Roger Martin, Richard Florida, Melissa Pogue and Charlotta Mellander. Creativity, Clusters and the Competitive Advantage of Cities. Rotman School of Management, Toronto University: Working Paper, June 2015

In the review I wrote of Advanced Cultural Districts in the last round-up, I mentioned the lineage of ‘creative clusters’ back to the nineteenth century economist Alfred Marshall in Principles of Economics (1890) and his ideas about physical concentration of companies associated with a particular product or technology, but I omitted an obvious point: that his work got a centennial boost in 1990 when Michael Porter published The Competitive Advantage of Nations, which refined the theory that clustering in various forms is a central element to national and regional economic success.

A fascinating article, Creativity, Clusters and the Competitive Advantage of Cities (1), mashes together Richard Florida’s ideas of the creative class – stripped of the easily parodied interpretation that a significant gay community and enough lattes are all you need for global domination – with Michael Porter’s ideas around clustering.

This is what is the article says:

If your local economy has clusters or concentrations of specific tradable goods or services (e.g. computer software) and a high percentage of creative jobs in its economy, it will be more prosperous than the other three alternatives (clusters without creative jobs; creative jobs without clustering; or areas with neither industrial concentrations nor creatives.) The evidence also suggests that these are not only the most affluent but the most unequal in terms of income distribution; and that they tend to be areas where high property prices force routine workers to leave, depriving them of access to better schools, safer streets and civic amenities that go hand in hand with a higher tax base. (Yep, gentrification again…)

Their conclusion is that public policy can have a role in dampening the impact of these profound socio-economic forces, but the main redress within a broadly capitalist system is to accelerate the slow increase of creative jobs within the overall economy.

The deeper challenge is on the demand side and lies in the hands of the business community. Business must lean into the wind and provide opportunities for their employees to draw on their full creative potential. To do so, it must create the environments that add creativity (via independent judgment and decision-making) to routine work[...]

The evolution of this new economy driven by clusters of traded industries and agglomerations of creative workers presents us with both great opportunities and substantial challenges. The creative-intensity of the economy has grown substantially. But it is supported by a routine economy of workers who are not participating in the economic upside. To prosper in the global economy, every region and every industry must boost the creative content of all work while continuing to encourage and support the growth of creative jobs in traded clusters.

This is fascinating territory, politically and socially – how to foster creativity in large organizations. Writers like John Kao staked this territory out in the 1990s – but what has it got to do with the arts? Well, the cultural sector claims, plausibly, to be one of the well-springs of creativity, brimming with latent lessons of wider application in other contexts. Artists and arts managers stand shoulder- to-shoulder with commercially oriented creative industries like music and movies; and ideas, people and money shuttle between them. If Martin el. al have defined the problem, then surely the cultural sector has at least part of the solution. And what are cultural districts if not clusters...?


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