Posts Tagged ‘silicon roundabout’

First-Person Flaneur

November 1, 2015


(c) 2015 Laurence Lek


Bonus Levels is a series of beautifully realised recreations of London locations, re-imagined as Ballardian dreamscapes, elements of an impossible city. In After Us, creator Lawrence Lek describes his work as ‘architecture as site-specific simulation’, in which existing parts of the cityscape and its institutions are ‘reconfigured and subverted’ by some apocalyptic or economic shock. I think this can help us think about real-world urban change too. Let’s look at a couple of examples.


In ‘Dalston, Mon Amour’, some familiar landmarks of the Kingsland Road – the Rio Cinema, Gillett Square and once on-trend Efes Bar are rendered empty and open to the elements after a biblical weather event. Terraformed by desert and water, Renais’ film plays in the background as the sky darkens.


(c) 2015 Laurence Lek


You can certainly treat this work as satirical – hipster touchstones crumbled into dust – and Lek is clear that this is part of the point. The use of video game aesthetics is also nice, although as Lek points out, ‘the player begins when the game is already over’: it’s first-person flaneur. The game framing also exacerbates the dreamlike quality of each episode – background sounds pan around, and there are sudden changes in perspective or time of day.

There’s also a deeper, uncanny power to it. Places we knew and hold dear, transformed into dreamspaces. As Adam points out, Vermilion Sands, The Sprawl or De Chirico are never far away. But also – for some viewers – their own memories are reconfigured. As Lek argues, the more time you spend in each episode, the more meaning your own mind layers over it.


I experienced a real-world retelling of my own world a few months back, in farcical form, as a group of us were taken on a guided tour of ’Silicon Roundabout and Tech City’. The tour had felt like a good idea as part of a new paper we’ve been writing on the East London tech scene: in practice it involved much psychodrama.

As the tour went on, for example, I was alarmed to find that the guide’s spiel included numerous factoids taken from my own research, fed back in slightly distorted form. Even worse, as we left Old St roundabout we were taken to the Foundry, a now-deceased bar and venue my friends and I spent much time in during years gone by, and which was shut down amid much protest. The guide described it as an ‘important cultural institution throughout the 90s and some of the 00s’: opening up a chasm of lost time in the process. The site now houses the Hoxton Pastry Union, an almost comically resonant symbol of the changes the neighbourhood has since gone through.

Sharing this moment with friends afterwards, it became clear what a powerful charge it packed.



A more formal way to think about Lek’s project is a series of spatial imaginaries, Bob Jessop’s term for the mental maps we all use to get purchase on everyday life. More formally, Jessop means imaginaries to act as mapping systems or ‘fixes’ that allow agents to navigate otherwise impossibly complex late capitalism.

Imaginaries – like Silicon Roundabout / Tech City itself – are necessarily partial, pushing some elements to the fore and ignoring others. They are thus ripe for the kind of reconfiguring and questioning Lek engages in.

Part of the paper I’m working on looks at Here East, the vast Olympic Broadcast and Media Centre which is being rapidly transformed into a new, maker-focused neighbourhood. On a recent visit the site was still under construction, but we got a clear sense of the developers’ vision.


(c) 2015 Max Nathan


Notice how the rebrand involves both a new name, a new industrial niche, and a spatial repositioning of the site, away from Stratford and into Hackney, specifically the artist-centric milieu of Hackney Wick which sits just over the canal.


I was happy to see that Bonus Levels has also engaged with this territory. ‘Delirious New Wick’ is a hysterical rebuild of E9 and the Olympic Park, in which the Games’ iconic structures float above the park and are accessed through teleporters. A gorgeous Burial soundtrack runs in the background as we float high above the city, before descending onto the ruins of the Westfield mall, now partially submerged in an Arthurian Lake. It is heady, brilliant stuff.

