▲ This old harbour area, Kalasatama, is developed by the Forum Virium Helsinki, in close cooperation with residents, companies, city officials and other stakeholders. Currently, there are 2,000 people living in the area. By the beginning of the 2030s, Kalasatama will offer a home for approximately 20,000 residents and jobs for 8,000 people. Photography: Laura Oja.
Although the term is a bit serious, one can think of the culture and creativity field as a mix of independent artisans whose work is grounded in the local culture and creative designers, studios, and even enterprises, all housed in an immense arts park similar to the industrial or technology parks that most Taiwanese people are familiar with.
However, is it appropriate to manage the culture and creativity industry in the same way the government runs technology parks? During 2017 Creative Expo Taiwan, Associate Professor Ying-Chih Deng, who currently lectures at the Institute of Sustainable Design and Urban Planning, Technical University of Berlin, proposed a new thinking for the culture and creativity field based on his experiences in sustainable urban planning. In this issue, we interviewed Deng, who shares with us his background, research, and work experience, and the ideas behind his proposal.
Currently Deng is an associate professor at the Technical University Berlin, also as the consultant of Climate-KIC and German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ). With regard to planning out the future of the culture and creativity field, Deng proposes five action strategies.
It Starts with a Sense of Belonging
A more concrete way of talking about the culture and creativity field is to begin with the people who work in the industry itself, and Deng believes it has everything to do with young designers’ sense of belonging.
An economics major in university, Deng worked in a bank before realizing that he was more interested in cultural and creative work than in numbers and figures. This was in the era before the culture and creativity industry became well-known. Deng took a few jobs at some publishers and in the advertising agency and while he enjoyed it, he also realized that at that time, Taiwan had little to offer to culture and creativity workers. It was difficult for young designers and artists to find a place to perform or exchange ideas, and almost hard to make a living. This group was a disadvantaged minority in the job market and the industrial structure. This sense of not belonging drove Deng to leave Taiwan for Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London in 2005. “I really didn’t feel like I fit in anymore,” he laughs.
Although Deng believes that Taiwan has made some progress in the development of its culture and creativity industry, it has only done so in a micro, unstructured manner. In other words, Taiwan’s culture and creativity industry currently comprises mostly independent and small-scale businesses and is still fragmented. According to Deng, the future of the industry lies in strengthening organizational ties and the network between workers and businesses. The government should also begin to think about how to introduce innovative public services.
▲ This image is Deng’s teaching activities in Urban Design courses in the Technical University Berlin. Collectively students were role playing as a team of urban detectors. They investigated the urgent urban issues in the city and documented their traces and formations. Later on they worked as urban curators to integrate different stakeholders for integrated solutions. Photos: Ying-Chih Deng.
Looking Beyond the Culture and Creativity Park
Deng believes that deciding whether a new park should be established requires careful thought. In the 1970s, Taiwan’s major industry, manufacturing, began to take a downturn. Due to the hollowing out of its industrial base, Taiwan made the transition into a knowledge-based economy, and the culture and creativity industry was part of it.
In the 1980s, science parks in Taiwan played a significant role in the success of Taiwan’s technology industry, making parks a favorite industrial model. Given this background, it makes sense that the country would develop parks for its culture and creativity industry. However, Deng doesn’t think it should follow this mode, because it leaves it too dependent on government and private sector support and voluntary participation on the part of the citizenry; more importantly, the main products of the industry are intangibles such as cultural recognition and awareness that are difficult to place a value on using capitalist concepts.
The culture and creativity field shouldn’t be limited to the confines of a park; a better choice would be to allow a synergistic relationship between culture, the economy, and urban development to emerge. Such a relationship would not only resolve the issue of the hollowing out of local industries and drive economic and social transformation, but also assist young entrepreneurs to create and develop their work in an environment free of oversight and help them gain a sense of belonging. Deng says the existing cultural and creative parks also mostly stay in the stage of consumption field.
▲ The Smart Kalasatama project underway in a new Helsinki inner-city district proceeds with agile piloting: five climate positive pilots focus on smart city parking and electric car charging, resident-generated solar power, urban green solutions, and the carbon footprint of households. Photography: Laura Oja.
Seeking the Third Way: Co-creation Laboratory
Currently, Deng thinks neither the build-operate-transfer model nor the government-funded model is delivering the best results. Since BOT projects are run by the private sector, they are largely profit-driven and their operations follow consumer marketing or management models. Government-funded culture and creativity undertakings are generally standardized and lack the flexibility to promptly respond to local needs and innovative ideas.
