Urban Futures: Critical Commentaries on Shaping the City

By Malcolm Miles; Tim Hall | Go to book overview

11

Shaping the Cultural Landscape: Local Regeneration Effects

GRAEME EVANS AND JO FOORD


INTRODUCTION

Culture has a wide variety of meanings and values. To invoke 'culture' is to open up a Pandora's Box of different symbolic representations and complex personal, national and group identities (Eagleton, 2000). In the discourse that follows some groups and individuals have more ability to shape cultural representation and understanding than others. Cultural institutions, creative industries and different communities (of interest and/or of place) constantly struggle to construct and claim 'their' interpretation of culture. Increasingly the power to name, construct meaning and exert control over the dissemination of ideas about culture underpins divisions within society (Stevenson, 2001), and as Harvey observed: 'The ability to "name" things, acts and ideas - is a source of power' (1989:388).

This chapter sets out to illustrate the current tensions over the meanings and values of culture as it emerges in local regeneration in terms of both the physical and symbolic landscape. Within the political economy of regeneration, 'culture' now has popular appeal and is pivotal; culture is seen as a new resource that, if correctly mobilised, could maximise the potential of local areas and neighbourhoods as well as whole cities (Smith, 1998a; Landry, 2000). This notion of culture as 'asset', however, obscures the contestation of cultural meanings and values that is played out within the regeneration process. Two sets of meanings are particularly prevalent in current urban policy and regeneration discourses. One set of meanings and values suggests culture is an essential element of everyday life and identity and is bound up in the processes of 'making, doing and enjoying' cultural activity - including the rites and rituals of everyday living, as well as the enjoyment of entertainment and the participation in cultural events. In this interpretation an active engagement in cultural activity improves or even represents a large element of the quality of life; encourages individuals and communities to be active and promotes engaged contributions to their local community and to society as a whole.

The second interpretation of culture is as an integral and substantive part of present day city economies. With the loss of other areas of economic activity, particularly manufacturing industry, various cultural industries have come to be seen as a saviour for many so-called post-industrial cities in Europe (Bianchini and Parkinson, 1993; Verwijnen and Lehtovuori, 1999), as well as in 'new world' cities. The interconnected, networked nature of this fastgrowing sector provides the antidote to obsolete rigid economies. Culture and cultural activity in this context contributes to local prosperity and economic growth, provides jobs with a high multiplier effect, and is identified with enhanced city status as place-based cultural capital. Underlying this economic development and exploitation of culture is not only the earning and jobs potential of the creative industries and their spin-offs (such as cultural tourism), but also a widespread assumption that future economies will be based on the trading of symbolic meanings underpinned by

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