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Research Reflections: Coming to terms with the creative hub concept
The Place Work Knowledge (PWK) research strand has been busy conducting research into the workings of hubs. As part of the research component for the Creativeworks London (CWL) project we are developing five case studies that are allowing us to understand what it is about hubs that make them so critical to London’s creative economy. Thus far we have finished examining three of these types of organizations, two of which can be understood as specifically ‘creative hubs’.
One of the most difficult aspects of the research, especially at the very early stages, was trying to figure out how to define and subsequently operationalize the notion of the ‘creative hub’. Because although the term is being used widely, in especially policy circles, confusion about its actual meaning abounds.
What I’d like to do here is draw on our research in order to illustrate how the creative hub concept has developed historically, and up until this point. This work is part of a new working paper by the PWK Strand that should be published very soon, if not already. Although the working paper deals with this issue in much more detail, I feel that it is important to grapple with the notion of how to operationalise the creative hub concept if we are to lay down a foundation for the further study of these types of organizational agglomeration.
The first use of the term ‘creative hub’ in describing activities within the creative economy was in 2003, in a policy document commissioned by the London Development Agency (LDA, 2003). Since then, two porous and somewhat discursive articulations of the creative hub have developed – I would hesitate to call them theories. The first treats hubs as synonymous with creative clusters and focuses primarily on their geographical, organizational and spatial characteristics. The second treats them as distinct from geographical clusters and focuses on what they do internally and what particular services they provide.
Regarding the first articulation, it becomes apparent that much of the literature does not draw a distinction between clusters and hubs (Evers et al, 2010). This is an important distinction to make considering that the cluster concept suffered a number of hefty critiques in the late 1990s and early 2000s due to the onset of the digital revolution. Moreover, Creative hubs have also been understood as other types of industrial agglomeration that are closely aligned to the cluster concept, such as: quarters, districts, and zones. For instance, Oakley (2004, pp 68) understands them as synonymous with cultural quarters; Evans (2009) understands them as ‘clusters’ of economic activity; Bagwell (2008) views them as clustered districts within the city; and the London Development Agency (2003) views them as creative zones and buildings made up of multiple creative and cultural industries. Essentially this way of articulating them focuses on their spatial characteristics, and how this affects their operational and organisational roles (whether formal or informal) within the local creative economy. In this context it is the hub’s spatial organisation (including its scale) and its location within the urban fabric that becomes the primary focus and where policy might be aimed, usually as a regeneration project. An example of this is Brick Lane (Montgomery, 2007). According to Montgomery (2007 pp. 609) The City Fringe Partnership, established in the mid-1990s, led a number of regeneration projects throughout the East End and Whitechapel. The area is now, according to Montgomery, a self-contained creative hub. This is because the area houses over 200 creative SMEs including fashion, artists, DJs, graphic designers, architects, photography and recording studios. There are also retail spaces, restaurants and bars.
Regarding the second articulation of creative hubs, the bulk of the work treats their spatial organisation as secondary to their infrastructural as well as their operational contribution. For instance, the Creative London policy document commissioned by the LDA (2003) described hubs as ‘a general term’ where the precise make up differs from place to place. In general they were understood as places that provide a space for work, participation and consumption (Ibid).
As an example of what these places of ‘work, participation and consumption’ might look like, the British Council (2014) have stated on their website that creative hubs can be a mix of types such as: a co-working and networking space, a training institution, an incubator, an investment fund, an online information sharing forum, or a talk-discussion base for those interested. As an example of this a recent article in the Financial Times does not differentiate between incubators, labs, accelerators and hubs where they discuss the proliferation of these organisations in London (Pickford, 2013). Along the same lines as the British Council, the European Creative Hubs Forum (2015) defines creative hubs as ‘an infra-structure or venue that uses a part of its leasable or available space for networking, organisational and business development within the cultural and creative industries sectors’.
Importantly, the City Fringe Partnership final report (2005 pp. 12) found that one of the weaknesses of the creative hub concept as it applied to Creative London was its lack of clarity. They found that the concept, being understood as ‘all embracing’, was seen as a type of threat as opposed to an opportunity by creative sector support organisations (Ibid). This is because it indicated a failure to truly grasp what it is that these organisations do. The term also does not focus on activities or processes (CFP, 2005 pp. 12).
Recently, scholars have focused more on activities and processes rather than the physical infrastructural make up of creative hubs; which might be one of the reasons why terms that mean different things are being used synonymously; namely hubs, incubators, labs and accelerators. Evers et al (2010), in their work on knowledge hubs and knowledge clusters suggest that it is the hub’s capabilities regarding the exchange, transfer and facilitation of knowledge that is their primary focus. Specifically they state that knowledge hubs fulfil three major functions: to generate knowledge, to transfer knowledge to sites of application, and to transmit knowledge to other people through education and training (pp. 683). They define knowledge hubs as ‘local innovation systems, [that are also] nodes in networks of knowledge production and sharing’ (Ibid). They are predominantly characterized by high internal and external networking and knowledge sharing capabilities where they also act as meeting points of communities of knowledge and interest (Ibid). Similarly, Bas van Heur (2009) states that creative hubs’ primary focus is to offer services and facilities for cultural entrepreneurs. The European Creative Hubs Forum (2015) has outlined a number of these services that they believe a creative hub should provide such as: business support, networking opportunities, research, communication, and talent support.
In summary, it can be suggested that newer articulations of creative hubs view them as a combination of physical / virtual spaces that provide and facilitate important business support activities and processes like networking, research opportunities, collaborations and the like. Importantly, these activities and processes can be understood as specifically ‘creative services’ that allow for the exchange of knowledge and the opportunity for growth and development. This is especially important in a notoriously precarious economic sector (Gill and Pratt, 2008), and it allows us to lay a foundation for the free examination of creative hubs. The notion of the provision of creative services is an essential component of the PWK Strand’s (re) articulation of the creative hub. As stated this is part of the forthcoming working paper that should be available for download very soon, if not already.
Author: T.E. Virani, Creativeworks London
Bagwell, S. (2008). Creative clusters and city growth. Creative Industries Journal, 1(1), 31-46.
British Council (2014). Creative Hubs. Available at: http://creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org/projects/hubs/
City Fringe Creative Partnership (2005). A Creative Hub for the City Fringe area. Final Report. Available at: http://www.integreatplus.com/sites/default/files/creative_hub_for_city_
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London Development Agency (LDA) (2003). Creative London: Vision and plan. London: London Development Agency. Available at: https://creativeindustrieslondon.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/creative-london.pdf
London Development Agency. (LDA) (2005). Strategies for Creative Spaces: Phase 1 Report, London: LDA.
Montgomery, J. (2007). Creative industry business incubators and managed workspaces: A review of best practice. Planning, practice & research, 22(4), 601-617.
Oakley, K. (2004). Not so cool Britannia the role of the creative industries in economic development. International journal of cultural studies, 7(1), 67-77.
Pickford, J. (2013). Specialist hubs spring up around London. Financial Times March 24th, 2013. Available at: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c95f8ff4-8b42-11e2-8fcf-00144feabdc0.html
Van Heur, B. (2009). The clustering of creative networks: between myth and reality. Urban Studies, 46(8), 1531-1552.
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