The Urban Cultural Milieu Cultural Studies Essay

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Within each human being lies a virtual creative ability. This is not to say that everyone is a painter or a sculptor, but that there is some latent creativity within each domain of human work... Therefore culture and economy are one and the same thing and, within our society, the most important means of production, the most important factories that create capital are schools and universities. (Joseph Beuys)

In the neo-liberal, capitalist societies of the new millennium, we find it exceedingly difficult to maintain a hold on the slight, yet significant, continuous mutation of concepts such as labour, production, cooperation and communication. The increasing importance of creativity in the economic development of European nations necessitates the re-evaluation of principles of valuation, wealth and production in a way that encourages the dissolution of dichotomies in terms of liberal and socialist traditions; how are pluralities translated into politics through the interaction of the creative class with the communities they seek to serve?

Maurizio Carta's re-examination of Richard Florida's three economic development keys - Talent, Technology and Tolerance - gives rise to an enthralling scenario: these keys cannot merely be accounted for their presence and worth, therefore requiring they act within a Territory, where capital is "essentially spatial, identity-based and relational" (Carta, p.12). Extending into the scale of the city, the multitudes of these three attributes are transmuted into Culture, Communication and Cooperation respectively. Culture represents a city's identity, a quality that lies simultaneously within past, present and future, providing the necessary resources for talent to generate value. Communication is the very essential ability of the city to integrate information with its citizens through the utilization of technology, providing the tools necessary for the creative class to innovate. Finally, taking the global economy into account, Cooperation cannot simply refer to the tolerance of minorities and marginalized ethnic groups, but rather to the acceptance of diversity; and through this acceptance to be able to mobilize the component parts by focusing action on common goals, creating new kinds of urban dynamics and communities.

"Liminality" is a term originally used in anthropology to describe the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, the threshold between old and new structures dictated by the ritual itself. The creative class, it seems, is repeatedly caught in such thresholds, and today more than ever, demanding the conception of a milieu in which clusters are capable of contributing to the city's regeneration and strengthening of the cultural framework through the spatial intercourse that takes place between its citizens.


The Urban Cultural Milieu

Angela McRobbie's retrospect of Florida's theory reveals her ardent dislike for its universal, one-size-fits-all, character. In contrast, she embarks on an approach to examine these creative individuals in their territory, in an attempt to discover and illuminate how they function in their marginal environments, how they are assimilated within the urban fabric itself, and how their activities are irrevocably interlinked with their accessibility to useful real estate (McRobbie, 2011). Her research focuses greatly upon the shifts in the means of cultural production, upon the transformation of the creative class from a group with a rigid and distinct clarity between autonomous and corporate work (a figure outlined as the artist/designer) to a new order whose professional identity is becoming increasingly diffuse and synergic (coined as the cultural strategist). The skill-masters of old have been slowly replaced by the multi-faceted polymaths of the present. These creative individuals are highly adaptable to growth and new media, and are in constant flux of identity, in a never-ending Liminality (McRobbie, 2004).

In her older research into the fashion industry, McRobbie reveals that small scale, independent, entrepreneurial fashion designers were marginalized from the UK market from high street chains and designer labels or were assimilated into the corporate sector. New graduates were hence forced to seek work in related professional activities, consult as freelancers for mainstream high street chains and possibly teach in sporadic frequency. An old publication of the fashion and style trends magazine iD reports: "Fashion multi-taskers: suddenly, they're everywhere. But it's not easy to do two, three or more things at once; there's never enough time, it doesn't earn them any more money than having one job and they can't always count on being respected for what they do". The same pattern is simultaneously observed for the art industry, as young artists can no longer sustain a specialist status in their art, but re-brand themselves as business oriented individuals, event organisers, "incubators" of innovative enterprises (McRobbie, 1998).

The mindset of business and enterprise would then slowly start to permeate into the educational sector of the cultural industries. Under the Blair administration, the UK educational system experienced a radical shift in pedagogical practices, as the academia was required to gradually adopt a dual nature: as experienced, educated tutors capable of communicating their knowledge to students, while simultaneously possessing practical skills in business and entrepreneurial modelling. In this way, universities would be able to facilitate in developing the type of society Charles Leadbeater was describing in his book "The Talent-led Economy".

