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Urban Regeneration Projects and the Pursuit of the Creative Class


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Triggered by the wide acceptance of the creative class theory in the decision making circles and its immense implications on urban policies and emerging city built forms, this paper will try to shed …

Triggered by the wide acceptance of the creative class theory in the decision making circles and its immense implications on urban policies and emerging city built forms, this paper will try to shed light on some of the risks in strictly conforming to such simplistic approach in understanding and responding to urban dynamics without the consideration of the other factors that contribute to the economical, social and environmental health of the city. Building on different arguments by influential scholars such as David Harvey and Saskia Sassen, the paper will try to answer the question of why creative class oriented developments normally materialise in disintegrated enclaves despite being mostly developed in highly centralised locations.

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  • 1. Urban Regeneration Projects and the Pursuit of the Creative ClassYousef TaibehTriggered by the wide acceptance of the creative class theory in the decision making circles and itsimmense implications on urban policies and emerging city built forms, this paper will try to shedlight on some of the risks in strictly conforming to such simplistic approach in understanding andresponding to urban dynamics without the consideration of the other factors that contribute tothe economical, social and environmental health of the city. Building on different arguments byinfluential scholars such as David Harvey and Saskia Sassen, the paper will try to answer thequestion of why creative class oriented developments normally materialise in disintegratedenclaves despite being mostly developed in highly centralised locations.Through focusing on the Docklands development in Melbourne, the paper highlights how thisdevelopment was largely led by the creative class hypothesis, exemplified in the new roles playedby the public and private sectors, in addition to the adopted marketing techniques and thepresented urban imagery used in ‘selling the city’. The paper argues that Melbourne Docklandswas doomed to face many challenges as soon as it started, being highly market-driven, and mostcritically, being exclusive form the beginning as it was portrayed and structured to catch theinterest of certain end-users, i.e. the creative class, with little considerations for Melbourne’swider community spectrum.The paper firstly introduces to the notion of ‘creative class’, linking it to the bigger context ofglobalization and discussing its respective implications on the city and its management. Suchimplications are mostly exemplified in the big regeneration developments similar to MelbourneDocklands. In this regard, the paper tries to explore some of the reasons behind the inability ofthese developments to live-up to the high expectations envisaged at the time of their initiation.The last section of the paper concludes by highlighting the scope and limitations of Melbourne’srecent endeavours to mitigate the many shortcomings of the Docklands development.Accommodating the creative classThe creative class theory was originally formulated by the American professor Richard Florida inthe span of the previous decade to explain the recent rise and fall of many American cities. Themain premise of this theory is that the economic success of any city is conditioned by its ability toattract and retain a certain type of population dubbed the creative class. This creative class isidentified by Florida to include those people who work in professions resulting in new innovationsand requiring high levels of education and creativity. He further subdivided this class into acreative core of specified professionals and a supportive segment of others, arguing that themembers of this class in general have unproportional contribution in the success of the areas they Page 1 of 8
  • 2. choose to live in. Based on this initial premise, Florida developed number of indices to measurethe appeal of different cities for the creative class. These indices cover different aspects includingthe availability of creative and high-tech industries and the city’s tolerance to difference (Florida2002).The creative class theory was heavily criticised by many academics for being too simplistic and forbuilding causality relations between diverse elements based on mere statistical correlations (Berry2005, Perry 2011, Malanga 2004). The position of city mangers on the other hand was muchdifferent, where the theory found large international acceptance in the governmental circles. Thisofficial positive position can be attributed in large part