UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network

by Valentin Schipfer

So you’ve never heard of Graz,  the capital of the Austrian state of Styria?  Well, it’s time to drop you a line. Besides its specialization in research and development ( 1/3 of all high-tech-innovation in Austria originates from here–) Graz has been raising an increased awareness of creative economies since 2003. Therefore, on March 14th 2011  Graz became one of UNESCO’s  Creative City of Design.

The UNESCO-title City of Design is a permanent title – a member of the Creative Cities Network worldwide. The Network is designed to promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and developing world. Once the city is appointed to the network, it can share experiences and create new opportunities for itself and others on a global platform.

Here in Berlin, we tend to associate the term design with merely product design. Yet in Graz  design is understood in a more holistic sense, ranging from product design to urban design. As stated on the homepage of Graz UNESCO City of Design: “Design means upgrading, showing an immediate impact on the city and its people” Furthermore in order to create synergy-effects it’s planned to establish design as an interface between art and technology.

Why was Graz selected as a City of Design? Initially, political support provided by government structures benefited the creative industries overall. The Styrian government’s Business Department laid the foundation for setting up and funding the Creative Industries Styria GmbH. Since 2007 the Creative Industries Styria have been continuously working on the application and project of UNESCO City of Design. The application follows a joint initiative by the Styrian government’s holder of the Economy and Innovation portfolio, Dr. Christian Buchmann and Graz’ mayor Mag. Siegfried Nagl, who are both solid supporters of the creative economy. That goes hand-in-hand with a statement of Lena Hoschek, a fashion designer from Graz: “Being a City of Design means avoiding to subordinate young wild creative people to both everyday life and politics.”

Thus the Styrian government is convinced that it is an important step for the development of the region, with the objective of further boosting its international positioning and networking. Let the figures speak for themselves: In the greater area of Graz the creative economy generates 1.5 billion Euros of gross added value per year, which corresponds to a share of 14 percent of the total added value. The creative economy in Styria offers jobs for about 40.000 people – with upward tendency. Concerning education Graz is justly entitled to call itself a student city, with around 40.000 students out of a total population of 290.000. Joanneum university, among five universities, offers special study programs like industrial design, media and interaction design or information design. This makes Graz centre of attraction for young people worldwide.

According to their homepage, “Made in Styria” will not only be a brand of quality that upgrades the business locations of Graz and Styria but, in addition to this, the region is to become the reference for innovation that sets the standard nationwide. If these are not enough reasons for you to go there, maybe this is one: Graz is also known to brew the best beer of Austria.

The following list of criteria and characteristics serves as a guide for cities interested in joining the network as a City of Design:

  • Established design industry;
  • cultural landscape fuelled by design and the built environment (architecture, urban planning, public spaces, monuments, transportation, signage and information systems, typography, etc.);
  • design schools and design research centres;
  • practicing groups of creators and designers with a continuous activity at a local and/or national level;
  • experience in hosting fairs, events and exhibits dedicated to design;
  • opportunity for local designers and urban planners to take advantage of local materials and urban/natural conditions;
  • design-driven creative industries, e.g. architecture and interiors, fashion and textiles, jewelry and accessories, interaction design, urban design, sustainable design, etc.
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