City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

Caochangdi (image via New York Times)

I recently helped secure a 3-year research project, part-funded by the Australia Research Council, with Queensland University of Technology, Arup, Beijing Academy of Science and Technology, Creative 100, China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong, and Communication University of China. The outcomes of the project are likely to feature here a fair bit, all being well, as it crosses over with many perennial concerns (role of design in an economy and culture, return of production to urban centres, informatics to express often invisible knowledge work, new ways of living in cities, the new global focus of the Pacific, and so on and so on). 

The project currently has the less than snappy title: "Soft infrastructure, new media and creative clusters: developing capactiy in China and Australia". (Yes, we'll get a better title when we start the project blog and conduct a public launch in Bejing shortly.)

So watch this space for further updates – but I wanted to post a quick note about a vacancy on the project. We’re looking for a smart researcher to work on the project, which should also involve undertaking a Phd. Dr Justin O’Connor, author of the excellent Shanghai Diaries I carried here a few years ago and now at QUT, is the person to ask for more information. [Update: position now closed.]

In terms of the project, we're interested in the 'creative cluster' model in urban development* and how that's being developed in Chinese cities, initially focusing on Shanghai, Beijing and Qingdao (though we'll be comparing and contrasting with Australian cities to some extent, and running workshops in both China and Australia throughout the course of the project). Part of the context here is the rapidly developing capacity in creative industries in Chinese cities, and how the cluster model fits or doesn't, or is translated/adapted, in these cities, and what conditions are required for such urban environments to thrive. 

We've described those conditions as a 'soft infrastructure', such that we can explore everything from the 'structure of feeling' to business networking culture; the milieu, cultural history and urban design; the facilities, amenities and events, property development and business models, and so on.

And particularly from my perspective, soft infrastructure includes the way that urban informatics can help shape the identity of a city by identifying, exploring and expressing patterns of real-time activity in knowledge-based work – partly, the 'new smokestacks' idea I've been pursuing for a while (I'm also wanting to ensure that the knowledge industry definition is broadened to include actual physical production, making, craft, predicated on the resurgence of light manufacturing via CNC, prototyping etc. The kind of thing I hinted at in my piece on microphone manufacturers Røde, and elsewhere.) But it would also include new planning models, responsive urban systems, the particularly fluid approach to the ICT infrastructure and so on.

I'm personally excited to be submerging myself into the culture of Chinese cities first hand now. With that in mind, I'll also briefly mention I'm speaking at the World Design Congress in Beijing (English version / Chinese version) at the end of this month. It looks like a design conference on a truly fantastic scale, with great speakers and events – another example of the cultural leapfrog? Do come along and say hello, if you're in town.

* By creative clusters we mean areas of city that develop as concentrations of 'creative industries', emergent or designed. For example, clusters might be typically be described as neighbourhoods or districts like Shoreditch in London, Lower East Side of NYC, Belleville or Marais in Paris, Naviglio in Milan, Temple Bar in Dublin, Northern Quarter of Manchester, perhaps 798 Art Zone or Caochongdi in Beijing etc. Or they could be led by a particular development or network, such as M50 in Shanghai, or Creative 100 in Qingdao etc. Or even different models like Singapore's Mediapolis etc. Of course, the definition and ideology behind all of this is open to critique, which we won't overlook.


2 responses to “Creative clusters in Chinese cities; World Design Congress, Beijing”

  1. Jack Zhao Avatar

    very interesting project!
    I follow a couple of blogs that are somewhat relevant e.g.


  2. Ian McArthur Avatar

    Dan, It’s a pity we didn’t get the chance to meet in Beijing a few weeks ago – I was there to present a paper as representing COFA Online. We were interested to catch up with you there. Maybe you didn’t see our recent email to you.
    I’m not sure if you have seen the work we’ve been doing in the area of collaborative online and blended art and design studios with universities in China for a few years now. You can find out a bit more about the most recent project here if you are interested:
    and here:
    I’ve been aware of the project you’ve outlined above for a little while now – it’s an interesting area. I was reminded of it again as I was looking into the Xindanwei space in Shanghai – interestingly located very near the focus area of our PorosityC8 Project at Donghua University in September.
    If you are around COFA sometime why not drop in and have a chat about our common area of interest…


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