Cultural district

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A cultural district is a well-recognized, labeled, mixed-use area of a settlement in which a high concentration of cultural facilities serves as the anchor of attraction.

Facilities include: Performances spaces, museums, galleries, artist studios, arts-related retail shops, music or media production studios, dance studios, high schools or colleges for the arts, libraries, arboretums and gardens.

Because they are mixed-use developments, cultural districts incorporate other facilities such as office complexes, retail spaces and, occasionally, residential areas.

The creation of a cultural district implies collaboration between the arts and the local community. Cultural districts may be seen by local authorities as a way to revitalize the “brownfields” of the urban core: areas of abandoned buildings that encourage businesses and residents to leave the cities.[1][2]

How it Works[edit]

More than 90 cities in the United States have planned or implemented cultural districts, positioning the arts at the center of their urban revitalization efforts.

All cultural districts are unique, reflecting their cities’ unique environment, including history of land use, urban growth and cultural development. There is no standard model.

Most cultural districts are built to take advantage of other city attractions such as historic features, convention spaces and parks and other natural amenities.

Structural considerations within or near the district, community leadership and social forces all influence the development of a cultural district and the type of district that results. Factors influencing the siting of cultural districts include: perceived need for urban revitalization, existing investment, property value and preexisting cultural facilities.

Unlike a cultural center or a shopping mall, a cultural district comprises a large number of property owners, both public and private, who control the various properties involved, hence a structural complexity. The effectiveness of the coordinating agency in guiding the direction of the cultural district varies according to its size, budget, mandated functions and degree of authority, resulting in widespread variation in the coordinated cultural programming and administration services offered by cultural districts. The coordinated agency appointed for the district must work carefully to ensure inclusiveness of concerns and to balance potentially conflicting interests.

Cultural districts offer two major types of services: one targets the arts community, providing marketing /promotion, box office services and property management; the other targets the district’s business and property owners, offering urban design and development services or administrative support.

The excitement and attraction of a cultural district is a high mixture of interesting things to do, places to see, and places to visit (both cultural and noncultural), across the day and evening.

Some artist-activists are promoting the concept of a "Naturally Occurring Cultural District," or NOCD, patterned after the demographic concept of a naturally occurring retirement community. A NOCD "supports existing neighborhood cultural assets rather than imposing arts institutions somewhere new," according to Tamara Greenfield, co-director of NOCD-New York. Co-director Caron Atlas explained: "If a cultural district has emerged 'naturally,' then it grows from, builds on and validates existing community assets rather than importing assets from outside a community."[3]

Examples of Cultural districts in the US[edit]


  1. ^ Cultural Districts, Americans for the Arts
  2. ^ Cultural Districts, ‘The Arts as a Strategy for Revitalizing our Cities’, Americans for the Arts, 1998
  3. ^ Urban Omnibus, Naturally Occurring Cultural Districts, Nov. 17, 2010