Culture-led regeneration as a Strategy for City Branding

Can the "museumisation" of the city be sustainable in the long term?

Picture of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao designed by Frank Gehry
The Guggenheim Bilbao captured by Juan Gomez

Culture-led regeneration is a a very interesting and highly controversial topic, which I chose as the focus of my MA dissertation back in 2013 (you can read the whole paper at this link). Here is a little introduction.

 As a consequence of globalisation, competitiveness among cities has rapidly grown. More and more cities – even the ones that have always been relatively indifferent to the arts – are developing an interest in culture-led regeneration, often repeating the same patterns: large capitals have been invested in the construction of iconic buildings (often referred to as flagships) designed by famous names of western architecture, and entire ‘cultural districts’ are currently under development.

Such investments are primarily motivated by economic stagnation and the desire to diversify the urban economy by attracting tourists and foreign investments, placing considerable economic demands on ‘culture’.

Focusing on four issues recurring in the academic debate, this paper critically analyses and compares different approaches to culture-led regeneration, seeking to evaluate their outcome in social and economic terms, as well as their sustainability.

I thought it would be particularly interesting to analyze cities which, without having an established reputation as vibrant cultural centers, have however attempted to improve their international profile and rejuvenate their economy by investing in the construction of new cultural facilities in order to rebrand themselves as cultural hubs; the case studies include Bilbao,Glasgow, NewcastleGateshead, Singapore and Shanghai. In addition, in the light of the above-mentioned experiences, this paper considers the case of the large-scale flagship development of Saadiyat Island's Cultural District in Abu Dhabi, which is currently under construction, and its possible outcome.

“Regeneration is not simply about bricks and mortar. It’s about the physical,social and economic well being of an area; it’s about the quality of life in our neighbourhoods. In relation to the physical, this is as much about the quality of public realm as it is about the buildings themselves." - Evans, 2005.

Want to read the whole paper? Here it is.