Year

2010

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Abstract

This thesis seeks to provide an alternative means to represent where and how creativity manifests in the urban context, in response to shortcomings with orthodox creative industry mapping methods. Inspired by recent conceptual developments in cultural geography (that move away from static conceptions of space to consider how spatialisations are produced in the tactile spaces of the city), it draws on the outcomes of an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage research project that sought to map creative industries in Darwin, the small and remote capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. The context of Darwin posed numerous conceptual hurdles: how to map creativity in a city typified by small population and low urban density, coupled with a high incidence of creative workers in unpaid, part-time or intermittent work (workers missing from statistical measures such as census data that are skewed towards formalised, persistent employment). The hallmarks of often-cited creative city examples from Europe or North America (frequently de-industrialising cities with populations of over 1 million) were patently not evident here. Destroyed on multiple occasions by war and cyclone, Darwin has no legacy of historic inner-city development; it has no ex-warehouse industrial districts ripe for creative regeneration – nor an inner-ring of medium-density, working-class neighbourhoods. Instead it has an administrative business district and a modern port that quickly makes way for a decentralised, suburban form geared around the motor car and the constant need to navigate an extreme tropical climate. Darwin’s unusual urban environment thus became a test bed for new methodologies on mapping creativity, experimenting with new forms of data capture, but also with data analysis and visualisation.

The methodology built on the wider literature on critical and participatory applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). It centred on using mental maps as prompts during interviews with creative industry workers and then accumulating digital evidence from these mental maps across a large number of interviews. Deploying mental maps in this fashion allowed creative industry practitioners to indicate graphically their everyday interactions with the city, reporting on distinct locations like work and home spaces, while giving them an opportunity to indicate where they felt the most inspirational and creative places were manifest in their city. Engaging with a map during the interview had surprising flow on effects for most interviewees, triggering more spatially literate responses to other questions about their creative lives in relation to Darwin. Results from the mental mapping exercise were then combined and visualised in new ways using a GIS. Opening up this dataset to the analytical possibilities that GIS provides allowed for a number of different interpretations to be brought to bear upon the data, with each output displaying distinct geographies. These outputs, including three dimensional density plots and topological network analyses portrayed urban creativity in a new light: creativity in this city could be visualised as the product of relational networks within and beyond the city, alongside territorial constructs borne out of participants’ everyday understandings of the places that inspired them most.

These alternative views of creative Darwin were starkly different to those revealed through conventional economic measures (notably spatial analysis of census data). For example, key suburban sites featured highly in residents’ perceptions of the city’s creative vitality, confounding the orthodox view that successful creative industries are predicated on dense networks and inner-city clusters. The results from this thesis and the methods detailed within have relevance for urban creative industries policies far beyond Darwin. Creativity can simultaneously appear networked and site-specific, patterned in demonstrable ways across the city, and yet contingent on the perspective of the beholder. Creativity is variegated and relationally embedded in the iconic and ordinary spaces of the city.

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