to the theory’s ability to illustrategovernmental achievements in easily formulated figures. What possibly promoted the theoryfurther, is that it conformed to ongoing trends and agendas for building and managing cities (Perry2011). These trends are characterised by a frantic competition between cities across the world toallure and accommodate businesses necessary for their survival and prosperity, a notion that hasbeen highlighted several years ago in the writings of several scholars such as David Harvey andSaskia Sassen.It is argued that this new condition of unprecedented open competition between cities is one ofthe many manifestations of globalisation. The advancements in communication technologies andopening of national boarders facilitated the movement of capital and people, creating a newgeography and hierarchy of cities (Sassen 1996). The physical place has ironically gained increasedimportance in this new reality, where the appropriately serviced ‘command and control’ centresare now indispensable parts of the cross-continental mega businesses (Elsheshtawy 2010). Thesetypes of businesses are currently enjoying high levels of freedom in positioning their centres withthe technologically facilitated accessibility, in addition to the increased easement in controllingregulations and the many incentives governments all over the world are willing to offer (Robinson2002).Under these new terms, the role of city managers is dramatically changing (Borja & Castells 1997).Local governments all over the world are currently undertaking more active roles in majorprojects, shifting from their original responsibilities as service providers and regulators toentrepreneurial tasks and endeavours (Harvey 1989) aiming at marketing and face-lifting theimage of their cities. The image in this context becomes more important than the reality and thesurface more valid than the substance, while the city itself becomes another commodity to betraded and consumed (Kearns & Philo 1993). These new trends are no more apparent than in thebig regeneration developments. Such developments normally require huge funding over thecapabilities of many local governments. To overcome this obstacle and to allegedly increase theefficiency in delivering such projects, several governments seek partnerships with the privatesector and try to attract the international capital (Robinson 2002). Page 2 of 8
  • 3. The city of Melbourne is not far from the aforementioned shifts. A selected regeneration project inthe city, namely Melbourne Docklands will be presented in the following. It will be clarified howthis project represented a classical example of an endeavour formulated, developed andportrayed through the aforementioned attitudes and mindsets. It will be then explained how themany challenges the project faces today are largely attributed to these governing attitudes andpractices.Melbourne Docklands, a regeneration project par excellenceThe changing economy of cities form the industrial era to post industrialisation and to serviceeconomy posed many challenges and brought several opportunities for city managers. One of thedirect implications of this recent transformation is that large tracts of land with centralisedlocations are becoming available for redevelopment. This is highly exemplified in the manywaterfront locations previously utilised for docking and cargo functions that are becomingincreasingly obsolete. Especially with the new shipping technologies and the bigger sizes of vesselsthat required larger areas and deeper waters (Hoyle et al. 1988). In this context, the nineteeneighties included the early examples of cities changing their industrial image through promotingnew types of businesses and allowing other functions to take shape in waterfront reclaimedlocations (Hoyle et al. 1988). The success of many of these examples encouraged other cities toundertake similar endeavours. What further accelerated this trend is the availability of a footloosecapital roaming for locations with high investment prospects (Elsheshtawy 2010). The waterfrontareas presented the perfect opportunity to capture this capital being characterised withcentralised locations, high amenities and impressive views (Harvey 1989).The turn of Melbourne to its waterfront was initiated by the early nineteen eighties whenMelbournian journalist Michael Davie started a campaign to ‘save’ the Yarra River. Subsequently,several governmental initiatives and infrastructure projects started; paving the way for privatedevelopments to take place and to gradually replace the shrinking industrial zones in the centralareas of the city. These projects focused initially on redeveloping the southern bank of the riverand to linking it with the city centre. The availability of the Victoria Dock for redevelopment(known later as Docklands) presented one of the biggest opportunities for the city (Dovey 2005).The size of the available area and its prime location on the edge of the Central Business Districtencouraged the government to envisage a large scale development targeting internationalinvestments. The first development scheme for the area was actually a bid in 1987 for the 1996Olympics. This scheme was in the form of a massive sport village, equipped with all the requiredsport facilities. Though Melbourne lost the bid, it is noted that this opportunity had put the city forthe first time in its recent history in a competition with other major cities in the world (Dovey2005). Page 3 of 8
