The Creative City of St Kilda (Erroneous or Real?)

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By Andrea Baker

With local council elections slated for October this year, the concept of the creative city is up for discussion (again), especially in St Kilda, noted as the artistic hub of the City of Port Philip.

The rhetoric associated with a creative city is well documented in City of Port Philip’s policy statements.  In the 2016 local council elections the creative city of St Kilda spans across two of the main wards, Lake Ward (Albert Park, Middle Park, St Kilda and St Kilda West) and Canal Ward (Elwood, Balaclava, part of Ripponlea and East St Kilda.)

But what does the concept of the creative city really mean and how is it applicable to the St Kilda region?

It is seen as good business to promote and brand your local area as a creative city because it generates tourism dollars, stimulates the local economy and promotes urban development. This is what US urban economist, Richard Florida, argued in his 2002 ground breaking book The Rise of the Creative Class.  In 2002, Florida proposed a three T’s creative index for a creative city. This included technology, talent and tolerance.

In regards to the first T, Florida contended that Internet technology is a fundamental driver of innovation and the creative economy. But free wifi is still difficult to access in the public spaces of St Kilda. It is also difficult to ascertain how many high tech start-up businesses are based in the area.

The second T in Florida’s creative ranking index, talent, is a core ingredient of a creative population. In the case of the local music industry, this talent index was partly supported by a 2014 study conducted by the Australasian Performing Right Association and the Australasian Mechanical Copyright Owners Society that ranked Australian suburbs according to the residential location of songwriters between 2003 and 2013. In the survey St Kilda, the historical heartland of the Australian pop music during the 1960s and the post punk scene in the 1970s, fell from forth to tenth place over the decade. This finding reflected that the creative class of musicians are (perhaps) moving out of St Kilda.

Tolerance, the third T in Florida’s creative index, is less tangible to measure. It is linked to lifestyle choices and based on a ‘live and let live’ motto. This index promotes acceptance of ethnic and social diversity. Since time immemorial St Kilda has been seen as a place (and space) where the bourgeois culture co exists with the counterculture that is dripping with artists, larrikins, anarchists and bohemians.

However, if the image of St Kilda rests on Florida’s three Ts of creative development, then criticisms that the creative class thesis lacks empirical evidence, and fails to account for wider social culture issues, highlights the issues still plaguing the concept.  As another US economist, Edward Glaeser once said, creative cities can be seen in dichotomous ways. On one hand, they are held to be the utopian key to economic growth and increased prosperity. But there is also a dystopian view of cities as being chaotic and riddled access inequalities.

To address his critics, in 2012 Florida added a forth T to his three T’s of creative cities index, ‘Territorial Assets’, which relates to the quality of place as a defining factor that makes a city attractive to live in.

St Kilda has territorial assets. Its arts and cultural infrastructure is often regarded as a significant reason for its status as a creative city. But creativity as a soul craft is often contrary to city development and requires space and time less afforded in fast gentrifying places, such as St Kilda.

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