"Natural" Cultural Districts and Public Policy

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CultureBlocks Philadelphia
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Arts and Humanities
Public Policy
Social Welfare
Urban Studies and Planning
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This paper reports on research on the development of “natural” cultural districts—clusters of cultural resources that emerge in particular neighborhoods as a bottom-up, unplanned process. It uses data on Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Seattle to answer the following questions: What social and economic benefits are associated with cultural clusters? What are the social mechanisms that connect community benefits to cultural clusters? How do we define “natural” cultural districts? Are there particular neighborhood features that foster formation of these cultural clusters? Can we distinguish particular types of “natural” cultural districts? What kinds of policy interventions are appropriate for different types of districts? The analysis suggests that although we can demonstrate strong connections between the concentration of cultural assets and a wide variety of social benefits, economic spillover tends to be concentrated in places that are already advantaged. Thus, if we pursue strategies that promote creative placemaking purely as a market-based strategy, the outcomes are likely to increase the already growing gap between prosperous and poor residents and between advantaged and disadvantaged parts of the city.

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This paper was a product of the partnership of Reinvestment Fund and PolicyMap; the City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) and Department of Commerce; and the University of Pennsylvania, Social Impact of the Arts Project (SIAP) with support by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA Our Town Program) and ArtPlace America.
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