Urban Development

‘Art in capital’: Shaping distinctiveness in a culture-led urban regeneration project in Red Town, Shanghai


Culture permeates even the most imposing industrial building. Driven by global city making, city leaders see culture as a key to bolstering a new economy and to dealing with decayed urban sites. However, regional practices of creating creative strategies differ, as actors are not “dancing puppets” but actively pursue their vested interests. The Red Town project in Shanghai is one example that represents the shift from sporadic artistic action to organized construction and management of spaces for the creative industry. This paper probes the development process of Red Town in order to uncover the power relationships of a variety of actors in the urban regime. The pursuit of distinctiveness through selectively authentic conservation and branding of artists’ offbeat taste, in return, offers benefits to several key players involved, such as developers and government agents. However, when the link between artists and archaic industrial buildings is legitimized, the resulting space becomes commercialized and, to an extent, discriminatory. In this case, the architectural edifice celebrates economic growth, while at the same time, it spurs the rise of unexpected social consequences.



“Art in capital” is a small art gallery in Red Town,1 which is depicted as a creative community formed after the renovation of an abandoned steel factory. Old bricks and mortar are preserved, as well as all other marks of age like rusted nails and non-functional electric wires. The new environment, with its air-conditioning system made in Germany and its heating system made in France, now guarantee a 4A class interior space as evaluated in the office market. In this creative community, sculptures are displayed at communal areas, through which the so-called creative professionals rub elbows a stone’s throw away from their respective offices.

It did not take long for Shanghai, one of China’s economic powerhouses, to embrace cultural consumption. The city is filled with passion for art of all types and descriptions, evident in consumers undeterred by the rocketing prices of art works in recent auctions.2 Art consumption has undoubtedly become a trendy way for many Shanghaiese to assert their distinct taste and identity. However, many art critics worry that this craze for art has allowed consumerism to dominate market behavior and to further lure art supplies.3The same concern pervades the rehabilitation of archaic industrial buildings for the consumption of artistically produced space. The story starts when a cultural group (artists, architects, etc.) moves to usually abandoned and dilapidated industrial plants in the inner city, converting these into workshops and studios. After rehabilitation, these warehouses and production plants magically convert decayed urban area to magnets, which attract artists to move in, one after another, and they also became popular destinations for visitors, many of whom are young adults attracted by that kind of life ‘on the edge.’ The magic effect of the chemistry between artists and deteriorated industrial sites has triggered the interest of many others, including the Shanghai Municipal Government, which was searching for means to push forward economic restructuring under a condition of land shortage in the city. The combination of artists and non-functional industrial sites gave the government a lot of inspiration. At that time, creative industry—the new favorite of many entrepreneurial governments after Florida’s promotion (Florida, 2000)—caught the attention of Shanghai officials who immediately opened their aims to embrace the new economy. Conservationists endeavoring to conserve industrial heritage through rehabilitation gave the action of reuse another fancy cloth of heritage conservation. Packaged in one, the Creative Industrial Agglomeration Area was introduced to encourage the development of creative industrial zones based on recycling of decayed factories in the inner city (Li et al., 2001SHMG, 2001). This lucrative market attracts a different breed of actors, such as real estate developers, government agents, or a coalition of the two. Soon, the piecemeal action was pushed into a city-wide movement. At the end of 2008, 76 sites had been labeled as Creative Industrial Agglomeration Areas (SCIC, 2008). The development at a scale previously unseen caught the attention of the central government, which launched a publicity campaign stressing that urban development occurs “when the creative industry dances with industrial heritage,” and calls for “learning from Shanghai” through its core newspaper (Lou, 2006).

The project in Red Town is one typical case that represents the turning from the first stage to the second stage, namely, from artists’ sporadic activities to organized construction and management of office space for creative industry. The outputs reflect negotiations among different actors who actively participate in this process for invested interests. Since Red Town, other projects desperately resort to heritage conservation to promise a unique experience, through a conscious and deliberate manipulation of history. Priority was given to the cautious preservation of aged buildings’ fabrics, particularly their erosion and decay, often in the name of authentic conservation.

At its planning stage, Red Town was publicized as an attempt to encourage the development of art and culture, as well as to set up a model of rehabilitation of industrial heritage. As the project processed, however, pressure was exerted for economic benefit that is measured in revenues. This paper attempts to probe into the development process of Red Town and to uncover the links to power relationships of a variety of actors in the urban regimes. I argue that Red Town is a project that prioritized the authenticity of heritage conservation, a space made vibrant by culture, seemingly detached from mundane living, and tailored for artists’ use. In reality, however, authentic heritage conservation was applied only to a select portion, specifically the building’s fabric. Meanwhile, the spatial features of industrial legacies, which might best represent the ethos of muscular industrialization, were crudely altered to maximize up-market office stocks.