McRobbie predicts that subsequent changes to the university system will "..intensify claims that neo-liberal values are eroding the very foundations of learning and educational provision and the traditional autonomy of academics whose training is reliant on widely agreed norms and independent research" (McRobbie, 2011). However, this brings up another set of questions that should be considered, such as a possible decrease in student volume in courses related to the creative economy and how small-scale enterprises will be affected in the case where the student volume remains stable. These patterns are noticed in other European nations, and are managed by adjusting the "middle-class milieu of life" to introduce elements such as low cost job-creation schemes and internships, which inevitably results into what she has referred to the past as "permanently transitional" work (McRobbie, 2011).

The rise of the Precariat

Art and culture have always been concepts of constant re-evaluation and change. While intellectual activity is the main focus of art as a practice, we find the culture of today significantly lacking in that respect comparatively to the past. McRobbie, amongst others, describes this epoch of art as "art lite" (McRobbie, 1999). It is self-derivative, either referring to an expression of the artists internal manifestations, or generating discourse relative to their surrounding environment, "reduced of complexity". On the one hand, one may argue that this phenomenon is a numbing down of the sophistication that art and culture must portray, however, on the other hand, such immaterial labour can only be produced when the generating workforce is comprised of individuals of high brain power. The proletariat has evolved and changed its focus, and the means it utilizes to achieve the immaterial product, transforming into a precariat.

The work of the sociologist Richard Sennett introduces new layers to the theorisation of contemporary culture, as he claims there is an important oversight of the temporal and historical nature of creative work. By demonumentalizing the term "creativity", and stripping it of its added significance, he manages to argue that its present form is merely an inflated manifestation of the hyper-speed "new capitalism" which dominates our times. He glorifies counter-activities that attempt to intentionally produce work at a slower pace than what the market demands, and praises patience and steadfastness.

Such analyses however, produce internal, systemic contradictions, as they are devoid of the practical implications of their own elaboration. Sennett's proposal attempts to dictate how work should be produced, aimed towards individuals that are already established in the creative industry, ignoring the necessity of young talent to find work and produce enough to make ends meet. Even so, considering creative work not to be as exceptional as it is made out to be may prove beneficial to the very creatives themselves, as it would help them achieve a mentally and emotionally healthier lifestyle.

In the past, artists shunned monetary accomplishment, as they believed it to be a distraction from acquiring alternative values. Today, business plans in the creative sectors are an absolute necessity at every stage of the artists' development. Critical evaluation of the benefits of such an approach is required, to ensure the effectiveness of incorporating business into the arts, to ensure it does not end into the pitfall of pseudo-entrepreneurialism. Due to the nomadic nature of contemporary professional practice of the creatives today, the way mainstream research is conducted is strenuous and slow; the short life-span of projects and the spatial inconsistency of workplaces make it greatly difficult to gather conclusive data. McRobbie's research in the sector shows the following:

Since more and more jobs are assigned through the grapevine, problems at work are not systemic, requiring large amounts of time to be invested into social networking because they rely on it to secure customers;

There exists a necessity of extended support from public sector, such as a mandatory 2 days a week off work, even for temporary and part time individuals;

Immense focus on developing the self and image, dictated by the spirit of the times, in order to achieve higher effectiveness in work procurement;

Financial self-reliance or fallback on parental financial support to sustain experimental careers;

Motivated by the possibility of becoming a celebrity in the creative industry social network.

This phenomenon can be viewed under two distinct viewing glasses. The first assumption would be that they prove to stand as the culmination of the neo-liberal dogma, self-reliant, mobile, over-worked, with leisure time considered to be more opportunities to strike a deal.

If we consider culture as a "complex strategic situation", this new framework provides an internal quality vastly more valuable than any other system of the past, as it rejects any reliance on labour markets, and creates a more meaningful, pleasurable working experience. Menial work needs no longer exist, turning the worker into a willing worker. The Green Paper encourages the induction of creativity in education, expecting from students and young people to outperform themselves, do more than mere routine tasks to survive in the workplace. Success in the cultural sector is now defined as being "self-reliant, self employed and successfully independent of state, welfare and subsidy" (McRobbie, 2004). The future of labour definition is transformed from internal differentiation processes, which are given rise not through social but through generational divisions, i.e. taxation of the young in the workforce in an inegalitarian way, due to compliance of the older generation to global economic rationale.

