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Towards a creative city?

Beleid, Marketing

Is Istanbul a creative city? Yigit Evren and Zeynep Merey Enlil explore the tendency for creative industries to cluster in certain areas of the city, and the challenges and opportunities that clustering brings to these creative industries as well as to Istanbul as a creative city.

Since the 1990’s, the creative city, creative sectors and cultural industries have been amongst the most popular and central themes in cultural studies, planning and geography. In particular, the role of creative and cultural sectors in local economic development and creative clusters has attracted considerable interest. At the risk of oversimplifying the relevant literature, we can argue that there have been two very different conceptual definitions for the creative city. In the culture-centric orientation, the creative city appears to be a place of diverse and inclusive arts and culture. The second definition on the other hand sees local economic development and growth as primarily important, and is for that reason labelled the econocentric orientation. In this context, creative cities are the places of economic innovation, creative talent and competitive creative industries.

Econo-centric view
When we examine the econo-centric framework of the creative city in detail, we observe that it consists of three interrelated theoretical strands. The first one represents a widespread focus on the production, distribution and consumption of products, whose economic value is largely dependent on their cultural value. Cultural-economic activities include the production of traditional cultural products as well as a wide palette of design activities, requiring creative ability and skill. In this context, places or cities where creative sectors decide to settle are considered to be centres of creativity and economic growth. The second theoretic strand in the econo-centric framework concerns the importance of a certain ‘people-climate’ in the economic competitiveness of creative cities. Underlying this argument in the concept of the creative class, popularized and expanded upon in the works of Richard Florida. According to Florida, the creative class is the engine of creativity and innovation, and it comprises a specialist group of innovative people such as artists and scientists. He argues that cities that have the capacity of attracting and retaining creative human resources also attract companies. In other word, the ‘creative age’ places a people-driven system at the centre of the economy, rather than a corporate-driven one where companies attract jobseekers. The third and last strand of thinking which makes up the econo-centric framework is based on the notion of creativity as a toolkit for urban (re)development. This idea originated with Charles Landry’s The creative city: a toolkit for urban innovators. Contrary to Richard Florida,Landry uses the idea of the creative city in a much broader sense. His approach is a more encompassing understanding of the nature of creativity, which includes social and political reform in addition to artistic and technological innovation. According to this view, creativity is not only generated through a distinguished class of artists and thinkers but also through ordinary people who might just as well introduce creative solutions to everyday urban problems.

These are three different ways of thinking within the same general model, but they all share a general message: ‘Creative process is clearly related to urban space, particularly to agglomeration effects,’ in the words of Costa. When we turn our attention to creative sectors, the most distinguishable spatial form defined by these sectors is clustering.Yet, why do creative sectors cluster in the first place? This has been one of the more popular topics of debate within economic geography literature. Bathelt for instance answers this question by referring to various dimensions of clustering. Porter on the other hand highlights competitive advantages of the inner city, which make the city centre a magnet for these sectors. Scott introduces the notion of a creative field to explain the multifaceted processes of learning and innovation in clusters, while Lorenzen and Frederiksen focus on the positive externalities enjoyed by creative sectors, and explain the reasons of clustering by referring to localisation and urbanisation in modern economies.

The debate on the causes of clustering is yet undecided. But Istanbul might provide an inte¬resting peak into the very process of clustering at work. Istanbul is the most popular destination in Turkey for creative industries to locate, as has been for the past few centuries. The jewellery industry for example boasts about 500 years of history in the city, and now accounts for 79 percent of manufacturing firms and 85 percent of all employment in the Turkish jewellery sector. The sector also generates 96 percent of national jewellery value-added. Similarly, there is a significant concentration of Turkish film companies within the city, and about 59 percent of the total employment in the Turkish advertising industry is located in Istanbul. In publishing and printing, Istanbul covers 45 percent of the nationwide employment, while the city is also home to about 42 percent of all architects and 27 percent of all architectural offices in the country. In the software design industry, 47 percent of the qualified workforce is located in Istanbul. In terms of the number of registered industrial designs certified by the Turkish Patent Institute, Istanbul is far ahead of other major Turkish cities with its 50 percent share. Finally, Istanbul is also the centre of the Turkish fashion design industry, with a large number of independent fashion designers setting up shop in the city. These are impressive numbers to be sure. The clustering displayed in Istanbul gives the city a number of competitive advantages. First of all, these sectors cultivate the creative and innovative environment and enable Istanbul to maintain its role as an incubator of creativity and innovation. Secondly, with their creative capacities in design, branding, advertisement and marketing, creative sectors carry the potential of contributing to the conventional manufacturing industries’ ability to compete internationally and access global markets. The local economy of Istanbul, until the late 1980’s, was dominated by conventional manufacturing. Since the 1990’s however, we have been witnessing a slow but steady change in the economic base of the city, and there has been a shift from manufacturing to services. Additionally, many of Istanbul’s conventional manufacturing industries have lost their previous competitive advantages, which were mainly based on cheap labour costs. Creative industries offer new economic possibilities for the city. The growing creative economy in Istanbul has greatly increased in its capacity to act as an interface between the conventional sectors of the economy and the global markets.

There is no doubt that clustering of creative and cultural sectors offers Istanbul various positive economic externalities. But is that enough to make it a creative city? Inspired by the definition of Lorenzen and Frederiksen cited above, we can argue that most of Istanbul’s creative sectors enjoy localisation economies arising from clustering. Nevertheless they have not yet reached a capacity to benefit from the positive externalities. The creative economy of Istanbul is capable of making incremental innovations, but it fails to produce culturally innovative products. Most of Istanbul’s creative and cultural sectors are locked in their local trajectories. These industries have not yet become global players. In other words, they fail to set new global trends and are mostly associated with the production of relatively low value-added and/or copied designs.There are several reasons for this. One possible explanation is the fact that the creative economy in Istanbul has not yet fully achieved the necessary threshold that allows it to take off and reinforce itself. As of 2008, employment figures within Istanbul’s creative economy stands far behind other leading cities in Europe. Local demand for and consumption of cultural products is relatively low, while the conventional industry’s demand for creative input still remains limited. Another handicap of Istanbul’s creative and cultural sectors is the lack of channels through which creative ideas and capital can be brought together. There are indeed a number of promising developments within the city, but they are all quite new and still in their formative stages.Concluding, we argue that geographical agglomeration is not in itself a sufficient precondition for the move towards a creative city. This again illustrates that it is rather naive to adopt a ‘one size fits all’ development policy towards creative sectors. What we need, as Enright notes, is ‘careful identification and characterization of local clusters in all dimensions, explicit recognition of their needs, and programs that clearly target specific market failures’.

Auteur: Tekst: Yigit Evren and Zeynep Merey Enlil. Zeynep Merey Enlil is professor of urban planning and teaches at Yildiz Technical University (Istanbul) ( Yigit Evren is a senior lecturer in regional planning and urban economics at Yildiz Technical University. (Istanbul) (


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