CultureBlocks Philadelphia

Document Type

Working Paper




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.


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.



Date Posted: 07 March 2018