  • 4. Soon after, Melbourne entered another competition for Docklands development. This time againstthe Australian cities competing on the $12 Billion ‘Multi Function Polis’ project envisaged by theJapanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Dovey 2005). This project was in the formof a new city of around 200,000 people to be located somewhere in Australia. The private sectorrepresented by the ‘Committee for Melbourne’ took the lead in pursuing this option forDocklands. The ‘Committee for Melbourne’ project would have ticked all the boxes on Florida’sindices. They proposed a concentration of high-tech industries and businesses, along with high-end entertainment and leisure facilities catering for semi-residential community of highly skillednational and international workers from Japan and other nations. In this proposal, the accessibilityto the International Airport and the closely shared time zones between Japan and Australia werehighlighted as advantages. The project raised high concerns for social reasons, and again it waslost to Queensland then Adelaide before it was completely withdrawn (Dovey 2005).The actual kick-start of Docklands development was in 1991 with the beginning of constructionworks in Melbourne’s new sport stadium. The whole site was then subdivided into a number ofsections that were released for tendering. The demarcation lines of these sections followed theobsolete limits of the previous port. Their big areas dictated the types and sizes of companies ableto enter the tender (Dovey 2005). The sections were identified by neutral names such as YarraWaters and Batman’s Hill, allowing for the private developers to come up with their owndevelopment programs and functions (Dovey 2005). The government initially envisaged no publicfunding for the project, hoping that all the infrastructure and services be provided by the privatesector. However, as the project unfolded, the government found itself obliged to provide thelinking infrastructures and the required services to encourage private investments and to facilitatemeeting the strict deadlines (Dovey 2005).With the government partnering with the private sector to deliver the requirements of theproject, Docklands demonstrated many of the new trends in managing cities. A quasi-publicauthority was established to manage the project that was made deliberately flexible and allowedto be highly market-led. There was no clear master-plan to begin with and it was up to marketforces to dictate the functions and arguably the built forms of the area. The first layout for thedevelopment was prepared by Ashton Raggatt Macdougall (ARM). This layout was not a master-plan as explained by the architectural consultancy ARM. It was just a tool to stimulate theinnovation of the developers and to please the public (Dovey 2005) see Figure 1. The actualmaster-plan was a collage of the winning schemes of the different sections. These differentschemes were not perfectly integrated, as the areas in between were outside the domain andinterest of the private developers. On the other hand, the fictitious demarcating lines between thesections based on the obsolete port zones prohibited the possibility of developing a central heartfor the whole site (Dovey 2005). Page 4 of 8
  • 5. Figure 1 Docklands ARM vision, Source: (A R M Architecture)The layout was accompanied with several 3D images aiming at illustrating the potentials of the siteand selling its future possibilities without contemplating much on solving the spatial andfunctional requirements (Dovey 2005). Such marketing agendas were persisting elements inDocklands development. In general, these marketing schemes targeted specific audience, aimingat recovering the high construction cost normally associated with this type of projects. The firstgovernmental announcement on the need for considering affordable housing in Docklands was in2000 after all development parcels have been already committed (Dovey 2005). In 2005 RichardFlorida himself was selected for introducing to the project in the fancy marketing publication‘Waterfront Spectacular’ (Keeney et al. 2005), given the aforementioned context, this can hardlybe a coincidence.The title selection of the marketing publication is also not a coincidence. In such projects,marketing is normally