The Bristol Enterprise Zone

I’m interested in both the physical (buildings, infrastructure, roads etc.) and experiential (buzz, scene, identity) of cities, and in particular the role both play in sustaining a cities creative and cultural well-being. My interest in the interplay between the tangible and intangible urban experience stems from a Case Study I carried out on Bristol’s plans for a new Creative Enterprise Zone in 2012. Below is a summarised account of the salient findings from that case study (full case study available upon request).

1. The importance of cultural heritage

The association of Bristol with the subcultural street art movement, self-defined and industry changing urban music, and handmade and authentic creative products, all of which are underpinned by global critical acclaim, amount to a strong cultural ethic of DIY and individualism. This coupled with the geographical factor of being an hour and half away from London, and the social-historical factor of significant racial diversity and integration, amount to an appreciation and determination for cultural independence; a sense of independence which has little to do with the mainstream, globalized appeal that other cities are perhaps in competition for, and much more to do with a sense ‘Bristol’ which is about collaboration, creativity and spearheading sub-cultural and cultural innovation, especially in the creative industries.

2. How local data signposts potential

In 2008, Bristol generated £11.5 billion of wealth, accounting for 12% of the wealth generated in the whole of the South West. Creative Industries account for around 12% of all business activity in the city, and around 5% of the population are employed in creative industry occupations. The creative sector contributed an estimated £727 million to Bristol in 2008, and is outweighed in terms of economic contribution only by the insurance and finance sectors in the city.

It is broadly argued therefore that creatives industries regeneration and/or city development initiatives are most likely to be locally meaningful and cultural/economically sustainable if a ‘grass roots’ or pre-existing 'scene’ already exists.

3. Real estate value v.s Cultural value

The need to recuperate the financial costs of regenerating areas during large scale urban regeneration schemes risk increasing the rental and purchase prices of properties already in the area, as well as elevating the cost of new residential developments. It can be suggested (indeed, it is exhaustively, tediously covered and re-covered in the literature) that the emergent 'creative’ workers risk being out-priced and dislocated, to the potential detriment of the cultural health and creative capacity of the area in the future, and that development initiatives whose primary determination is that of property market growth are short-termist.

4. The problem with Enterprise Zones

If the Creative Enterprise Zone is to do more than create a short-term gain, then it must become an area for cultural entrepreneurship and creative exploration, as apposed to a business district which simply encourages existing companies to relocate to benefit from tax breaks and the relaxation of planing regulations (and then to relocate to the next enterprise zone to benefit again, and so on). In order to do so, it is recommended that Creative Enterprise Zones form part of a wider policy to target skills development and education, and to ensure that the Creative Enterprise Zone is compatible with localism, building upon successful business sectors in the area for which there is already a social, cultural and economic support and infrastructure in place.