There have been a number of events in Dublin in recent months aimed at promoting discussion around the current crisis. One such event entitled ‘Promoting the Cultural & Creative Industries & Innovation in Dublin’ was hosted by Dublin City Council on the 19th of January. This involved a panel discussion, chaired by Declan McGonagle of NCAD, followed by comments and discussion from the floor. A number of things struck me about this meeting. The first was the degree to which those working within what might be loosely described as the ‘cultural arena’ don’t seem to see their area as being the answer to the current economic woes in the same way that those working within policy seem to. Here I am referring directly to the hype surrounding the ‘creative city’, as promoted by Richard Florida, which has emerged in recent years as a backbone of economic policy in Dublin. While there was a resounding agreement that this broad sector plays a role in the contemporary economy, many of those present almost seemed to shy away from the manner in which it is being portrayed as an indicator of  broader economic potential. This points to what would appear to be a divide in what is currently being referred to as the creative or cultural industries. At the policy level, there is a cry out for ‘us’ to be more creative and innovative as a means of finding ways out of the current crisis. Here ideals of of innovation and creativity perceived similar to those involved in the artistic process are looked at for their potential to be used for the generation of new ideas and future employment within the ‘creative’ industries. What is not known, as indicated by recent ACRE reports, is the actual contribution made by this sector to the economy, and exactly how they may further contribute to it in the future. Meanwhile, this very focus on culture and creativity may be bringing us to a clash of values within the broader cultural arena. While, as discussed above, one aspect focuses on economic values, the other indicates a desire to look to ideas of culture in terms of its broader manifestation, and, moving beyond the boundaries of the ‘cultural arena’, to recognise the existence of different cultures at the local level in rural, urban and suburban contexts.

Landmark Park of the Future? U2 Tower Site, Dublin Docklands, 2007. Photo by Philip Lawton

During the seminar it also emerged that the potential for the re-use of unused or vacant buildings is being actively pursued with direct relevance to the creative industries within Dublin City Council. There are obvious positives of this in terms of the availability of cheaper land for these industries when they are viewed on their own merits, or in terms of how they might fit within the wider economy. However, there would also be positives to using Nama-bound properties to support a broad range of industries or the provision of affordable housing. Essentially, if efforts are to be made within local authorities to alter the way land is used it must be done in as broad a manner as possible. With this in mind, the current drafting of a new Dublin City Development Plan offers the possibility to significantly rethink our approach to land-use at the local level. Here it is possible to suggest that particular sites, or vacant/half-built buildings, are rezoned to suit new activities. Spaces that are blights within local areas could be rezoned in a manner that allows them to be utilised for a broad range of community activities (e.g., Aldo van Eyck’s playgrounds in post-war Amsterdam). While the rezoning may go against the base-premise of Nama, in as much as such land becomes economically devalued, it would be a symbol that the way in which we think about urban space is shifting away from the naturalised vision of development potential and the constant search for economic value. I don’t want to place boundaries on what may emerge from such a rethink, but simply point to the potential for local democratic processes to promote new potential outcomes. The negative impacts surrounding rezoning became evident throughout the boom years. We are now given the opportunity to use these powers for very different purposes, with far less risk. Through this, other forms of culture may emerge on  its own terms.

Philip Lawton

edit: The use of the docklands image is evidently even more aspirational than the above in as much as any rezoning within the City Council’s Development Plan needs to be consistent with the Docklands Masterplan.