Mapping London tech

October 22, 2015



Science and tech employment counts, 2013, IDBR


The Tech Map London is out, and so is the research that underpins it. It’s an extremely impressive piece of work, and anyone remotely interested in urban tech ecosystems should take a look. Kudos to the GLA for commissioning it, and to Trampoline Systems and SQW who put the thing together. Other city-regions should try and do something similar.

Here’s some notes I made. It gets a bit geeky in places.


1/ Patterns – one widely-reported headline is that London has a whole bunch of technology hotspots, not just one. That makes sense, and chimes with other recent analysis. And as some colleagues and I explore in a forthcoming paper, even pre-2010 Silicon Roundabout was linked into a much larger system.

Another is that the tech sector is ‘shunning’ the Old St area. That’s harder to see, as there’s no time dimension in the data, but it’s clear that as that neighbourhood’s technology scene grows, and the area gets pricier, things will tend to spread out. This is what I found recently in some work for Centre for London.

2/ Definitions – The definition of ‘tech’ is important, and this NESTA piece makes clear, there’s a bunch of competing definitions in play. The project team base their work on the recent ONS science and technology categories, though they tell me they tweaked these a bit. This feels sensible, and has the advantage of allowing them to consider (say) medicine and life sciences alongside ICT.

3/ Data – the report uses high quality IDBR data for some of the analysis, but relies on Companies House data for the actual mapping, which identifies tech firms using self-reported industry codes. This isn’t great, as the authors acknowledge: a non-trivial share of firms don’t report anything, others put down non-informative codes (say, ‘other business services’), and SIC codes often don’t tell us much about products/services. Companies House data on employment and revenues is also quite gappy, and comes off of a selected subsample. Use those numbers with caution.

Anna Rosso  and I have used a big data-driven approach [unlocked version] to try and get around some of these issues, though this isn’t perfect either. We’re now testing a combination of administrative and modelled info which should plug a lot more of the holes.

4/ Location – I’m still scratching my head a bit on this. Companies House data gives the address of a registered office, not the trading address. The two could be quite different, and in extremis, not even in the same city. The project team did a survey to explore these issues, finding that for most SMEs, the two addresses are the same, so developed the map on that basis. It’s obviously critical that the survey is robust for us to believe the map.

I couldn’t find that much detail in the report, but assuming the survey is sound, this is a pretty helpful finding for me and others working with company data. Meanwhile, we can get a rough sense of the correspondence by comparing the map at the top of the page with this one.


Digital technologies employment counts, 2013, Companies House


The first uses IDBR employment data from actual plant locations, the second uses Companies House registered addresses. For some reason, the first map covers the whole of science and tech, while the second only looks at digital technologies (around 18% of all science and tech jobs in 2013) and is in logs, not raw counts. The two line up *fairly* well, but really we need to see a like-for-like comparison using plants/enterprises, not jobs. Note: I’d be very happy to update this material if the team can furnish me with more detail.


New essay on London’s digital industries

June 27, 2015

I’ve written a piece for the new issue of London Essays, the beautifully-designed journal published by Centre for London.

Having covered soft power, the latest issue looks at technology. It launches on 1 July, but you can read my article early here: I take a look at London’s digital industries and their contribution to the city’s economic future, crunch some new numbers and try not to make too many jokes about artisanal products.

Hope you enjoy reading it!

Writing it has been good preparation for the LSE lecture I’m chairing on 7 July, where Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK will be setting out his thoughts on London’s digital future, and the prospects for the tech sector across the country. If you can make it, please come say hello.



Future chat

May 20, 2015

(c) 2015 Max Nathan

I’ve been busy working on a bunch of projects recently, but will be escaping the office to do a couple of talks over the summer. Each very different …


On 7 July I’m chairing an LSE lecture by Gerard Grech, CEO of Tech City UK. We’ll be talking about the extraordinary growth of London’s digital economy, and where these sectors could take us next.

I’ve just completed a long piece on London’s digital evolutions for the Centre for London think tank’s new London Essays imprint, so I’m looking forward to this one. Emma and I met Gerard recently and were impressed by his openness. It should be a great session. Details are here.


