Post-industrial Dundee is reinventing itself as a hub of creativity

The good old days: Dundee, c1925. Image: Getty.

Creativity and culture have always contributed enormously to the evolution of our societies, but in recent years there has been a growing realisation of the value of the arts as an economic driver.

Cities have woken up to the fact that a vibrant cultural offering makes people want to live there, and the numbers back this up. New York is home to nearly 14,000 arts-related businesses employing nearly 300,000 people and generating revenues of $230bn each year. London’s creative industry sector is worth £35bn and employs around 800,000 people.

These may be massive global cities, but in Dundee, a small city on the east coast of Scotland, the creative industries produce a total annual turnover of £190m and provide employment for 3,000 people. When you consider that the population of the city is just 150,000, you get some indication of the importance of the cultural sector to its economic well-being.

Renaissance city

Dundee is a dynamic city with a strong cultural identity and a history of innovation and creativity. But by the late 1980s, profound post-industrial decline had turned a once proud and world-facing city into a fragmented shadow of its former self.

Now the city famed for jute, jam and journalism – the three Js that defined its economy and global reputation – has become home to a thriving digital media industry, internationally respected universities, world-renowned drug discovery and medical advancements, not to mention a vibrant design and creative sector.

V&A Dundee/YouTube.

Kengo Kuma’s new Victoria and Albert building which sits at the heart of Dundee’s £1bn waterfront regeneration, is already having a transformative effect, with investment flowing into the city and businesses springing up to service the anticipated tourist numbers.

The economist Allen Scott refers to the “new economies” of post-industrial cities, saying:

The peculiar forms of economic order that are in the ascendant today represent a marked shift away from the massified structures of production and the rigid labour markets that typified fordism… [and are] made up of sectors such as the high-technology industries; neo-artisan manufacturing; business and financial services; cultural-product industries (including the media).

This is surely an apt description of contemporary Dundee, where the solution becomes one of nurturing and retaining diverse and rich talent.

Voyage of rediscovery

The fact that the V&A will soon open its first building outside of London coupled with its elite UNESCO City of Design status, means that Dundee is finally being recognised as a design hothouse. Both of these initiatives are the result of dogged determination by groups of passionate people within the city, who believe in the city and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Why move when you can help build?

It is a well-evidenced fact that the creative and cultural economy is growing, and smaller cities like Dundee can benefit from the opportunity to take their share of this market. Many of the building blocks are already in place. The city enjoys a great resource of talent nurtured by the universities of Dundee and Abertay, and a great coastal location with a wealth of local heritage.

Dundee sits on the River Tay, looking over to Fife. Image: Eric Niven/Flickr/creative commons.

This and Dundee’s transformation is not lost on the growing audience for cultural tourism. A thriving cultural scene can drive exponential growth in both tourism and inward investment. It makes a place not just attractive to visit, but also to live, study and work in. This in turn engenders civic pride, a strong identity and a burgeoning self-confidence.

Lessons to be learnt

Dundee’s path to “rediscovery” has much to offer other cities. It’s not based around any individual’s ambition or success. It represents a strong partnership between government, local authorities, agencies, industry, academia and education, where organisations and focused like-minded individuals have agreed a shared vision.

Many people cite the establishment of Dundee Contemporary Arts (DCA) as the turning point for this cultural shift. DCA opened in 1999, but the idea of building a visual arts centre in Dundee was established in the early 1980s with the aim of brightening up a decaying industrial townscape.

The creation of the DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) in 1999 prompted a cultural shift in the city. Image: DCA/creative commons.

The establishment of a biological sciences centre at the University of Dundee effectively kickstarted a new focus in both academia and spin-off businesses around drug discovery. This new identity, labelled Bio-Dundee, harnessed the notion of a dense cluster of scientists and businesses compressed within a three-mile radius. The opportunities for growth on a global scale attracted talent to Dundee from all over the world, and the talent wanted good housing and good schools, but also good cultural and recreational provision.

