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.


Why doesn’t London build an RER network, like Paris did?

A commuter walking by a map of the RER B line at the Chatelet-Les Halles station in Paris. Image: Getty.

I’ve heard many people make many different complaints about the Parisian transport system. That it does a bad job of linking a rich, white city with its poorer, more diverse suburbs. That, even as subway systems go, it’s a hostile environment for women. That the whole thing smells distractingly of urine.

I’m familiar with all of these complaints – I’ve often smelt the urine. And I’m aware that, in many ways, London’s is the superior transport network.

And yet I can’t help be jealous of Paris – In large part, because of the RER.

Central Paris. The Metro lines are thinner, and in pastel shades; the RER lines are thicker, and in brighter colours. Image: RATP.

Paris, you see, has not one but two underground railway systems. The more famous one is the original Paris Metro, opened in 1900: that’s the one with those fancy green portals with the word “metropolitain” written above them in a vaguely kooky font.

The Metro, though, mostly serves Paris Intra-muros: the official city, inside the Boulevard Périphérique ring road, site of the city’s last set of walls. As a result, it’s of very little use in most of the city’s suburbs. Its stations are very close together, which places a limit on how fast its trains can cross town. It was also, by the mid 20th century, becoming annoyingly overcrowded.

So starting in the 1960s, the city transport authorities began planning a second underground railway network. The Réseau Express Régional – Regional Express Network – would link suburban lines on either side of Paris, through new heavy rail tunnels beneath the city. Its stations would be much further apart than those of the metro – roughly one every 3km, rather than every 600m – so its trains can run faster.

And fifty years and five lines later, it means that 224 stations in the suburbs of Paris are served by trains which, rather than terminating on the edge of the city, now continue directly through tunnels to its centre.

The RER network today. Image: RATP.

London is, belatedly, doing something similar. The Elizabeth Line, due to open in stages from later this year, will offer express-tube style services linking the suburban lines which run west from Paddington to those which run east from Liverpool Street. And Thameslink has offered cross-town services for 30 years now (albeit not at tube-level frequencies). That, too, is going to add more routes to its network over the next few years, meaning direct trains from the southern suburbs to north London and vice versa.

Yet the vast majority of suburban National Rail services in London still terminate at big mainline stations, most of which are on the edge of the centre. For many journeys, especially from the south of the city, you still need to change to the London Underground.

So, could London ape Paris – and make Thameslink and Crossrail the first element of its own RER network?

In a limited way, of course, it’s doing just that. The next big project after Crossrail is likely to be (original name, this) Crossrail 2. If that gets funding, it’ll be a new south-west to north-east route, connecting some of the suburban lines into Waterloo to those in the Lea Valley.

The proposed route of Crossrail 2. Click to expand.

But it’s not immediately obvious where you could go next – what Crossails 3, 4 or 5 should cover.

That’s because there’s an imbalance in the distribution of the remaining mainline rail services in London. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the geography of the city will know that there are far more tube lines to its north. But the corollary of that is that there are far more mainlines to the south.

To usefully absorb some of those, Crossrail 3 would probably need to run south to south in some way. There is actually an obvious way of doing this: build a new tunnel from roughly Battersea to roughly Bermondsey, and take over the Richmond lines in the west and North Kent lines in the east, as a sort of London equivalent of RER C:

Our suggestion for Crossrail 3. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

But that still leaves a whole load of lines in south and south east London with nowhere to send them beyond their current terminal stations.

In fact, there are reasons for thinking that the whole RER concept doesn’t really fit the British capital. It was designed, remember, for a city in which the Metro only served the centre (roughly equivalent of London’s zones 1 & 2).

But London Underground wasn’t like that. From very early in its history, it served outer London too: it was not just a way of getting people around the centre, but for getting them there from their suburban homes too.

This is turn is at least in part a function of the economic geography of the two cities. Rich Parisians have generally wanted to live in the centre, pushing poorer people out to the banlieues. In London, though, the suburbs were where the good life was to be found.

To that end, the original operators of some lines weren’t just railway companies, but housing developers, too. The Metropolitan Railway effectively built large chunks of north west London (“Metroland”), partly to guarantee the market for its trains, but partly too because, well, housing is profitable.

In other parts of town, existing main line railways were simply added to the new underground lines. The Central line swallowed routes originally built by the Great Western Railway and London & North Eastern Railway. The District line absorbed part of the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway.

At any rate: the Tube was playing the same role as the RER as early as the 1930s. London could still benefit from some RER-type services, so hopefully the Elizbaeth Line won’t be the last. But it doesn’t need an entire second metro network in the way 1960s Paris did.

There is another idea we could more profitably steal from Paris. Those suburban railways which aren’t connected to the RER are still run by the national rail operator, SNCF. But it uses the Transilien brand name, to mark them out as a part of the Parisian transport network, and – as with the RER – each route has its own letter and its own colour.

The Transilien & RER networks in Paris. Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker/Wikimedia Commons.

This would not have the transformative effect on London that building another half a dozen Crossrails would. But it would make the network much easier to navigate, and would be almost infinitely cheaper. Perhaps we should be starting there.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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