My hometown of Bradford, in the northern United Kingdom was once the capital of the world’s wool industry and the birthplace of the movements that led to the Labour Party. Like many of the largest cities in Northern England that were once the ‘Silicon Valley of the Victorian era’, de-industrialization has been a painful process.
Larger cities such as Leeds and Manchester have reinvented themselves as financial, media and creative hubs that provide regional alternatives to the global powerhouse of London and attract the Creative Class that Richard Florida defines as the driving economic forces of post-industrial cities.
However, smaller post-industrial cities such as Bradford are still struggling to find a path to attracting information industries, caught between ambitious but incompetent government regeneration programs and projects that misfire and develop facilities for creative classes, but misread what’s actually needed; projects such as a recently announced ‘Digital Park‘.
Much of the core of the city lies dormant, with vacant buildings awaiting vision and leadership, whilst the city’s confidence diminishes along with the hopes of its residents.
However, a pair of recently published articles hints at a way forward for places such as Bradford…
Springwise’s recent article ‘Pop-up workspaces in vacant buildings‘ covered the work of Holland’s SpareSpace Foundation in transforming vacant office and retail space into what they call ‘mobile offices’ (coworking by any other name), helping entrepreneurs from creative classes find low-cost premises in neglected downtown areas. Sparespace intends for their development to be transient until more permanent uses arrive, but there’s no reason that sustainable and viable coworking communities couldn’t continue to exist.
IFTF staffer Anthony Townsend observes that libraries are transforming from solitary, monastic learning environments into collaborative spaces for discussion and debate. As Thomas Frey of the DaVinci Institute notes, “libraries will transition from a center of information to a center of culture”. As library materials become more accessible and useful in electronic form, ironically the physical space of a library is performing more of the role of a digital discussions forum. As books are increasingly digitised, forums are being un-digitized.
At NYU Townsend pays a discounted alumni fee of $150 per year for access work areas, printing, conference rooms and research services…that sounds like coworking to me :)
So in a place such as Bradford, where the downtown area is becoming progressively vacant and the public library is utilised less and less each day, but where there’s a vibrant University, perhaps the route to nurturing a creative class lies in the reinvention of our repositories of commerce and knowledge.