considered on different levels. Besides the necessity for high-qualitypublications and advertising materials, architecture and urban imagery have major roles to play increating an ‘Urban Spectacle’, a wowing effect that would attract the sophisticated internationalbusinessmen along with their big corporations (Elsheshtawy 2010). This highly explains why suchprojects are usually associated with ‘Signature Architects’, a trend commonly labelled as the‘Bilbao Effect’ in reference to the role of Frank Gehry’s landmark building of Guggenheim Museumin vitalizing the city of Bilbao and improving its image (Elsheshtawy 2010). In these projects thechosen descriptions of the different buildings are also part of the marketing agenda. Thesedescriptions mostly come in superlative compositions such as the largest, the biggest and the Page 5 of 8
  • 6. tallest (Elsheshtawy 2010). In this context, it is worth mentioning that Docklands was indeed tohold the tallest building in the world before the negotiations collapsed with its developer BrunoGrollo (Dovey 2005).Whose Docklands is it?After more than two decades of its instigation, Melbourne Docklands is still facing manychallenges. Apart from the monotony of many of its buildings, the development in generalmaterialised in physically and socially isolated islands. This is easily understandable as thedevelopment focused on narrow population sector without the consideration for the widerspectrum of the community (Dovey 2005). Development zoning maps may have reflected fairmixes of uses. However, the different recommended functions were tailored to accommodatecertain type of users. In consistency with many other waterfront regeneration developmentsaround the world, Docklands resulted in expected set of functions. Harvey (1989) attributes thistendency of having universal architectural programs in such projects to the growing globalcompetition on the same end-users. Sassen (1996) on the other hand, labels these areas as ‘urbanglamour zones’ that are multiplying all over the world with the same structuring componentsnecessary for the convenience of the global citizens. She further warns from the negativeimplications of this trend, as places are eventually losing their special identities that were thereasons behind their development in the first place.In the above context, the businesses envisaged in such projects are normally from certain calibretoo. The specific job requirements for these businesses are mostly fit for the ‘cosmopolitancitizens’, who are also becoming more mobile (Abed 2004) as highlighted in part by Richard Florida(Florida 2002). In this context, the sheer benefit of such businesses to local areas is highlyquestionable given their high service cost, in addition to the lack of a credible cost- benefit analysisfor their overall contribution to the local community as argued by Jennifer Robinson (2002).Robinson further warns, that too much focus on entertainment and leisure activities in cities openfor globalisation may put these cities on the other end of the ‘command and control’ relation(Robinson 2002). On another level, the concentration of the specific employees with theirunparalleled scale of wages will largely contribute in polarising the society. In an extremecondition, Sassen (1996) sheds light on the developing parallel world of misery in the highlyglobalised cities, where a large percentage of the population is in the form of law wage serviceemployees necessary for facilitating for and sustaining the big businesses.Based on the above arguments, the various problems in Docklands are believed to be inherited inits structuring schemes and uses programs. These schemes and land-uses are dominated by thetime schedules and the living styles of the targeted population, which is not necessary inconsistence with the rest of the community (Sassen 1996). This highly explains why the area feelsseparated though it is fairly physically connected to adjacent locations. What adds more to this Page 6 of 8
  • 7. since of separation is the unavailability of quality open areas and public spaces that normally formthe melting pot for the various community sectors (Martinez-Garrido 2008). The best open spacesin the development are those semi-private areas next to office buildings. The residential buildingson the other hand are negatively impacting the public amenity, where the high rise residentialapartments for instance are overshadowing the waterfront promenade. The location and urbanform of these buildings was highly dictated by market forces valuing the short term financial profitover the long term public benefit (Dovey 2005).Other deficiencies in Docklands’ built form can also be easily attributed to its development historyand to the prevailing market trends. Subdividing the site into big development parcels anddistributing them on private developers encouraged those to focus on