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‘Natural’ Cultural Districts and Neighbourhood Revitalization

Mark J. Stern, University of Pennsylvania

October 24, 201024 October 2010

Creative neighbourhoods and their social and economic benefits

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This presentation argues that creativity is the product of social organization, “not simply the work of a few geniuses”. In this environment, the presentation suggests that “we need a policy approach that understands how deeply creativity is embedded in urban social structure, especially the importance of diversity (economic, ethnic, household). Then we can come up with strategies that create a creative society, not just a creative economy.”

According to the presentation, the cultural sector can be seen as an ecosystem “that is central to the ‘architecture of community'”, especially four key community dimensions: social capital, public assets, market relations, and the flows of information, capital and people.

In a context where “social networks are the link between cultural engagement and neighbourhood economic vitality”, the presentation indicates that “the arts and culture are one way that neighbours build connections”. As has been found in some other studies, the presentation notes that “cultural participants are more likely to be involved in other community activities and to share a positive view of their neighbourhood”. These connections can enhance “collective efficacy” in addressing community problems. The presentation examines data on crime reduction, housing markets, and “economic revival without widespread displacement”. Furthermore, the presentation maintains that the cultural sector can create “connection across barriers of geography, social class, and ethnicity”.

The presentations maps Philadelphia’s cultural assets, including cultural groups, commercial cultural enterprises, artists and cultural participants. The presentation indicates that these cultural assets are concentrated in “natural” cultural districts across metropolitan Philadelphia.

The presentation recommends two sets of strategies: investment in civic infrastructure and encouraging cultural districts. The presentation argues that “the spillover effects of cultural and other forms of civic engagement justify investment in civic infrastructure”. In order to encourage cultural districts, the presentation indicates that “neighbourhoods with the right set of cultural and others assets can be encouraged”, in part by “providing targeted investment funds for projects that show promise”.

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