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Cultural Development and City Neighborhoods

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Document date: August 08, 2009
Released online: August 11, 2009

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the full brief in PDF format.


Cities around the world are building urban cultural life as a way to develop local economies and revitalize urban centers. But they have done less to recognize and systematically promote the cultural lives of urban neighborhoods and their residents. This brief examines four characteristics of city cultural policy that affect cultural development and cultural life in neighborhoods. The brief is informed by policy forums held by The Living Cultures Project in New Orleans in 2008-2009 to address key policy issues confronting neighborhood and cultural life.


Cities around the world are building and branding urban cultural life as a way to develop local economies and revitalize urban centers. Such "culture-led development" or "cultural development" plans and programs have led many cities to expand existing cultural agencies and programs, and to establish new ones. These cultural agencies and programs serve nonprofit cultural amenities such as museums and theaters, target cultural industries such as film and music production, and, more recently, have begun to focus on supporting the artistic workforce.

However, cities have done less to recognize and systematically promote the cultural lives of urban neighborhoods and their residents. When cultural agencies do not consciously and actively incorporate communities and their needs into cultural development, their policies and programs can in fact conflict with and threaten the cultural health of urban neighborhoods. Ultimately, this will undermine a city's cultural vitality and undercut its ability to appeal to the developers, tourists, creative-sector businesses, and educated workforce that cultural development means to attract.


Over the past decade, many cities have focused substantial economic development and revitalization efforts and resources on enhancing their "creative" character (see Landry 2000). Economic development scholar Richard Florida has promoted an enormously influential image of successful 21st century cities as places where social tolerance and natural and cultural amenities draw educated workers and new-economy businesses (Florida 2003, 2007, and 2008). Florida's work is grounded in Jane Jacobs' path-breaking conception of healthy cities as vital places where streets, parks, neighborhoods, and downtowns are used by diverse populations for mixed purposes in daytime and at night (Jacobs 1961).

Unfortunately, the policy agendas and infrastructures that have evolved to build "creative cities," support the "creative economy" and attract "creative-class" workers are not helping cities to fulfill Jacobs' vision of what makes a city live. Many analysts have critiqued policy developed out of Florida's ideas as having undermined the diversity of urban populations and uses because it propels gentrification and privileges real-estate development over other kinds of economic and community development that benefit a broader urban population (for example, see Peck 2005). There also are important ways in which the cultural policies and cultural policy infrastructures of today's cities are less responsive, transparent, and democratic than they must be in order to cultivate diverse and sustainable urban cultural life.

This brief examines four defining characteristics of city cultural policy and traces how these characteristics affect cultural development and the cultural life of neighborhoods. The brief is informed by policy forums held in New Orleans in 2008 and 2009. While plans for rebuilding the city post-Katrina were being imagined and developed, the impact of cultural policy in urban, and particularly underserved, neighborhoods became clear in new and stark ways. These forums were designed to bring together national experts and activists from around the country with local residents, cultural leaders, and policymakers to address key policy issues confronting neighborhood cultural life.

(End of excerpt. The entire brief is available in pdf format.)

Topics/Tags: | Cities and Neighborhoods | Governing | Nonprofits

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