MediaWharf And MediaSpree: A Comparative Analysis

NDSM Wharf

Hamburg has its HafenCity, London transformed the Canary Wharf area into a new business district, and Copenhagen built a new cultural center at former navy base. Over the last decade, spatial redevelopment of former naval areas and harbors came on the front-line in spatial planning in Western European cities. The same kinds of developments have been taking place in Amsterdam, where the Eastern Docklands area has already been turned into a residential neighborhood. Furthermore, the industrial NDSM Wharf is currently getting a spatial and social make-over, with the MediaWharf development as one of its anchor projects. In the German capital Berlin, partnerships of public and private actors are developing a similar project on the banks of the Spree river entitled MediaSpree. The operations in Amsterdam and Berlin strongly focus on media activities.

This kind of redevelopment projects and strategies could be considered rather logical, as the scaleup of naval actitivies had slightly pushed the harbors out of the cities during the last decades. The space that was left over provided urban authorities with unique opportunities for the development of 21st century neighborhoods located close to the traditional city centers. The redevelopment agenda has been influenced by a central paradigm in metropolitan governance of the post-Fordist era: planners and urban designers should strongly focus on the creation of attractive neighborhoods for overlapping groups of ‘international knowledge workers’, ‘transnational business elites’, and members of the highly esteemed ‘creative class’. “Creativity as such seems to have (…) gained status and be required to attain success in the economy and in urban development”, Sako Musterd and others argue.1 One can say that Richard Florida’s ghost is roaming throughout Europe these days, directly affecting urban authorities to unfold policy aimed at stimulation of the knowledge economy in their highly internationalized cities.

Two ‘creative cluster’ cases are very appealing: the MediaWharf project in Amsterdam, and Berlin’s MediaSpree. Not only because of the many characteristics these have in common, but also because of the contrasting reactions of the urban community on the plans in both cities. Regarding the MediaWharf project, Amsterdam’s aldermen succeeded to lure ‘creative’ companies such as MTV Networks, VNU Media and IDTV to locate in North Amsterdam. Apart from small protest by local artists and other bohemians that where threatened with displacement, the topdown development plans did not result in any form of social unrest. In Berlin, a public-private partnership of local authorities and developers aims to develop the city’s largest harbor front project in the district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg into a ‘creative media location’ with corporate headquarters of companies such as Universal Music, projects like the Fernsehwerft, the multifunctional arena O2 World and, again, MTV Networks. These MediaSpree plans led to a massive critique of citizens in 2008.

World City Network

At the end of the 20th century, various techno-optimistic scholars and analysists proclaimed the ‘death of distance’. Territorial decentralization caused by the telecommunication revolution and the internationalization of economic ‘flows’ would result in a devaluation of the concept of place, and therefore lead to the end of the city. As described by Sassen, “the globalization of economic activity suggests that (…) the type of place represented by cities no longer matters”. However, that turned out not true. Sassen argues that economic globalization and its massively increased mobility of transnational capital has brought new forms of territorial centralization. The composition of international transactions changed tremendously and resulted in a strong rise of foreign direct investment. “Globalization goes hand in hand with the growing importance of metropolitan regions”, Musterd and others argue. In a globalized economy with a prominence of ‘flows’ over ‘place’, markets require central places where management of these cross-border systems takes place, or in Sassen’s words, “where the work of globalization gets done”.  Growth of international investment and trade has resulted in a world network of well connected major metropolitan areas, functioning as strategic nodes that serve the global economy. On the global city ladder, New York, London and Tokyo form the top of the international economic command centers. Moreover, these highly internationally oriented urban areas function as key locations and marketplaces for the financial world and specialized services for firms “that are key inputs for the management of a global network of factories, offices, and financial markets”. The global city is considered to be the crucial place for production and innovation in these industries, including concentrations of finance, headquarters of transnational firms, infrastructure and the required labour force, both high-skilled (the so-called ‘knowledge workers’) and low-skilled.