The second assumption would be to review the utopian dynamics in the novel ways of working, socially transformative action carrying an intense desire for an enhanced modus Vivendi, since their work is meant to be for life. This model may generate age-related identity politics from modes of self reflexivity, exploiting the use of media as a delivery method to push legislation and in turn, change. They are a highly motivated, bold, individualistic elite with enough resources to support their risk-taking. On the other hand, they are also a middle class precariat that, owing to their well educated collective, will spawn radical elements regarding identity politics in the workplace.

Scott Lash re-appopriates Beck's elaboration of reflexive individualisation as an essential tool for creative and forward thinking, as it allows the individual to investigate and discover the rules that permeate any given system themselves without any external support. Herein lies the greatest power of the proposed model: it's chaotic nature will allow for a high level of adaptability to the various political socialities each pressure group will encounter, and hence be more capable of navigating through uncharted territories, and allow for an infinite number of manifestations. In order to effectively develop such critical reflexivities, it is essential to collect more diversifications of cultural entrepreneurship in practice, along with ethnographies, that will provide us with the data to assess in order to effectively harness the full extent of the Talent-based Economy. Such research would also equip us better to deal with a re-examination of fields related centrally to the creative machine, such as sociology and pedagogics - a feat that would entail that each individual must be engaged with texts, images, music, networks, books and writing.

Deleuze and Guattari state that the amalgamation of politics, economics and social (and as McRobbie adds, the cultural) enriches the existing knowledge structure and generates inspirational environments. In a way, McRobbie is debating on how these added qualities in the creatives of the present can, through individualisation, produce a new model of being in the workplace. "By drawing on Foucault's concept of bio-power by which means regulation and discipline is inculcated through individual bodies so that the individual must inspect himself or self monitor, and self regulate, and combining this with Deleuze and Guattari's desiring machines as flows of power the working body becomes a point of intersection with other working bodies and if desire is productive of attachments and identifications why not also desire or 'energy' in work? Thus work (and here creative work) becomes a site for re-socialisation, since it is better done with or for others" (McRobbie, 2011).


Urban Topologies

After having reviewed the theory surrounding the creative and cultural industries it was evident that Richard Sennet's and Angela McRobbie's account of the link between creativity and urban spaces had a very individualistic approach, one that accounts mainly for the development of the artist within society, and how collective individual development can be mutually beneficial. As most theoretical analyses of the subject are focused on either a sociological or financial axis, I found that most have been lacking an important dimension: The creative city as a designed product, as architecture - a functional, practical dimension that encompasses the development of infrastructure and organization for the efficacy of resource utilization.

Strategic approach to creative cities calls for the formulation of a web between urban capitals and devising methods of making them interact with one another. The main capital in this case is the Cultural Capital, which envelops a "location's identity's cultural heritage, local memory, creative activities, dreams and aspirations" (Carta, 2007, p.32). Cultural Capital should in turn interact with environmental (local geomorphology and ecological profile), intellectual (cognitive, educational resources), social (human resources), material (identity related territorial and financial resources) and political capital (ability to instill drive and vision into a society). Critically designing the outline of creative cities requires in depth research into highly contextual local resources, in order to either use them as urban planning tools, or to form a strong basis for a methodology of implementation. Analysing such urban environments from a performative aspect urges to contemplate "productive polycentrism", between cities that belong to the same local network or between distant spatial arrangements connected remotely.

According to Carta, the Meridian Corridor proposed by the Italian government contains the potential of becoming a main "multimodal infrastructural backbone", channeling cultural flows and iteneraries. TEN-T and PEC networks have already been set up, while at the same time establishing not only the internal machinations necessary for each city to function individually, but also systems of information and cultural exchange, ensuring global bilateral outreach and accessibility. It should function as a junction of high-density flows, interfacing local and global dialogue, acting as a portal between "worlds" (cultures). On a local level, a city's main success lies in activating all the areas as a whole, which is mainly owing to the local communities, according to its various locations. Cities require constant regeneration in order to interact with their users, providing for their needs and aspirations, the allocation of resources and flows of material and immaterial goods. "It is a form of creativity embedded in the urban fabric, interfacing with micro-worlds of different cultures, ethnic groups and classes, uniting and consolidating the urban system as a factor of democracy and harmony" (Carta, 2007, p.33).