On 23 July I’m in New Zealand at the ‘Pathways, Circuits and Crossroads’ conference on the economics of immigration and diversity, which is organised by the University of Waikato, Massey University and Motu. I’m very grateful to Jacques Poot and Dave Maré for inviting me over. They’re just beginning a major programme of work on immigration and diversity in NZ, and I’m hoping we can kick off some interesting collaborations when I’m in town. More details of that event when I have them.

If you’re around for either of these, come and say hello!

Big data and digital firms

July 23, 2013

(C) 2013 niesr and growth intelligence

I’ve just published some new analysis of the UK’s digital economy, joint with Anna Rosso and Growth Intelligence, and funded by Google. We had a launch session yesterday with Vince Cable – see here for a good write-up by the Guardian.

We’ve done pretty well for media so far: see coverage from the BBC, FT [£], Sky, Telegraph, Independent, Scotsman and Guardian (again) among others, and a nice blog post from Google’s Hal Varian.


This is the first phase of a research programme with roots in the resurgence of industrial policy around the world. Like many others, the UK government wants to promote ICT and digital content activities – in the global North at least, this is generally high value activity, with spillover effects to the rest of economy.

A big problem is that we have little idea of the true size and nature of these digital companies. That’s because official definitions use SIC codes, which don’t work well for companies doing innovative, high-tech stuff.

To try and fix this, we use big data provided by Growth Intelligence. GI pull in data from the web, social media, news feeds, patents and a range of other sources, and layer this on top of public data from Companies House. That gives a much richer picture of who’s out there, their characteristics and their performance.

Crucially, GI’s data buys us a lot more precision than SIC-based analysis. We can look at industries and at products, services, clients and distribution platforms.  For increasingly tech-powered sectors like architecture, that allows us to distinguish ‘digital’ companies producing (say) CAD specialist software from ‘non-digital’ ones making buildings.


Overall, we find over 40% more digital companies than official estimates suggest. We also find that digital companies who report revenue or employment are pretty resilient, with faster revenue growth and higher average employment than non-digital companies.

And contrary to the popular sense that it’s all about London start-ups, we find hotspots of digital activity across the country, including some perhaps surprising places like Aberdeen, Middlesbrough and Blackpool.


Okay, this is all fascinating stuff for researchers. But what should Government do differently? First, the big data field is still in its early days, and we’d encourage officials to explore how it can complement conventional statistics. Second, better data should lead to better-designed industrial policies. Finding the optimal policy mix, however, is a separate and much harder question to answer.

BIS’ information economy strategy is rightly cautious about hands-on intervention. This NBER paper by Aaron Chatterji, Ed Glaeser and Bill Kerr is a good overview of the wider evidence. Henry Overman and I will be publishing a piece in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy soon too, which puts the case for a more agglomeration-focused approach.

We’ll also be continuing the data analysis, thanks to further support from NESTA. Look out for further mapping and econometric work in the months ahead.

That’s not my name

January 30, 2013

(c) wired / architecture 00

Last week I was at LSE for a seminar on place and neighbourhood branding, ably organised by CityDiplo. Also on the panel were Suzi Hall (LSE Cities) and Ian Stephens (Saffron). It was a great evening, with a sharp and highly engaged audience.

I ran through some new work on the politics of naming in East London’s digital economy, and how the competing brands of Silicon Roundabout and Tech City are playing out on the ground (which I’m writing with Emma Vandore and Georgina Voss).

Suzi gave a great run-down of her work on ordinary streets and vernacular spaces in South London, and Ian delivered a nice overview of official branding strategies for Nine Elms.

The CityDiplo team have now put up a podcast of the session. Presentations should follow shortly.

From Tech City to Smart City?

December 18, 2012

(c) Cleanweb UK

Is Silicon Roundabout going green? I’ve written a new piece about London’s emerging ‘cleanweb’ scene, highlighting some of the fascinating new firms and ideas emerging from the area.

