption, rather it invites people to look at their consumption choices and rethink them in an alternative way – engaging in the local handmade or market economy, buying second hand, sharing, mending/repairing or collaborative consumption. It’s all about thinking where the stuff we own comes from and what happens to it when we no longer value its use. The problem is a broader retail culture premised on high throughput of quickly disposable goods – no more vividly captured than in the ‘fast fashion’ phenomenon.

Beyond the attacks of Clover Moore and her ‘anti-retail policies’ there is a bigger picture. We buy more than we’ll ever need – and in light of climate change there is an obvious need to rethink the amount of stuff that enters our lives. The Buy Nothing New campaign attempts real steps towards that. Rather than damaging the economy, Buy Nothing New is about protecting it – that is, if we define ‘economy’ not in terms of gross retail sales, but in the broadest, original sense as how people “access, use and value scarce material resources as moral and social beings”. By encouraging retailers and consumers to reflect on how people furnish themselves with the necessities and luxuries of life, Australia can be more resilient to the booms and busts that plague the global economy. This is about thinking outside the box to alternative ways of consuming.

Initiatives that urge us to consume less are particularly pertinent to me in the context of my PhD research. One of my research aims is to explore how and why people shop and how this practice is tied up in social norms, emotions and habits. The response to this SMH article has captured public admission of our obsession with stuff. Will the message of Buy Nothing New Month stick with consumers?  Stay tuned – we’ll have to wait until October to find out.

Elyse Stanes can be followed on twitter: @elyserstanes