In the late 1980s to mid 1990s, a new industry began to form in Dundee. Driven by closure of the Timex factory which was producing ZX Spectrum computers, a bedroom computer games industry started to emerge, with the globally successful game Lemmings and later Grand Theft Auto exemplifying its ambition.

Throughout the 1990s the games industry cluster grew, with University of Abertay launching the world’s first computer games degree programme, attracting students and other creatives to the city, which was now garnering international acclaim. The Interactive Tayside business support agency was set up by Scottish Enterprise Tayside, and an industrial strategy was formed.

Desperate Dan, a much-loved character from The Dandy, a comic first published in 1937 by Dundee publishers DC Thomson. Image: Graeme/Flickr/creative commons.

Since then, the city has been able to retain and attract creative talent from all over the world, causing a rising swell of demand, activity and development. In short, people took risks, invested their lives, generated success, and government took note. Investment soon followed.

The city’s continuing evolution is part of a journey which began centuries ago with Dundee’s trailblazing achievements in exploration, trade and communications, and is based on authentic activity and indigenous growth. Linen and textiles, education, jute, jam, journalism, drug and medical research, computer gaming and the creative and cultural industries have all grown from activities that were started by citizens of Dundee, in a physical and political landscape both challenging and complementary, and changing with the times.


The ConversationDundee is not built around recommissioning a brownfield site, developing buildings and then incentivising their use. It is in fact the very opposite: strong, industrious and innovative activity attracting further development funding. Dundee has always been about adapting to change and exploring new opportunities. A new journey of discovery has begun.

Paul Harris, Professor and Dean of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design, University of Dundee.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

What other British cities can learn from the Tyne & Wear Metro

A Metro train at Monument. Image: Callum Cape/Wikipedia.

Ask any person on the street what they know about Newcastle, and they’ll list a few things. They’ll mention the accent; they’ll mention the football; they’ll mention brown ale and Sting and Greggs. They might even mention coal or shipbuilding, and then the conversation will inevitably turn political, and you’ll wish you hadn’t stopped to ask someone about Newcastle at all.

They won’t, however, mention the Tyne and Wear Metro, because they haven’t probably heard of it – which is a shame, because the Metro is one of the best things the north-east has to offer.

Two main issues plague suburban trains. One is frequency. Suburban rail networks often run on poor frequency; to take Birmingham for an example, most of its trains operate at 30-minute intervals.

The other is simplicity. Using Birmingham again, the entire system is built around New Street, leading to a very simple network. Actually, that’s not quite true: if you’re coming from Leamington Spa, Warwick, Stourbridge, Solihull or a host of other major minor (minor major?) towns, you don’t actually connect to New Street – no, you don’t even connect to the ENTIRE SYSTEM BUILT AROUND NEW STREET except at Smethwick Galton Bridge, miles away in the western suburbs, where the physical tracks don’t even connect – they pass over each other. Plus, what on earth is the blue line to Walsall doing?

An ageing map of the West Midlands rail network: click any of the images in this article to expand them. Image: Transport for the West Midlands/Centro.

But Newcastle has long been a hub of railway activity. Tragically, the north-east has fewer active railway lines than any other region of the UK. Less tragically, this is because Tyne and Wear has the Metro.


The Metro was formed in 1980 from a somewhat eccentric collection of railways, including freight-only lines, part of the old Tyneside Electrics route, underground tunnelling through the city centre, track-sharing on the National Rail route to Sunderland, and lines closed after the Beeching axe fell in the early 1960s.

From this random group of railway lines, the Metro has managed to produce a very simple network of two lines. Both take a somewhat circuitous route, the Yellow line especially, because it’s literally a circle for much of its route; but they get to most of the major population centres. And frequency is excellent – a basic 5 trains an hour, with 10 tph on the inner core, increasing at peak times (my local station sees 17 tph each way in the morning peak).

Fares are simple, too: there are only three zones, and they’re generally good value, whilst the Metro has been a national leader in pay-as-you-go technology (PAYG), with a tap-in, tap-out system. The Metro also shares many characteristics of European light rail systems – for example, it uses the metric system (although this will doubtless revert to miles and chains post-Brexit, whilst fares will be paid in shillings).

