My PhD revolves around the discipline of Creative Economics, which sounds like a euphemism for financial crime. Its first commandment may be Richard Florida’s statement “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron once was.”
This was hardly a radical statement when first uttered in 2002 and even less so in 2019. Reviving de-industrialised “coal and iron” towns by means of investing in creative industries and culture has been the explicit policy of many local governments in Europe and the world for the last 40 years.
The notion that creative output is a motor of economic growth is easily demonstrated numerically: the creative industries grow faster than other parts of the economy (44.8 % increased value added 2010-2016 compared to average of 22.7 %), and the output per employee grows faster, too. Investing in creative business is à la mode like never before. A high concentration of design firms and cultural institutions brings economic multiplier effects: jobs are created in retail, construction, and tourism. Public and private revenues rise. Successful transformations can help old industry towns regenerate.
However, there are some well-known side effects. First of all, property development and increasing property value brings gentrification. Gentrification may be alluring to local government: gentrified areas experience less violence, the inhabitants pay higher income taxes, and the taxable property values rise accordingly. Private businesses are often eager to invest in developing areas targeted at wealthy prospective homeowners. One local example of this would be the newly constructed Cotton Street houses in Paisley which sold out quickly despite (or due to) being in the upper price range for Paisley flats.
Regeneration by gentrification may exclude a large portion of the people living in the area in the first place – which the projects were aimed at helping. Instead, they could face further marginalisation and displacement.
My research focuses on evaluating projects aimed at creating inclusive growth in Paisley via investment in culture and creativity. The inclusive part is especially important as many flagship cultural regeneration projects regarded as highly successful, such as Glasgow in the 1980s, still experienced centre-periphery problems and the negative effects of gentrification.
The investments are necessarily considered in different ways: The £42 million investment in the complete restoration and development of the Paisley Museum will not pay off in ticket sales. But it may be a key to creating a cultural district, a way to preserve the town’s history – it’s already one of the most popular destinations in the county for locals and tourists alike.
The bid for UK City of Culture 2021 was the starting point for the research project now engaging me and two other PhD students at UWS. Despite losing the bid, the county decided to invest in local culture and creativity. Arts-led regeneration is well-studied, as is regeneration through mega-events. But arts-led regeneration through losing the bid for mega-events? An optimist would say we’re breaking new ground.
Follow Niclas on Twitter: @niclashell