Deng further explains that many countries, including Taiwan, are looking for a third developmental model for their culture and creativity field that can support creative and grassroots cultural movements while maintaining operational efficiency. How such a model could be actualized is a current topic of discussion by authorities across the world.
According to Deng, this new operational model is similar to the concept of “Co-creation Laboratory.” It should support the coordination of resources and knowledge across different sectors, undertake the mission of bringing public engagement, and effectively link the culture and creativity industry with other industries so as to help incubate the emerging enterprises. It requires great capabilities of communication and coordination for resource integration, so the current model will encounter bottlenecks. The goal of establishing a fair and pluralistic partnership will be a sustainable model for development.
Deng mentions two successful examples he has accessed in EU projects—the innovative coordination platforms set up by Helsinki and Copenhagen as a part of their smart city development efforts. The “Forum Virium Helsinki” established by the city council includes an office set up specifically for the development of Kalasatama. In Copenhagen, the city government has set up a “solution lab” to implement the renewal of the city. These teams are both made up of professionals and executives authorized by the government to coordinate the participation of private departments in public affairs and communicate with local residents about any development plans. This kind of team is about 7-10 people in size.
▲ The model of Smart Kalasatama is known as “agile piloting,” and some others define it as a kind of experimental culture. By bringing innovative services to citizens on a small scale, it accelerates innovation by procuring rototypes to real city environments to be co-created with citizens. Photography: Laura Oja.
In regards to coordination and integration, Deng shares some of his own experiences. “What I do is sustainable urban development planning. You can think of it as a type of design, but the materials I work with are energy, property owners, ICT, popular restaurants, etc. Integrating all these elements is like incorporating design ideas into aspects of architecture and urban and social planning,” Deng says. He further explains that these disparate elements only become useful to society when they are united and interconnected into a larger design. Moreover, the integration of resources creates a larger whole which in return spurs the growth of relevant industries, such as energy, and the overall development of the area.
The Culture and Creativity Field as a Driver of Social Innovation
“In the future, the culture and creativity field shouldn’t merely be a new domain for consumption, but rather should act as a catalyst for the transformation to a culture-and creativity-based economy.” Deng refers to the case of the French city of Nantes, in which the culture and creativity industry spearheaded the redevelopment of the city.
As Europe deindustrialized and shifted to a knowledge-based economy, Nantes fell relatively behind with both employment and job creation rates lower than the national average. The closure of its shipbuilding yards, one of the city’s key industries, in recent years had a profound impact on its employment and economy.
How to transform the idle industrial warehouses and other spaces and utilize them as a resource became a key priority. The transformation of Nantes was in many ways almost a complete do-over. In addition to basic facilities such as transportation, water and electricity, community centers and hospitals, design schools were established with the aim of forming an ecosystem whose driver was the culture and creativity industry. Furthermore, in addition to the industry chain, non-profit organizations, research institutions, and commercial industries were introduced with the aim of creating a reciprocal economic effect. Most importantly, the future development of Nantes will involve the culture and creativity industry as an integral part of the city where the people live, and not a cloistered space. The industry in all of its diverse forms is part of the fabric of their lives.
Deng believes that in the future, the culture and creativity field should move beyond the closed-park concept, and instead spread out and connect with neighborhoods and cities, both on the economic level and the larger social level. Deng proposes a new thinking in which the culture and creativity field acts as a catalyst that powers economic transformation and social innovation. It may require time for further exploration when put into practice in Taiwan.
5 levels the future of the culture and creativity field must reach:
- It must help incubate the emerging enterprises, including cultivating the business knowledge and skills of artisans so that they are able at the minimum to manage their businesses and be self-sufficient, and furthermore, take the next step towards exporting.
- It not only needs to take business development into account, but must also fulfill the needs of society and take on certain social responsibilities.
- It must provide policymakers and administrators with the appropriate training and workshops in the expectation that the public sector will acquire the corresponding necessary management skills.
- In terms of the current issue of fragmentation, it must provide space for civil and official organizations and must be able to establish alliances with other industries, hold salons, etc. in order to strengthen the organizations and networks.
- It should not operate as a separate entity in a cloistered space, but rather needs be an integral part of the local city and community, so that the two are merged into one inseparable whole.