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Case studies

F518 Idea Land

F518 Idea Land is a new creative cluster developed on a vacant, former light-industrial space in the district of Bao’an, on Shenzhen’s outskirts. The creative cluster has:

  • Brought economic growth and employment opportunities to Shenzhen’s deindustrialised outlying districts
  • Retained and renovated existing buildings
  • Created quality new public space for local residents
  • Provided affordable live-work space for artists on site.

Over 30 years, waves of migration have transformed Shenzhen from fishing village to modern metropolis, resulting in an outward-looking cultural melting pot where almost everyone hails from somewhere else. Supported by China’s 1978 Reform and Opening Up policy, Shenzhen was a key driving force behind the Pearl River Delta economic boom. Today’s Shenzhen, however, is witnessing the gradual departure of the manufacturing industries that powered its earlier growth. The city is responding by adapting the Chinese government’s 11th and 12th Five Year Plan policies. These emphasise the development of cultural and creative industries in the spirit of a national drive to overcome reliance on manufacturing, by growing the services sector.

Shenzhen boasts numerous creative industry clusters, of which OCT-LOFT in the central urban district of Futian, is arguably the most well-known. Home to mainly architecture and design companies, OCT-LOFT is also a successful leisure destination, attracting large numbers of visitors to its restaurants, bars and high-quality public space.

F518 Idea Land is situated away from Shenzhen’s centre in the district of Bao’an. Like many of Shenzhen’s outlying districts, Bao’an is home to more recent waves of migrants who lack the urban residency certification* and the financial means to access housing in central Shenzhen. The gradual departure of manufacturing industries has inevitably left disused light industrial buildings in Bao’an, in need of adaptation and reuse.

Shenzhen’s 11th Five Year Plan (2006 - 2010) singled out Bao’an district as a focus for cultural industry development. In March 2007 work began on a RMB 350 million-project to renovate 250,000 square metres of light industrial space. By the end of the same year Bao’an’s new creative cluster, F518 Idea Land, opened to the public.

F518 aims to attract and foster creative enterprises including architectural and industrial design, film, animation, new media, gaming and branding. Businesses can call on support from an on-site management and service platform, investment funding and training provision.

By 2014 there were 187 companies working in F518, most of which occupy 10 red brick converted factory buildings; alongside retail and site-specific art, these line F518’s Creative Forefront main street. The cluster’s Left Street Art Base houses more than 40 artists’ studios along a 338-metre street, which is framed with plants to form a green corridor.

To raise the profile of the site, the 25-floor Avant-Garde Hotel adds a striking architectural component, while the F518 Exhibition Centre hosts events, concerts and fashion shows. F518 also hosts the Bao’an International Creative and Cultural Festival each December, besides part of the International Creative Industries Fair, numerous live music festivals, and its own Live House a dedicated live performance venue.

Yet F518’s primary aim remains economic development; it boasts annual creative and cultural industries growth rates of 20% and the creation of 2,300 jobs. Of increasing importance for clusters such as F518, however, is how they can support both their workers and the wider population.

In 2010 half of Shenzhen’s working population was employed in manufacturing. However, the service sector has grown rapidly in recent years, with larger numbers of educated white collar workers joining a rapidly expanding middle class. Clusters such as OCT-LOFT provide the public space and leisure facilities that this population increasingly demands. Though less attractive for casual visitors, F518 fulfils a similar role for Bao’an residents.

To date, policy surrounding creative industry clusters has focused on supporting companies. But creative sector workers also need support; affordable housing for those on low paid, insecure contracts is a key issue. Amongst Shenzhen’s creative clusters only F518 includes live-work buildings for artists working on site. Shenzhen is beginning to address the affordable housing need with its Talented Worker Housing policy. However, more can always be done to ensure the long term sustainability of very promising economic growth.

* China’s Hukou system is effectively a residence permit, allowing an individual right of abode in a town or city, along with access to education and health provision and the right to buy local property. This permit is linked to one’s city of birth, meaning that rural migrants arriving in cities have different legal status to existing residents with that city Hukou.