These attributes of the creative city are subject to dual forces acting upon them: dispersion and agglomeration. Each force has a different type of effect on the development of urban constituents - agglomeration forces tend to strengthen city centres, while dispersion forces help enhance their function as hubs.




New demographic profiles

Growth of a mature population, attracted by high environmental standards.

High levels pull factors in areas of economic and cultural innovation, attracting affluent young people and the creative class.

Social change and diverse lifestyles

Spreading of urban ideals to the rural dimension and a decrease in social tension within cities.

Birth of a "cosmopolitan urbanity" attracted by more dynamic urban centres featuring specific characteristics.

Cultural and identity-related dimension of development

Pursuit of cultural diversity and locations possessing a clear identity - Birth of the "brand city".

Exploration of multiple identities facilitated by large agglomerations - birth of the "cosmopolitan city".

Changes to the spatial organization of economic activities

Local financial advantages where existing infrastructure allows distances to be reduced. Impetus for economic diversification within the territory.

Pull-factors for economic infrastructures and relations with more powerful territories. Strong tendency towards spatial agglomeration.

Innovation and learning dynamics

Diffusion of innovative capacity, facilitated by powerful networks of knowledge, culture and trade.

Intense agglomeration of dynamics within territories in a variety of forms.

Challenge to urban policies

An elevated level of governance allows for increased performance levels in medium-sized cities.

The complexity of governance within metropolis leads to the adoption of spatial-oriented strategic plans.

(Carta, 2007, page 34)

Requirements for Creative Cities

"The creative economy promotes a form of development based on cultural identity and innovation: the urban renewal of cultural heritage, the regeneration of disused areas, the supply of cultural services, the diffusion of research and the development of infrastructures all serve to fuel a new, sustainable economy of urban renewal." (M. Carta, 2007)

Carta suggests that designing cities to be creatively enabled requires a set of prerequisites and commitments, essential to the comprehension of the individual elements and their subsequent effect on the bigger picture:

First and foremost, it demands that all planning must be directed under holistic principles, involving understanding the urban context as a whole and interpreting it in a way that enables cooperative planning with the involved communities and the implementation of strategic plans schemas;

Secondly, creative cities and irrevocably linked with territories. A synergy must be found that will enable the relations between urban roles and territorial context to be exploited to full extent, influencing the motion of citizens and financial capitals all over the world and subsequently translate them into local resources;

Cities that are culture-based are required to maintain a balance between the preservation of their heritage and the simultaneous promotion of innovation;

Generational policies exist that will reduce social conflict and at the same time instil a feeling of cooperation, such as policies assisting working mothers, provisions for the elderly and so on;

The planning procedure must be open and transparent to the public, and allow for the expression of diverse cultures, lifestyles, encourage the development of ethnic diversities and aesthetics, while attempting simultaneously to discourage the development of buildings by "archi-stars", in order to circulate such commissions back into the city.

To ensure that a multi-tiered decision making process exists, is maintained and promoted, so that districts can have a say in the development of their local communities, and moving up on the ladder, for their representatives to have a say in the development of the city.

None of the existing communities should be ostracised in the name of change, but rather attempt to incorporate them into the upgrading procedures, as tolerance and cooperation comprise the main Community axis of the economic development keys for the creative city.

The corner-stone of city planning is where Maurizio Carta's scale begins to actively interact with Angela McRobbies theories. Appraisals of creative cities all point to one main element: "the importance of promoting, planning and setting up areas where competitive edge is closely tied to unique local characteristics and the values of a "symbol-city", connected to a specific, tacit richness of knowledge and the purposeful guidance of urban systems within the city". These areas will in turn transform into "cultural clusters", functioning as part of a cluster network, strategically designed, and founded upon the principles of territorial quality and excellence (Cianciullo, Realacci, 2005). Territorial policies play a fundamental role in the development of such cultural clusters, striving to fine tune the correct socio-economic conditions necessary to develop a milieu capable of attracting the right kind of capital to flow within them, while at the same time setting up infrastructures to support existing artistic activity within those areas.

Setting up and running periodic events such as festivals, art exhibitions and trade fairs, formulate a second type of clusters called the event clusters. Events such as the Venice Biennale, the Olympics, Formula one and other sporting events cause agglomerations based on leisure-related activities