The cluster effect in China: Real or imagined?
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Policy makers, urban planners and economic geographers readily acknowledge the potential value of industrial clustering. Clusters attract policy makers’ interest because it is widely held that they are a way of connecting agglomeration to innovation and human capital to investment. Urban planners view clustering as a way of enticing creative human capital, the so-called ‘creative class’, that is, creative people are predisposed to live where there is a range of cultural infrastructure and amenities. Economists and geographers have contrived to promote clustering as a solution to stalled regional development. In the People’s Republic of China, over the past decade the cluster has become the default setting of the cultural and creative industries, the latter a composite term applied to the quantifiable outputs of artists, designers and media workers as well as related service sectors such as tourism, advertising and management. The thinking behind many cluster projects is to ‘pick winners’. In this sense the rapid expansion in the number of cultural and creative clusters in China over the past decade is not so very different from the early 1990s, a period that saw an outbreak of innovation parks, most of which inevitably failed to deliver measurable innovation and ultimately served as revenue-generating sources for district governments via real estate speculation. Since the early years of the first decade of the new millennium the cluster model has been pressed into the service of cultural development.
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