"Natural" Cultural Districts: A Three-City Study—2010-2013


SIAP developed the concept of “natural” cultural district as a way to rethink the relationship of the arts and culture to neighborhood development. Instead of starting with an organization or project perspective, this place-based concept views arts-based revitalization through the lens of the community cultural ecosystem. This ecosystem is composed of a number of independent elements—some driven by labor or real estate markets, others by a public- or community-oriented mission, and others by private motivation or artistic vision. Some neighborhoods spawn a concentration of cultural agents—organizations and businesses, artists and activists, residents and visitors—that function as a geographically based social network. This is what SIAP calls a "natural" cultural district.

From 2010 to 2012, SIAP undertook a study of “natural” cultural districts in three cities—Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Seattle. The project had two interrelated parts: a citywide analysis of the social geography and cultural ecology of the three cities and a set of case studies of cultural clusters within the three cities. Seven neighborhoods were selected for field work and qualitative study:

  • Baltimore—Highlandtown-Patterson Park and Station North;
  • Philadelphia—Callowhill/Chinatown North and South Philadelphia; and
  • Seattle—Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Chinatown-International District.

The purpose of the three-city study was to explore the relationship of the arts to the community change process and, in particular, how the cultural sector fits into the social and spatial ecology of urban neighborhoods. The project was undertaken with support by Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC), a New York-based national initiative. The research builds on previous work by SIAP and the Reinvestment Fund with support by the Rockefeller Foundation. See Culture and Community Revitalization: A Collaboration.


Submissions from 2013


“Natural” Cultural Districts: A Three-City Study, Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert


“Natural” Cultural Districts: A Three-City Study—Report Summary, Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert

Submissions from 2010


Types of “Natural” Cultural Districts: Opportunities for Policy Development, Mark J. Stern

Submissions from 2007


Cultivating "Natural" Cultural Districts, Mark J. Stern and Susan C. Seifert