From Mega Events to Megabytes
On their recent North American tour the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge attended Variety's daylong Venture Capital & New Media Summit in Los Angeles. The occasion was used to spotlight the U.K.'s Tech City innovation hub - the cluster of tech, digital and creative companies based around the Shoreditch and Old Street area of East London. Case Study panellists asserted that it was the government's crucial role was to provide infrastructure to house the quickly expanding technological ecosystem.
Tech City has been explicitly linked to the regeneration of the East End of London. The Tech City hub development aims to capitalise on the indigenous activity around Old Street and Shoreditch and expand into Stratford, the site of the London 2012 Olympics. It has been championed by David Cameron and the government have pledged £200 million to build technology and innovation centres, one of which will be in the Olympic Park . Previous experience has shown that there are multiple and complex challenges in the re-use of Olympic sites, especially as IOC specifications for the required infrastructure are so precise. The history of the Games is littered with examples of white elephant buildings and derelict stadia. It is yet to be seen whether the Olympic Games will leave the necessary legacy of self-confidence and positive attitudes towards East London from which a successful digital hub could be developed.
Several critiques have already been levelled at Tech City including some denigration of its perceived top-down approach which is a stark contrast to the historical emergence of creative and digital media sector within the vibrant Shoreditch area . This raises a further concern regarding the danger of gentrification and its corollary that start-ups and SMEs will be priced out of the area as Google, Cisco and Intel, all proposed investors in this East End corridor, descend . Tax leakages associated with tech giants like Google and Facebook as well as a voracious appetite for acquiring promising start-ups constitute further challenges. It is well recognised that intervention within the creative and digital media industries requires a complex balancing of tensions due the heterogeneous nature of the enterprises involved and the fast paced context of change within which they operate. It remains to be seen whether this balancing act can be successfully undertaken within the added constraints of trying to utilise a physical infrastructure which has been developed for an entirely different proposition.