Data are obtained from interviews and site-visits within a span of 2 years, as well as government documents, magazines published by the Red Town Company, newspaper articles, and reports. During the past 2 years, we have interviewed 22 individuals, including officials from different departments, developers, conservationists, artists and tenants in Red Town. After a literature review, the spontaneous stage is described to introduce how the idea of combining industrial heritage and creative industry emerges, and then the following section focuses on the renovation and management of Red Town, while discursive remarks are made at the end.

Debates: creative class, social divide, and power relationship in the urban regime

The concept of “creative class” was introduced by Florida (2000), who specifies them to be imperative group for cities and regions that expect to succeed in this economy increasingly driven by creativity. In its core, Florida’s thesis is to establish an environment that is attractive to the new ‘creative class.’ The idea has gained prominence among many entrepreneurial mayors who attempt to accelerate economic growth and project their cities to a higher tier in the global city hierarchy.

Culture-led urban regeneration is one kind of means deployed by many locales in their practices to develop a new economy and also to deal with decayed urban areas (Evans, 2003Evans, 2005). One strand of studies promotes that establishment of unique hybrid identity through cultural and heritage boosts distinctiveness and then advancement along the ladder of economy and power. Recalling the word “to imagineer” coined by the Walt Disney Studio to describe its way of “combining imagination with engineering to create the reality of dreams,” the thesis of urban imagineering is introduced at its core as a political act turning to the question of what and how to build at the local level in a more strategic manner than does Disney (Paul, 2004Paul, 2005).

Others argue that the promotion of a particular set of values through themed built environment and spectacles reflects the social divide and unequal relationships (Atkinson and Easthope, 2009). The aestheticization of archaic buildings in the picturesque style of heritage conservation is often claimed to be a new type of space tailored for a cultural community. The conscious manipulation of image for a given place may respond to the large-scale social transformation from a Fordist to a Post-Fordist society, namely, the birth of the new middle class which seeks out the stylization and aestheticization of life (Paul, 2004). Meanwhile, neglecting the uncreative class is sanitized and social inequity is legitimized. As Bourdieu points out, “art and culture consumption are predisposed, consciously and deliberately or not, to fulfill a social function of legitimating social differences” (Bourdieu and Johnson, 1993, p. 2).

Researchers in the conservation field are more concerned with the commodification and exploitation of culture and history, frequently conducted in a distorted manner for maximum economic benefits in name of authenticity. As a response to the resorting to heritage and tradition, Alsayyad (2001) approaches the problem from a perspective of a conscious and deliberate manipulation of culture, wherein the built environment is designed to promise a unique cultural experience. Many culture-led urban regeneration projects might merely “begin with poetry and end[s] with real estate” (Klunzman, 2004; cited by Evans, 2005, p. 959). Disney was not the “first to pioneer the idea of replicating places of the ‘other’ for people to experience.” However, it “was the first to recognize the permanent, continuing commercial potential of such installation” (Alsayyad, 2001, p. 9).

The “city of renewal” era reinforced the widespread use of cultural symbols in urban regeneration (Amin and Thrift, 2002Appadurai, 1990Beauregard, 1995Evans, 2003Hall and Robertson, 2001Zukin et al., 1998). However, regional practices of the creative strategy differ (Atkinson and Easthope, 2009Vanolo, 2008). This transformational movement has been the subject of various research works, more so in the aspect of the political-economic realm. Beauregard and Haila comment that, actors are not “simply puppets dancing to the tune of socioeconomic and political logics but rather relatively autonomous agents” (Beauregard and Haila, 1997, p. 328). Cities are governed by regimes, as put by Stone (1989). An internal coalition of socioeconomic forces pulls the strings in the urban regime. These influential actors with direct access to institutional resources hold a significant impact on urban policymaking and management, and this often results in the urban landscape’s contingent spatial transformation. The spatial outcomes of development and policy spawn continuing social and material consequences infused with the coalition’s vested interests. The powers among different agents within a governing regime vary. In this light, the transformation of urban landscapes needs to be explored from the internal structure of socioeconomic actors and their negotiations in the process.

Cont. Reading...

Artist Garret as Growth Machine? Local Policy and Artist Housing in U.S. Cities

Cultural Policy and Development: Who, What, and Is It Effective? 