Chris Hamnett elaborates on Sassen’s polarization theory by arguing that “changes in the social and spatial division of labor” have led to “the decline of middle-income groups and the expansion of high- and low-paid jobs at the ends of the occupational spectrum”. Apart from the discussion about whether one can speak of polarization or a trend towards professionalization, one conclusion can be made: the global city is more and more involved in an interurban competition between different international metropolitan areas to attract investors and knowledge-based economic activities. Keynesian regulatory economic policy made a shift to an entrepreneurial and managerial approach to metropolitan governance, where the ‘space of production’ (the economy) is favored over the ‘space of reproduction’ (social welfare). The basic assumption is made that the post-Fordist society requires more highly educated workers.

In Case You’ve Never Heard of Richard Florida…

Globalization has led to renewed attention for the distinctiveness of localities. Florida explains that firms in today’s knowledge-based economy base their location decisions on where the talented workforce lives, and argues that research provides “ample empirical evidence of the close association between human capital and regional economic growth”. Cities with a large ‘pool’ of  talented knowledge workers are better able to attract other talented workers, and are more likely to grow faster. Cities with a good mix of technological innovation, cultural creativity and governance are in advance when it comes to economic development. Florida’s ideas have been widely adopted by urban authorities around the world, which has led to creative class policy being rolled out in almost every internationally oriented city involved in the global interurban competition. Important in the creative industry approach is the emphasis on ‘soft’ location factors over ‘hard’ location factors when it comes to attracting knowledge intensive economic activity. As where companies in the production-based Fordist era based their location decisions on the availability of certain resources, such as a labor force, availability of reasonably priced office space, taxes, et cetera, in the post-Fordist economy motives for settlement are strongly determined by factors like an attractive residential environment, cultural diversity, a tolerant social climate, and a vibrant cultural scene.

In the past, Florida argues, the labor force followed the companies. Now, companies follow talent. He uses the so-called 3T model, which stands for Talent, Tolerance and Technology, and means that creative people stimulate economic growth (Talent), and prefer places with diverse populations and a tolerant atmosphere (Tolerance) and a “concentration of ‘cultural capital’ wedded to new products”. In his paper ‘Technology and Tolerance: the Importance of Diversity to High-Technology Growth’, he argues that metropolitan areas with a large gay population (the Tolerance factor) have comparatively more potential to have high-technology success. This social group is closely related to the amount of ‘bohemians’ (artists, musicians, writers, et cetera) and foreign-born residents. Following these assumptions, overall diversity seems to be a strong indicator for success of knowledge-based economic activity, and cities that intend to play a role of importance in the international creative environment, should implement policies aimed at improving diversity and tolerance.

NDSM Wharf Plan

On Creative Clusters

The cases of the MediaWharf and MediaSpree projects can be analyzed from existing theories and concepts regarding clustering of creative industries. Both development projects are examples of clusters, more specifically media-clusters. Clusters are defined as “geographic concentrations of interconnected companies and institutions in a particular field. Clusters encompass an array of linked industries and other entities important to competition”. Implementation of cluster policies is considered to be a good contribution to the development of a ‘creative city’. For that reason they have become a prominent element of many development strategies in a large number of cities. Top-down creation of clusters by urban authorities is an interesting phenomenon, as clustering provides the creative industry with a spatial component of different scales. A cluster could be defined as a concentration of knowledge-intenstive economic activities in one building, for example the Volkskrantgebouw in Amsterdam, or in a certain urban district or region.

MediaSpree Plan

Both MediaWharf and MediaSpree are examples of top-down cluster projects that belong to the latter group. Moreover, Michael Porter expressed clusters as spatially wider phenomena. Interesting is the question to which extent cluster policies contribute to social inequalities. Bas van Heur argues that “it is likely that this will actually have the effect of deepening social inequality”, since it seems to have “little positive effect on lower class residents due to escalating property prices and higher costs of living in general”. Tomorrow I will take the cluster theories one step further in order analyze the MediaWharf and MediaSpree, aiming to clarify the background of both projects, as well as their social effects, especially in the form of social movements. Stay tuned.