At the end of last month I attended The Annual Open Meeting of the London Cultural Strategy Group at City Hall, London. The heads of most of London’s cultural institutions were there and one of the key discussions centered on that lack of and increasing loss of affordable space for creative and artists to operate out of. The concern about London’s high cost of living, and increasing lack of affordable housing was discussed and described as another threat to London’s position as the world’s preeminent creative city. There was talk about investigating and investing in opportunities in the suburbs.
I left the meeting and my mind was whirring. I couldn’t help thinking that the affordability crisis that is gripping London is not suddenly going to end anytime soon. There may be more affordable studio opportunities in some of London’s suburbs but the cost of accommodation is often still a burden that can stymie the chance to get creative careers off the ground. And nagging at me is the fact surely there is room outside London for creativity to flourish in mutually supportive clusters. London is a great city, but it doesn’t “own” and never should “own” the nations creativity.
At Hemingway Design we have spent the last year working on the Dreamland, Margate project and have been observing a growing creative community in Margate, fueled by evocative cost effective work spaces, a highly desirable housing stock at between 25 % and 33% of inner suburban London prices, sandy beaches and rail connection in High Speed 1 that has and is continuing to reduce travel times into St Pancras into a manageable 90 minutes. Every time I go to Margate another cool independent café, guest house, gallery, gift or vintage shop has opened. Stunning buildings that have languished neglected for decades are being thoughtfully brought into the 21st century. Margate is on the first section of a road that Brighton took to becoming a vibrant creative satellite to London. Brighton as well as being a wonderful standalone city serves London giving our capital city a seaside lung that has the cultural buzz that makes London such a draw to the world’s creative class. Epson with its dynamic University for The Creative Arts is showing signs of becoming a significant creative satellite to London.
History is on the side of this concept. London is recognised as the city where there punk movement was instigated (but don’t tell that to New Yorkers!) punk would never have flourished without The Bromley Contingent. The Bromley Contingent consisted if Souixie Sioux, Jordan, Soo Catwoman, Billy Idol. Phillip Salon and Steve Severin are all “faces” that dominated the early punk photography. In the Soul Boy days of the late 70s the movement centered on towns like Romford (with its iconic Lacy Lady nightclub).
The concept of creative satellites is starting to be discussed in the book, ‘The Creative Class Goes Global’ Edited by Charlotta Mellander, Richard Florida, Bjørn T. Asheim and Meric Gertler – where it is written:
“In the Danish Copenhagen and Aarhus regions, only the part of the creative class with high purchasing power or those with low expectations of living standards (the bohemians such as artists) live in Copenhagen or Aarhus proper while the rest of the creative classes tend to cluster in small provincial towns or commuter towns around the central hubs.”
My gut feeling is that we cannot wait for someone to wave a magic wand of affordability and unless we start to discuss and encourage creative satellites to cluster around London, then the city may start to lose its mantle as the world’s most creative city.
By Wayne Hemingway