Elizabeth Strom1 


Journal of Planning Education and Research 29(3) 367–378
© 2010 Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning

While artists have always lived in cities, never before have city governments so actively sought to court artists, most notably by supporting the development of subsidized artist housing. This article relies on a survey of municipal officials, interviews, and secondary sources to document the spread of publicly supported artist housing.The article argues that artist housing programs can be found even in cities not known as cultural cities. It further demonstrates that in most cities, artist housing programs are considered part of an economic development agenda. It concludes that the unique class position of artists ren- der them well suited in the eyes of public officials to play a transformative role in urban neighborhoods.


artist housing, economic development policy, creative economy, subsidized municipal housing, urban development 

About ten years ago, officials in Paducah, Kentucky, desperate to revive their struggling Ohio River city of twenty-five thousand, placed ads in art magazines urging artists to relo- cate to their historic Lowertown district. The city altered its zoning to encourage a mix of residential and commercial activities and offered packages of loans and grants to in- moving artists. Today, Paducah claims about seventy artist households (several of which maintain blogs singing the praises of artist life in Paducah1), a number of galleries and cafes, and favorable publicity from outlets such as the New York Times Style Magazine (McGlinn 2008).

The tale of Paducah is emblematic of a larger story in which the arts, and artists, have come to be seen as catalysts for the revitalization of American cities. Arts and cultural policies, once on the fringes of the municipal policy arena, have woven their way into core areas of urban development policy making. City and state policy makers now see the arts as a potential generator of jobs and tax revenues rather than as expendable luxuries. In city and state governments, and across the nonprofit world, the policy arenas of arts and cul- ture, on one hand, and economic development, on the other, have found common ground. And now the Paducah story and others like it suggest that the individual artist as well has moved from the margins, becoming central to the “creative economy.” Artists, then, become that final, secret ingredient added by local stakeholders hoping to revitalize declining neighborhoods or to reposition cities in regional economic and symbolic hierarchies.

The primary goal of this article is to explore and contextu- alize the development of municipally supported artist hous- ing. Is the development of artist housing a significant policy area for U.S. cities? Which cities are building or hoping to build housing for artists, and why are they undertaking these programs? Do policy makers pursuing artist housing devel- opment see these efforts as an offshoot of traditional munici- pal housing policy, as an extension of their arts and cultural policies, as an element of an economic development policy, or as some kind of hybrid? And finally, how can we employ the- oretical perspectives on the role of the arts and of artists to understand the way artist housing development has been deployed? To answer these questions, we have undertaken a multimethod research project that includes a survey of munic- ipal officials and interviews with a subset of these officials, as well as with representatives of two nonprofits active in this field. We have also drawn on secondary sources that describe artist housing projects in cities not part of our survey.

The first part of this article reviews the literature on how the consumption and production of art has become identified as a vehicle for economic development and neighborhood revitalization by a variety of urban stakeholders. The next section surveys earlier artist housing programs and considers current artist housing initiatives in the context or municipal cultural and housing policies. The third part presents findings from survey and interview research with those involved or potentially involved in the development of subsidized artist housing. The fourth part features a discussion of those find- ings and considers their significance in light of the literature on the role of the arts in urban development.

Arts as an Economic Development Engine:

Consumption and Production

Cities have always been central nodes of artistic consumption and production, but it is in recent decades that we see local economic and political stakeholders consciously promote the arts as a means of economic development. The arts have ceased to be “merely” an endeavor of educational, social, or spiritual significance. Rather, they became the focus of civic pride and, more notably, generators of economic activity (Strom and Cook 2004). Cultural activities emerged as attrac- tive urban revitalization tools in U.S. cities for a variety of reasons. Cities have found that both industrial production and many aspects of business service provision can flee to subur- ban areas and rural regions but that urban areas continue to have a competitive advantage in cultural production and con- sumption, much of which still relies on direct contact among participants. The development of large, mainstream cultural institutions was linked to the promotion of tourism (an increasingly significant industry in many cities—see Judd et al. 2003) and also to the attraction and retention of large corpora- tions. Indeed, museums and concert halls have proliferated since the 1980s (Strom 2002; Hamnett and Shoval 2003; Trescott 2007). For many cities, the apparent success of new, architecturally significant museums such as the Bilbao Guggen- heim (Plaza 2000, 2006), or even of blockbuster shows in existing museums (Alexander 1996; Rosenbaum 1997) led to the association of the provision of cultural amenities with postindustrial economic development. Grodach and Loukaitou- Sideris (2007) note that such projects are largely conceived as tourism and economic development assets, but once built they serve multiple constituencies, offering programs to a range of local residents. But for city development officials, it is largely the economic impact of cultural amenities that has moved arts and cultural policies from the “education and recreation” to the “economic development” side of the municipal ledger.