 

The Metro network. Image: Nexus.

Perhaps most importantly, the Metro has been the British pioneer for the Karlsruhe model, in which light rail trains share tracks with mainline services. This began in 2002 with the extension to Sunderland, and, with new bi-mode trains coming in the next ten years, the Metro could expand further around the northeast. The Sheffield Supertram also recently adopted this model with its expansion to Rotherham; other cities, like Manchester, are considering similar moves.

However, these cities aren’t considering what the Metro has done best – amalgamated local lines to allow people to get around a city easily. Most cities’ rail services are focused on those commuters who travel in from outside, instead of allowing travel within a city; there’s no coherent system of corridors allowing residents to travel within the limits of a city.

The Metro doesn’t only offer lessons to big cities. Oxford, for example, currently has dire public transport, focused on busy buses which share the same congested roads as private vehicles; the city currently has only two rail stations near the centre (red dots).

Image: Google.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. For a start, Oxford is a fairly lateral city, featuring lots of north-south movements, along broadly the same route the railway line follows. So, using some existing infrastructure and reinstating other parts, Oxford’s public transport could be drastically improved. With limited engineering work, new stations could be built on the current track (blue dots on the map below; with more extensive work, the Cowley branch could be reinstated, too (orange dots). Electrify this new six-station route and, hey presto, Oxford has a functioning metro system; the short length of the route also means that few trains would be necessary for a fequent service.

Image: Google.

Next up: Leeds. West Yorkshire is a densely populated area with a large number of railway lines. Perfect! I hear you cry. Imperfect! I cry in return. Waaaaaah! Cry the people of Leeds, who, after two cancelled rapid transit schemes, have had enough of imaginative public transport projects.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire:

Image: Google.

Here’s a map of West Yorkshire’s railway network:

 ​

Image: West Yorkshire Metro.

The problem is that all of the lines go to major towns, places like Dewsbury, Halifax or Castleford, which need a mainline connection due to their size. Options for a metro service are limited.

But that’s not to say they’re non-existent. For example, the Leeds-Bradford Interchange line passes through densely populated areas; and anyway, Bradford Interchange is a terminus, so it’s poorly suited to service as a through station, as it’s currently being used.

Image: Google.

With several extra stops, this line could be converted to a higher frequency light rail operation. It would then enter an underground section just before Holbeck; trains from Halifax could now reach Leeds via the Dewsbury line. The underground section would pass underneath Leeds station, therefore freeing up capacity at the mainline station, potentially simplifying the track layout as well.

 

Image: Google.

Then you have the lines from Dewsbury and Wakefield, which nearly touch here:

Image: Google.

By building a chord, services from Morley northwards could run into Leeds via the Wakefield line, leaving the Dewsbury line north of Morley open for light rail operation, probably with an interchange at the aforementioned station.

Image: Google.

The Leeds-Micklefield section of the Leeds-York line could also be put into metro service, by building a chord west of Woodlesford over the River Aire and connecting at Neville Hill Depot (this would involve running services from York and Selby via Castleford instead):

The path of the proposed chord, in white. Image: Google.

With a section of underground track in Leeds city centre, and an underground line into the north-east of Leeds – an area completely unserved by rail transport at present – the overall map could look like this, with the pink and yellow dots representing different lines:

Et voila! Image: Google.

Leeds would then have a light-rail based public transport system, with potential for expansion using the Karlsruhe model. It wouldn’t even be too expensive, as it mainly uses existing infrastructure. (Okay, the northeastern tunnel would be pricey, but would deliver huge benefits for the area.)

Why aren’t more cities doing this? Local council leaders often talk about introducing “metro-style services” – but they avoid committing to real metro projects because they’re more expensive than piecemeal improvements to the local rail system, and they’re often more complex to deliver (with the lack of space in modern-day city centres, real metro systems need tunnels).

But metro systems can provide huge benefits to cities, with more stops, a joined-up network, and simpler fares. More cities should follow the example of the Tyne and Wear Metro.