The V and A: A Substantial Investment?

If you travel north up the east coast of Scotland past Edinburgh you will soon reach the modest city of Dundee. I have grown up and lived my childhood in Dundee but left aged 17 to study in the bustling city of Syracuse, New York, USA. After leaving the small bubble of school life in Dundee the exposure to a bigger city with a resounding new culture opened my eyes to a different way of looking at things. Now on my return to the small city in Scotland I can fully see how the city is growing and developing into a centre for design innovation.

As Dundee is developing into a hub for design excellence there has also been a lot of thought into how to advance the city to make it a more prosperous place to live. As of recent figures there are currently 18,000 children living in poverty in the city. This is a huge statistic considering the population of Dundee is a mere 141,870 as of 2004. So in the development of Dundee’s waterfront, the designers involved have a moral responsibility to also create a working solution to this problem using design innovation and the waterfront redevelopment as a catalyst.

The first stage in Dundee becoming a centre for design is the construction of the new V and A. The building of the museum is a multi-million pound project which sees a lot of both council and grant money invested into the site. As a design student I believe this is a worthwhile expenditure but many across the city are opposed to such a large sum of money going towards a building rather than helping the poorer people of Dundee. The opposition view the investment as a superficial cost which is not necessary to the advancement of Dundee’s economic growth. Most of the opposition simply see the enormous cost rather than the sustainability of the investment.

The introduction of the design museum to Dundee will inevitably increase the tourism to the small city and create more jobs in the service industry. Cities across the world with high tourism income take most of the profits through restaurants, cafes and hotels. There has already been evidence of this with the renovation of the old Tay Hotel into the new contemporary Malmaison Hotel. The Malmaison has shown to have increased employment opportunities in the city and also set an example for other businesses looking at investing in the area. General Manager of the hotel Steven Simpson believes Dundee is an “up and coming” city and the Malmaison has contributed to this as “from our perspective, we employ 106 people, so that is a significant contribution and most of those employed have been local”. Simpson goes on to explain that as the waterfront develops into a tourist hub more jobs should become available.

As a comparison to the Malmaison franchise I spoke to an employee of city quay restaurant Porters. Relating to their brand as a business they believe that the V and A will bring in a clientele more suited to the up market food they serve. Porters prides itself on its locally sourced fresh poultry and seafood which they believe will be popular with tourists visiting the museum from out with Scotland. The restaurant is situated in the city quay which has struggled over the last few years to become an exciting hub of small local businesses. However the location has a lot of potential and with increased tourism to the city it is likely to grow and develop over time with new investors moving into the Dundee Waterfront.

Another local business which is in favour of the waterfront redevelopment is Interior Design shop Lovely Things. Lovely Things is a small store stocking furnishings for up market interiors. Talking to an employee at the business she enthused that the V and A “can only be beneficial” to Lovely Things and can’t do any harm to Dundee as a small city. Furthermore those visiting the museum of design are more likely to be interested in furniture produced by known designers rather than a mass produced IKEA number. This is the first aspect of the sustainability of the investment into the waterfront as more jobs are created which is the best way to get people out of poverty and into a permanent line of work. Therefore it will have a lasting effect on poverty in the city rather than a short term fix.

The benefits of the introduction of the museum of design to Dundee will also filter through to art students at DJCAD. As a student of Interior Design the waterfront has already had an impact on the work I am producing and the projects I am working on. Developing my design skills in line with the V and A construction creates a bond between the students and the city. This can only be beneficial to my learning as I am designing in context with the real world. This connection the V and A has created between students and the city will also be beneficial to Dundee as a hub for design. By creating a network of local design students who associate themselves with Dundee means they are more likely to stay rooted in the city as young professionals. Which in turn makes Dundee a more exciting, prosperous place to live.

This is why I believe the re development of the waterfront is a worthwhile expenditure. Dundee has struggled with its high poverty rate for a long time and this could be the solution to the issue. By investing in the centre for design it makes Dundee a prosperous place to be for young creatives whilst also creating more jobs in the service industry. The development of the waterfront will inevitably increase business in the city centre which will further lower the unemployment rates in Dundee as a whole. And as the benefits of the V and A filter through to young creatives in the city it will turn Dundee into an exciting, vibrant hub of design. Consequently developing Dundee as an affluent city in Scotland.

Jessica Ross



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