Policymakers worldwide believe they can create vibrant media cities and are heavily investing public funds in hopes of reaping economic and cultural benefits from media and communications developments.
They believe media cities will help improve transportation
systems and the provision of a range of public services, rejuvenate existing
media firms, promote entrepreneurship and innovative start-ups, and create well
paying employment for a new generation of workers. Policymakers believe media
cities have transformative power to modernize the economy and support renewal
of industrial or urban districts. These are highly optimistic beliefs.
The biggest problem is that few cities have monopolies on information
and media production although the scope, scale and types vary. If that is the
case, how can one community stand out as a media city?
To be unique the city must find new ways to use
communication and media to make life easier and help the public interact better
with each other and society as a whole. But it is hard to keep others from
adopting those practices as well. To be unique a city must provide a locale for
information and media firms that is more attractive than other places. Locations
with strong social and cultural amenities, skilled labor forces and supportive
cultural and/or industrial policies tend to produce that result, but media
cities also need a pre-existing base of media and information companies and need
to build relationships among those companies and social institutions.
The idea of the media city is attractive to policy makers
because media and digital products are fashionable, contemporary, and desirable.
They are environmentally clean businesses and don’t produce heavy traffic and
social disturbance. Policymakers also like them because they can connect the
media city idea with other economic, industrial, and cultural policies such as
telecommunication infrastructure policies, information and communication
technology policies, and cultural policies supporting national identity and
Political realities also come into play because media cities
provide politicians opportunities that manufacturing, logistics and service
industries do not. Pictures of politicians with celebrities and media
proprietors tend to provide positive images and lead to access to people who
can help them politically. The media city thus becomes a mechanism of political
power and policies to create media cities tend to gain great political backing.
The fundamental question one has to ask is whether the hopes
and benefits sought by policy makers and politicians are realized through media
cities. Clearly transport and public services are improved by better
information systems that inform the public and allow better management and
deployment of public resources. Media cities have not, however, been highly
successful at providing the value added, employment gains, and economic multiplier
effects found from other types of industries. This is primarily because most
information and media firms are microenterprises and dependent upon contract
Media cities have more successful in their transformative goals
for modernizing perceptions of the local economy and renewing urban districts.
They are especially effective as real estate development projects that benefit
construction and building owners. But are those the best outcomes for a media
city policy and the use of public funds?
There are downsides of media
cities because the highly mobile nature of employment and production in
information and media industries permits companies to play off competing
governments for funding and tax advantages and to move when they are no longer
available. Information and media firms also have higher product and firm
failure rates than other industries and this tends to reduce long-term economic
benefits by comparison.
The results for media cities are mixed, but they still carry
cachet among policy makers. A good dose of realism is required in considering whether
a media city policy is desirable in a community. To be effective, they policy must
be nurtured and configured so it actually produces results beyond mere urban
renewal and changing perceptions of the economic base of a city. Merely calling
a place a media city is not enough.