NASAA Notes: September 2009


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September 10, 2009

The Hidden Hazards of Creative Economic Development

In an attempt to develop local economies, many cities have focused on building and branding urban cultural life. These plans have led some cities to expand or create cultural agencies and programs that serve the nonprofit and for-profit infrastructure as well as the creative work force.

However, according to Cultural Development and City Neighborhoods, written by Carole Rosenstein and published by the Urban Institute, problems arise when cities do less to recognize and promote the cultural lives of urban neighborhoods and their residents. In fact, when cultural agencies do not prioritize incorporating communities and their needs into cultural development, the policies and programs conflict with and threaten the cultural health of urban neighborhoods. Policy agendas and infrastructures developed to build creative economies can actually undermine the diversity of urban populations by driving gentrification and privileged real estate development over other kinds of economic and community development.

Drawing on the proceedings of three dialogues conducted by The Living Cultures Project, Rosenstein describes four ways in which city cultural policy can adversely affect cultural development. The cultural life of neighborhoods can be undermined if:

  1. Cultural development tends to concentrate cultural resources into downtown business and cultural districts and away from neighborhoods. The cultural assets of neighborhoods are under-recognized and insufficiently supported.
  2. Neighborhood cultural assets and needs are poorly incorporated into the existing cultural policy infrastructure of most cities. Few cities have specified and institutionalized a role for city government in the cultural lives of urban neighborhoods.
  3. There is a mismatch between the narrow policy focus of cultural agencies and the broad policy environment that affects neighborhood cultural activities. City cultural agencies and cultural-sector leaders are poorly integrated into broader policy conversations and decision making, and some key cultural policy decisions are tasked to other agencies.
  4. Authority and oversight is unclear in the public cultural sector. In most cities, no office or point-person is tasked with overseeing city governance of the cultural sector.

Some suggestions for overcoming these effects include:

  • Cultural development should support the diverse cultural lives of city residents, including neighborhood activities.
  • Cities should designate an agency responsible for supporting neighborhood cultural life.
  • Licensing and permitting of cultural activities should be governed by an agency that is accountable to both the cultural sector and neighborhoods.
  • Public-sector agencies should be better integrated into decision making and implementation of policies that affect cultural activity.

For more information, see the full report or the summary report.

For additional information on cultural development, see the Urban Institute’s Cultural Vitality Indicators.

If you would like to talk to a NASAA staff person about the information in this article, contact Shannah Sphar

In this Issue

State to State

Executive Director's Column

Research on Demand

Did You Know?




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