If an appreciation of the economic value of cultural con- sumption can be considered a sort of “first wave” of the “arts as economic development” movement, then surely the more recent “second wave” has focused on the potential benefits of cultural production. Some of this interest grows out of studies stressing the importance of cultural production to local economies—an argument that has particular resonance in cit- ies like New York and Los Angeles, where cultural produc- tion is indeed a significant creator of jobs and wealth. Looking beyond the obvious film or theater industries, other analysts have noted the importance of the arts to for-profit sectors of production—for example, considering the high percentage of the value added to the advertising industry by graphic artists, writers, and musicians; or the importance of design to consumer objects like cars or couches (Perryman 2001; Markusen and King 2003; Currid and Connelly 2008). The arts industry as well as the larger universe of industries for which “creativity” is an important input are thought to benefit from clustering, and urban economic development officials are urged to encourage such clusters to take root (Florida 2002; Drake 2003; Currid 2007). Evidence of cross- fertilization between artistic production and other advanced services further encourages economic development officials to undertake programs aimed at promoting arts and culture (Markusen and Schrock 2006; Currid and Connolly 2008).

Today, states and cities often use the term “creative indus- tries” to label a cluster of economic sectors that may include the fine arts but also commercial arts, video production, and a host of related areas.2 States such as Massachusetts and cities such as Denver and Plano, Texas, have established “creative industries” coordinators. When the city of Philadelphia reopened its shuttered Cultural Affairs Office, it was renamed the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy. Even cities and states without specific creative industry offices have become cognizant of the potential for such synergistic efforts. The city of Austin offers loan guarantees to private lenders willing to extend credit to for-profit or nonprofit “creative” businesses promising to create jobs. Dozens of cities put out reports measuring and championing the role of the “creative industries” in their economies, often relying on numbers gen- erated by the arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts, which calculates the value of the “creative industries” (defined here by number of establishments and employees in a list of arts-related standard industrial classification codes) for cities and congressional and state legislative districts.

This new, strategic sense of the symbolic and economic value of “creative industries” has led to a greater appreciation of the working artist as a symbolic and economic asset. To date, however, research on efforts to attract artists, through housing or other policies, has been limited. There has been some noteworthy scholarship about the relationship between artists, urban redevelopment, and gentrification—Sharon Zukin, most notably, described the process by which New York’s Soho was transformed from a manufacturing district to an arts enclave to a pricey residential neighborhood (Zukin 1982). More recently, Ley (2003) and Cameron and Coaffee (2005) have written about arts and artists as agents of transforma- tion. In much of this literature, as well as in the popular press, one finds both the hope that artists can “breathe new life” into struggling areas, as well as the fear that they would bring in waves of investment that would create gentrification pres- sures (although other than Zukin’s study of Soho, there has been little empirical evidence to substantiate these con- cerns). But there has been no scholarly work done on pub- licly supported artist housing programs; nor have any of the cities with artist housing programs measured their impact (although some, such as Boston, have done surveys of local artists prior to developing artist housing).

There is certainly a great deal of anecdotal evidence strongly suggesting that urban stakeholders in many cities seek to attract and retain working artists and that such poli- cies are thought—or hoped—to reap economic benefits. For example, a South Beach developer, whose real estate hold- ings have benefited tremendously from the “discovery” of Miami by the fashion and arts industry, is now underwriting much of the cost of a new, tuition-free, graduate arts pro- gram intended to get artists to “stick around” because “fer- tilizing the creative class is good economic development policy” (quoted in Sokol 2008). Providence, Rhode Island, has held a reception through its Convention and Visitors Bureau for artists thinking of relocating, and the state of Rhode Island offers artist settling in specific areas tax breaks on income generated by their art as a way of attracting artists to cities (Schupbach 2003). At least some of these policies seem to be influenced by the work of Richard Florida, who has claimed that cities with a high percentage of “creative workers” in the labor force are more economically success- ful than other cities. A number of cities and states have cre- ated initiatives to help them attract those who meet Florida’s definition of “creative,” and artists are seen as an important part of this cohort (Florida 2002; Bradford 2004; Peck 2005).

The interest in attracting artists and creative production is clear in local and state policy making but perhaps most evi- dent in efforts to transform specific neighborhoods. As Zukin (1982, 84) notes, before artists had status and art had clear economic value, “it is inconceivable that ‘living like an artist’ would have exerted any appeal to segments of the middle class.” But in recent years, the growing economic and sym- bolic clout of art and its producers helped inject new value into the spaces they inhabited—often in marginal, industrial corners of older cities. Today, the connection between artists and urban real estate appreciation is so universally acknowl- edged it has almost become a cliché. Developers use the term “artist loft” as a marketing tool, creating urban loft-like spaces to appeal to residents whose “creativity” may be more in the area of accounting or gastroenterology than in music or paint- ing, at prices that would be unaffordable to just about anyone actually living on an artist’s wages. When business periodicals like Business Week and Nuwire Investor feature articles with names like “Bohemian Today, High Rent Tomorrow” (Roney 2007) or “How Artists Influence Real Estate Prices” (Winnie 2007), urging real estate investors to “follow the artists” when identifying the next big real estate opportunity, no wonder city officials are interested in figuring out how to bring some of this transformative power to their neighborhoods.

Cont. reading...