their own zones avoidingadding any value to the surrounding areas (Dovey 2005). This attitude in addition to the ambiguityin the responsibilities for constructing the major infrastructure and connections, forced the area todevelop into highly disintegrated parts. The sheer sizes of the committed development parcelsalso contributed to this end, as they created introverted and low density developments againstthe overall area of the site (Dovey 2005). The reluctance in devising a comprehensive master-planfor not to constrain the private developers, unexpectedly had an adverse effect on the pace ofdevelopment process. The unclarity in development expectations coupled with the ambiguousgovernmental responsibility represented high risks for the private developers. This accordinglyincreased the tendering and contracting times, in addition to slowing down the design andconstruction works. Several projects in the development were in form of private deals with thegovernment controlled by secrecy agreements. The negotiations failed in many incidences despitethe many incentives and the several infrastructure projects funded by the government (Dovey2005).Concluding notesIt is acknowledged that a development in the size of Melbourne Docklands needs many yearsbefore maturing and delivering its benefits. What this paper tried to illustrate is that certainattitudes and approaches excreted in developing and managing Docklands prevented the areaform growing to its full potentials and may seriously affect its future evolution. The government issincerely trying to mitigate many shortcomings of the development since the publication of the‘Integration and Design Excellence’ booklet in 2000. This document aimed at facilitating theintegration of Docklands parts and of Dockland and its surrounding areas (Dovey 2005). There arealso other efforts aiming at social integration through providing the needed community facilitiesand public open spaces, and in this regard the municipality is currently preparing the ‘DocklandsPublic Realm Plan’ through proper public consultancy (City of Melbourne 2012). The Docklandsmanagement was also recently reformed into a full public authority. All these endeavours willhopefully improve Docklands and better link it with the rest of the city, but needless to say thatwith little space lift over and existing non-contributory built forms, these endeavours are highly Page 7 of 8
  • 8. restricted, and Docklands missed what Kim Dovey (2005, p. 125) rightly describes as: ‘the greatestwaterfront opportunity Melbourne would ever see’.References:A R M Architecture. Docklands ARM vision [Online]. Available: http://www.a-r- [Accessed 26 May, 2012].Abed, J. 2004. Notes on the Art of Selling Cities: Urban Design Strategies in the New Downtown Beirut. In ABED, J. (ed.) Architecture Re-introduced: New Projects in Societis in Change: 45-54. The Aga Khan Award for Architecture, Geneva.Berry, M. 2005. Melbourne - Is there Life after Florida? Urban Policy and Research, 23 (4): 381-392.Borja, J. & Castells, M. 1997. Local and Global: Management of Cities in the Information Age, Earthscan, London.City of Melbourne. 2012. Docklands Public Realm Plan [Online]. Available: [Accessed 26 May, 2012].Dovey, K. 2005. Fluid City: Transforming Melbournes Urban Waterfront, University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney.Elsheshtawy, Y. 2010. Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle, Routledge, New York.Florida, R. 2002. The Rise of the Creative Class: Why cities without gays and rock bands are losing the economic development race. Available: [Accessed 26 May 2012].Harvey, D. 1989. From Managerialism to Entrepreneurialism: The Transformation in Urban Governance in Late Capitalism. Geografiska Annaler. Series B, Human Geography, 71 (1): 3-17.Hoyle, B. S., Pinder, D. & Husain, M. S. 1988. Revitalising the waterfront: International dimensions of dockland redevelopment, Belhaven Press.Kearns, G. & Philo, C. (eds.) 1993. Selling Places: The City as Cultural Capital, Past and Present, Pergamon Press Ltd, Oxford.Keeney, J., Khoo, V. & Volpato, L. (eds.) 2005. Waterfront Spectacular: Creating Melbourne Docklands, the Peoples Waterfront ETNCOM Pty Ltd., Roseville.Malanga, S. 2004. The Curse of the Creative Class. City Journal, Winter: 36-45.Martinez-Garrido, L. 2008. Beirut Reconstruction: A Missed Opportunity for Conflict Resolution. al Nakhlah: The Fletcher School Online Journal for Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilization Fall 2008: 1-15.Perry, M. 2011. Finding Space for the Creative Class: A Reiew of the Issue. Urban Policy and Research, 29 (4): 325-341.Robinson, J. 2002. Global and World Cities: A View from off the Map. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 26 (3): 531–554.Sassen, S. 1996. Whose city is it? Globalization and the formation of new claims. Public Culture 8:205-223. Page 8 of 8