Cultural Districts: Bottom-Up and Top-Down Drivers


Research Abstract
Cultural Districts: Bottom-Up and Top-Down Drivers

The growing phenomenon of cultural district formation has resulted in the emergence of interesting urban neighborhoods of all shapes and sizes and known by many names in cities across the globe. As part of the cultural, social, economic, and physical development and re-development of urban communities, cultural districts are receiving considerable attention from scholars, planners, policymakers, and others concerned with the future of cities. In spite of their many names, varieties, and purposes, cultural districts are generally lumped into one category. Yet, each is as unique as the place and time in which it takes root as well as the conditions and players who bring them into being.

This paper takes a look at a spectrum of cultural districts in the United States at different stages of development and in different relationships to the forces of city planning, private development, and grassroots activity. The key thrust of this paper is to explore benefits to artists, residents, and others that accrue in different types of cultural districts. Benefits can vary widely in districts driven by aggressive outside planning and investment versus those driven by grassroots and artist-led efforts, and in those in-between. The roles artists play in the growth of cultural districts and the role cultural districts play in the lives and work of artists and arts organizations is also important to this picture. Several examples in different cities across the United States are described along with a look into recent academic research on the topic.

Americans for the Arts has commissioned five essays spanning the intricacies of arts, entertainment, and cultural districts specifically for policymakers, arts leaders, planning professionals, community development practitioners, and others who are interested in developing new districts or adapting existing ones.

  • Creating Capacity: Strategic Approaches to Managing Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Districts
  • Cultural Districts: Bottom-Up and Top-Down Drivers
  • Cultural Tourism: Attracting Visitors and Their Spending
  • Art and Culture Districts: Financing, Funding, and Sustaining Them
  • State Cultural Districts: Metrics, Policies, and Evaluation

These essays and reports are part of our National Cultural Districts Exchange, where you can find more information on cultural district legislation, case studies, a national district survey, and a collection of webinars.


Borrup, Tom

Americans for the Arts
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