An economic ecology allows different types of need and enterprise to mix in a place for a variety of reasons. It innovates around balancing the commercial, social and public economies. In this context, the distinctiveness of place emerges from the ability to make, to do, to connect. The key factor to the success of these ecologies is a place which supports, nurtures, and connects people and ideas. These are the foundations for inspiring cities.
This idea of an economic ecology based on local skills and assets was promoted by David Barrie and Associates building on work by 7N Architects at Speirs Locks. Entitled ‘Growing the People’ this plan for development of the creative and cultural industries in this neighbourhood of Glasgow suggests building upon the activity of existing cultural industry tenants around the themes of ‘creating, making and doing: the production of ideas, goods and services that have social, creative and economic value, a place for new social businesses, provision of studios and workspaces for creative industries and new community enterprise.
‘Growing the People’ recommends that a sequence of connected social, economic and environmental activities are implemented across three years. The proposed activities flow through three channels of work:
- Channel 1: Strategic entrepreneurship [encouraging creative business]
- Channel 2: Social entrepreneurship [enterprise for social purpose]
- Channel 3: Community entrepreneurship [community enterprise, incubator industries]
Sustainable change which seeks to grow the conditions for a variety of social, economic and environmental values is challenging. It needs fresh thinking, new financial models, new ways of doing things with existing resources.
To build on these foundations, a series of conversations were hosted in Speirs Locks in Summer 2011 to explore how to take these ideas forward, how to deliver this sustainable change. The conversations, entitled ‘Sharing the Place’ brought together a mix of regeneration experts, community interests and creative entrepreneurs to share experiences of how to make change happen.
John Lord of Yellowbook Ltd, a leading Scottish regeneration consultancy identified that the traditional regeneration model that was proposed for Speirs Locks has given way to a process which can produce a place of greater distinctiveness. This idea of distinctiveness has been much debated in regeneration, with some commentators arguing that most strategies for city distinctiveness achieve the opposite: many of these strategies end up saying the same thing. Real distinctiveness seems to emerge from creatively exploiting the assets and capacities of an area and its people. This is what makes Speirs Locks interesting according to Lord, who says that the critical mass of creative and cultural industries [CCI’s]on site, together with the energy and enthusiasm of a community of interest is shaping the path for something new, something interesting.
What might the DNA of a new model of change look like? Based on the ‘Sharing the Place’ conversations some ideas are emerging. Developing a model to lead sustainable change through a set of organic processes requires collaboration, sharing resources, developing communities of interest. It requires flexibility, testing of possibilities and developing a tolerance of failure. This does not mean widening risk to constant exposure to catastrophic failure: rather it means take small steps, see what happens, learn from what works and what doesn’t. In other words, it requires re-framing ideas of risk and reward. A collaborative model of bringing forward sustainable change needs to be agile, it needs to respond to change, and it needs different actors within the system to build parts of the model as an ongoing concern. This creates the conditions for people and business to flourish, which in turn create the conditions to both support successful start ups and successful scaling of enterprise. This suggests that a new model based on the experience of places like Speirs Locks is multi faceted. In this sense, success is about a new relationship with complexity.