Rotterdam Links Creative Sector to Local Economy

Erasmus bridge in Rotterdam - Picture by Martin de Lusenet on Flickr

Simone Pekelsma

By Simone Pekelsma, on June 24th, 2014

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In the past decades, urban gurus such as Richard Florida and Charles Landry enthusiastically pointed at the many benefits of the creative sector, and of having a creative class. Therefore, cities tried to attract more creative knowledge workers for a long time. Nowadays, the hype of Florida and Landry seems to have passed. The creative and cultural sector have proven to be full-grown economic sectors that play an important role in local economies. Now the question arises how these sectors can be linked to other, traditional sectors in both sustainable and innovative ways. Rotterdam is committed to establishing this connection. The URBACT project ‘Creative Spin’ inspires the city in this respect, and helps it to develop new ideas and policies.

Creative Spin in Rotterdam

Leo van Loon is co-founder and owner of the Creative Factory, a local hub for young and starting entrepreneurs. Chantal Olffers is senior advisor for cultural and creative policy, working for the City of Rotterdam. On behalf of the municipality, both take part in the URBACT project Creative Spin.

Creative Spin is a project that consists of 11 partner cities, including Rotterdam. Until 2015, they will go on a joint search for potential positive spillover effects of the creative and cultural sector in cities. These effects could be economic, spatial, social or cultural. For Rotterdam, the link between creative industries and other parts of the urban economy forms the starting point of this endeavour.

“Rotterdam has always been a leader when it comes to creative and cultural industries,” van Loon says. “The sector has become very strong here. Of course, the creative sector in itself does not form a solution to urban issues. However, the added value of the creative sector increases when you can link it to other sectors. That’s why we want to look at ways of connecting the potential and the power of the creative sector with our local economy at large.”

According to Van Loon, this connection should entail more than just purchasing products and services. “Everybody can order a logo. It’s about what happens beyond that,” he believes. “The point is that we want knowledge and experience to be exchanged, so that crossovers between different sectors can develop.”

 The municipality as a unifying factor

In order to establish a stronger link between the creative sector and more traditional sectors, Rotterdam Municipality does many different things. “We try to promote our creative sector and bring it to the fore,” Chantal Olffers explains. “Our role as municipality is modest. The creative sector is very active itself. Creative entrepreneurship is very strong in this city.” So, what can a municipality like Rotterdam do? “We connect creative companies to national and international networks that can help them grow and develop, such as CLICKNL. We also want to focus more on European networks, because they sometimes have interesting funds available. As a municipality we can also help to eliminate bottlenecks when it comes to housing creative companies. We also try to involve creative companies and organisations in international trade missions.”

The Rotterdam Media Commission plays an important role in this respect. “For Rotterdam businesses in the serious gaming industry we have organised a special trade mission to Turkey and to the United States. Initiatives such as the ‘Health Care Breakfast’ (Zorgontbijt) unite stakeholders working for the medical and health care sector. Creative entrepreneurs often present themselves here, leading to concrete new forms of cooperation.”

The Creative Factory, based in an old industrial silo (Maassilo), houses more than 70 start-ups. They are being coached and advised by partner organisations, businesses and educational institutions. It therefore forms a valuable link between creative businesses, the educational sector and more established companies. For the City of Rotterdam, this type of Triple Helix cooperation is very important.

The municipality also supports initiatives such as the Dutch Creative Residency Network (DCR): a platform that aims to stimulate knowledge exchange among creative residencies such as Binck (The Hague), Creative Factory (Rotterdam) and Westergasfabriek (Amsterdam), and between these residencies, the government and the private sector. Rotterdam Erasmus University has recently received a national grant to explore how these residencies strengthen innovation. DCR will be part of this project as well.

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According to Van Loon there are many interesting examples of creative companies that have established links to other sectors already, such as Ranj (serious games), CCCP (advertising) and Spark (product design). Where creative business and local economy should connect Van Loon takes his job very seriously. “If there are people who see other possibilities or opportunities when it comes to cooperation, I kindly invite them to contact me,” he pronounces enthusiastically.

Rotterdam has quite a lot of experience when it comes to creative industries. Can it still learn something from other cities within the URBACT project Creative Spin? “It is true that other partner cities are still in a different phase in the development of creative and cultural industries. Within Creative Spin, we are one of the competitive cities, part of the group of forerunners”, Olffers says. “However, that doesn’t mean that the project doesn’t form a valuable platform for us. One should not overestimate their forerunner position, but be open to new knowledge and experience. The developments in the area around the train station in Mons (BE) for example reminded us of Rotterdam. We have also just built a new station, and we are now looking for ways in which creative and cultural activities can enliven this part of the city.”

By the URBACT National Dissemination Point in the Netherlands

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