City Research Online

Cities: The cultural dimension

Pratt, A.C. (2014). Cities: The cultural dimension. Government Office for Science, Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.


In the last 50 years culture has undergone a dramatic shift in meaning and practice. In the post-War period a narrow social elite set dominant cultural values. The notion became limited to heritage, its material forms, and its conservation; the cultural realm was separate from the economic. Today culture is all of this and more: it is about new ideas, social groups and products, as well as the transformation of existing ones; it is at once economic and social, as well as cultural. Cultural values generally reflect a more diverse and democratic social composition (Marwick 1991). In this period the key term – culture – has undergone repeated interrogation: what is culture, what is its value, and to whom? Moreover, the nature and degree of these terms, and their relationships to the city, have changed. Culture is both embodied in social groups, and in places and spaces. Woven into this cultural transformation cities have also undergone an unprecedented phase of redevelopment and change the world over; arguably, the last 50 years being their most tumultuous, particularly with regards to culture (Hall 1998). The built form of the city is the stage and actor in cultural change, the ‘City Beautiful’ movement of the early twentieth century being a notable example (Olsen 1986). Critically, the provision (and denial) of public spaces has been an important site of social and cultural demonstration that has challenged the regulated and enclosed prestige of buildings (Amin 2008). Such change does not only concern material infrastructure, but also its governance, and relationships with other cities and regions, nationally and internationally. The aim of this paper - to sketch out the possible future cultural dimension of cities - is a challenging task; one where culture in both its old and new forms will have a greater impact than has been previously evident. We preface the review of the past 50 years, which is sub-divided into three temporal sections, with some definitional issues regarding culture, the creative industries in the UK; these two parts constitute the first half of the paper. In broad terms, four iterations of city-culture modalities can be identified: heritage, cultural and creative industries, regeneration, and the experience economy. In the second half of the paper, arising from the review of the past, we identify five drivers of change likely to influence the future (education and income, migration, technology, governance and deindustrialisation); these constitute the platform for developing six scenarios of the future city and its cultural dimensions

Publication Type: Report
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Departments: School of Communication & Creativity > Media, Culture & Creative Industries > Culture & the Creative Industries
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