Dynamics of Culture—2003-2005

Document Type

Working Paper




This paper was an early product of the Dynamics of Culture project, undertaken to bring time into SIAP’s analysis of the role of culture in urban communities. The author uses data on Philadelphia’s changing urban context from 1990 - 2000 and changes in its cultural sector from 1997 – 2002 to assess the impact of culture on neighborhood wellbeing.

The research found that Philadelphia, unlike “world cities,” cannot rely on the market alone to generate the cataclysmic churning of its land market. By the same token, the city cannot count on a massive inflow of capital to support its cultural sector. Thus these processes in Philadelphia are unlikely to stimulate displacement or gentrification but rather tend to be more gradual and firmly embedded in the existing social structure, which allows a different set of social forces to take root in neighborhoods. On the one hand, culture stimulates a kind of “collective efficacy” (see Sampson and Earls) that encourages residents to address community conditions. At the same time, culture’s association with diversity allows it to breach barriers of social class and ethnicity that other forms of civic engagement often leave in place. With the rise of the global city, flashy displays of the power of culture—the construction of fancy facilities, the creation of cultural districts, and the quest for the “creative class”—have attracted far more attention. Yet, for the majority of Americans who live in second- or third-tier cities, the modest benefits of cultural engagement--often in a church basement, recreation center, or converted loft space--are more likely to have an enduring impact on the quality of urban life.


SIAP's Dynamics of Culture project was undertaken from 2002 to 2005 with support by the Rockefeller Foundation.



Date Posted: 29 March 2018