You can read short versions on the Huffington Post and the SERC blog. The piece was commissioned by LSE Cities, and the full version is in the LSE Cities ‘Electric City’ conference newspaper.

It all builds on the Centre for London report A Tale of Tech City, which came out over the summer.


I’m starting to write all this up into a journal article or articles – so comments are very welcome.

A Tale of Tech City

July 3, 2012

We launched A Tale of Tech City yesterday at Google Campus. It went very well – lots of robust discussion, and happily, general acclaim for the report.

The Centre for London project is joint work with Emma Vandore and Rob Whitehead, and takes an unvarnished look at the East London digital ecosystem.


We ran a lot of numbers. By crunching the BSD, the best data there is, we find the East London scene is a lot bigger than anyone thought – at least 1500 firms (a conservative estimate), probably more like 3300 (drawing a wider line).

We also did seven international case studies to see how London stacks up in global terms. (Hint: Silicon Alley, not Silicon Valley.)

We then went out and did in-depth interviews with a lot of local firms, plus others working in finance, workspace and policy.

We identify six challenges for East London businesses, and make suggestions for tweaking the strategy and policy mix. In particular, we argue for a stronger focus on business development, helping young London firms become global players – and for Government to temper expectations for a new cluster in the Olympic Park. These things can’t be masterplanned.


Those messages got the thumbs up from GLA Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse, Hackney’s Guy Nicholson, Unruly’s Sarah Wood and from Matt Biddulph, who all joined me on the platform. The Tech City Investment Organisation is now running with some of our ideas – see here – and there are signs of an Olympics Media Centre rethink too.

You can download the whole thing here.

We’ve had pretty good press so far, with coverage on the BBC (here and here), Financial Times, Wall St Journal, Guardian and the Independent … plus a nice write-up by Richard Florida in The Atlantic.


I’m now starting to think about further work. Two promising avenues are looking across the digital economy in the rest of London, and exploring NY-LON in depth – there are some striking parallels between the London and New York scenes. Get in touch if you’d like to talk about either of these.


May 24, 2012

It’s a sad day. I’ve become one of those people who makes excuses for not blogging.

I have got some good reasons though. These are:

1) I’ve been getting some papers into journals.

A version of my PHD intro chapter has been accepted by European Urban and Regional Studies.

And my paper with Neil Lee on cultural diversity and business performance has been accepted by Economic Geography.

I’m pretty happy about both of these. Fingers crossed for a third which is still out for review.

2) I’m finishing up a couple of other projects.

One is a paper on proximities and collaboration, with Riccardo Crescenzi and Andrés Rodríguez-Pose. We’re interested in how physical, institutional, social and other ‘closenesses’ might shape how people work together (or not). You can see an early version of this here [pdf], from a  presentation I gave in Leuven the other week.

The other is some research on Tech City, which I’m doing for the Centre for London. This is joint work with Emma Vandore and Rob Whitehead at CFL. We’ve been talking to a lot of East London tech firms, and crunching microdata to trace the cluster’s long term growth and dynamics.

You can hear some early thoughts on the Future Human podcast – look for the ‘Liquid City’ episode. The report itself will launch on 2 July at Hackney House.

On which note, back to writing …

Future chat

February 23, 2012

I’m giving a couple of seminars in the next few weeks.

First up, on 5th March, I’m at LSE London talking about cultural diversity and the London economy. This will draw on some of my PHD research on the economics of diversity. It turns out diversity and co-ethnic networks are good for London businesses; the broader effects of immigration on labour markets more mixed. I’ll talk about these results and the policy lessons. Details here.

Next, on 7 March I’ll be giving a talk on Tech City at UCL’s Bartlett School of Planning. I’ll be discussing emerging findings from a project on the East London technology cluster, which I’m leading at the Centre for London. Only a few people are looking at this stuff, so I’m excited to be working on it. I’ll be looking at international experience, what the numbers tell us, and feeding back some of our conversations with local firms. Details here.

If you’re around, come and say hello!


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