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London: a glocal cultural and financial centre

London shares with New York City its emergence as a major port, a global financial centre, and indeed, a global cultural centre. It also shares with New York the challenge of incorporating ethnic minorities and migrants into the city’s urban cultural fabric.

Instead of looking at the branding of London, this part of the course focuses on how the city government has sought to foster a participatory cultural industries approach that to some extent counter balances a neoliberal urban governance model that centres around ‘the City’ (London’s financial centre).

Creative industries were identified in the early 2000s as an important part of the London economy (indeed being the source of one out of every 5 jobs) and as a sector that could foster a more inclusive growth model, bringing in youth for instance.

The cultural industries, of course, were also functional for maintaining the city’s attractiveness as a global cultural hub and hence contributing to the city’s ability to attract and keep the best and brightest in the world, whether working in finance, business, academia, or culture.

The 2000s decade offers a very interesting example of how the creative industries may or may not function as a sector for urban innovation and economic growth. The London Development Agency, rebranded as Creative London, gave way to a strategy that would see the creation of a series of localized hubs aimed at supporting cultural enterprises. The idea was that such a decentralized and territorial approach allowed it to reach out to marginalized groups, e.g. unemployed youth to offer retraining and thus bring them back into the labour market.

Although a decentralized territorial approach was adopted with these localized hubs, the focus was on specific sectors (e.g. film, design, and fashion) rather than on the neighbourhoods themselves and their spatial organization. Thus events were established like the London Fashion Week and the World Creative Forum (a sort of ‘Davos’ of creativity), which was held as part of the London Design Festival.

While such events contributed to maintaining the ‘branding’ of London as a global cultural hub, they did not make a significant contribution towards addressing spatial and socioeconomic inequalities within the city. In 2009, as the global financial crisis set in, the bubble of the creative industries deflated and the public spending cuts of 2010 swept away both the London Development Agency and its Creative London plan as well as other sectoral agencies like the UK Film Council. The grim landscape was complemented by substantial cuts in public funding of undergraduate studies in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Indeed, the conclusions to be drawn from the London experience in the 2000s raise questions about the role and potential of cultural industries for the urban regeneration of a global metropolis.

Share your opinion:

How can the cultural and creative industries be best combined with a local, decentralized approach? What went wrong in London? Why did the localized hubs not take root in the boroughs? Why didn’t this approach foster a true urban regeneration model?

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This article is from the free online course:

Cultural Diversity and the City

European University Institute (EUI)

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