Research Digest: Culture and placemaking

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Research Digest: Culture and placemaking

Three people looking at a piece of outdoor public art. The artwork is made up of larger notebook pages. The page to the front of the image has the text: to leaf is
© To Leaf is to Learn - public art by Juanjo Novella and Simon Armitage (Photo by Mark Webster)

By John Wright, Centre for Cultural Value
Ava Podgorski, Centre for Cultural Value
Kyla Tully, Centre for Cultural Value


What is the relationship between culture and placemaking?

This digest brings together research that examines how and why arts and culture play a part in placemaking and what that means for organisations, practitioners, policymakers and funders.

Placemaking has been defined in many ways and from multiple perspectives, often depending on differing agendas from diverse stakeholders. For example, the way residents view making a place where they want to live may be quite different from how a property developer or town planning department thinks about it.

In this digest, we offer a holistic view of these perspectives, while also acknowledging that ideas of “placemaking” and “community” are contested and mean different things to different people.

To discover what we can learn from the current evidence base, read the research digest below, or download (PDF document) by clicking the button at the top of the page.


What do we mean by placemaking?



- Review shaping
- What questions did we ask?
- What we included
- What we didn't include

- Trends in the literature
- Placemaking, regeneration and gentrification
- Mega-events as an approach to placemaking
- Culture, wellbeing and placemaking
- Partnerships, power and collaboration


Studies included in this review


Appendix 1

What do we mean by placemaking?

Placemaking has many different definitions depending on who you ask. As such, we are not attempting to offer an all-encompassing definition here but more of a position from which we can critically analyse the literature and contribute to ongoing conversations on placemaking.

Cara Courage suggests that one of the emerging positions on placemaking is from a neighborhood or community of place perspective: "placemaking is an approach and a set of tools that puts the community front and centre of deciding how their place looks and how it functions" (Courage, 2023).

Although we acknowledge even the word "community" is contested and means different things to different people this gives our research digest a productive starting position.


  • Placemaking happens on a spectrum with different agents, practices, intentions and budgets. Policymakers and governments can see it as a way to drive economic growth through cultural regeneration, such as in Cities of Culture models or mega-events.  
  • Places are not neutral, neither are they fixed. They are made through relationships between people, environments, cultures, traditions and histories. This complexity is a key aspect of placemaking practices.  
  • Placemaking practices can be distinguished from other place-based urban design and planning disciplines because they are transdisciplinary and recognise that they need to bring all parties to the decision table.      
  • The evidence for sustained economic growth through placemaking is contested as it is also highly reliant on many other factors, such as public transport, housing and access to resources.  
  • Cultural mega-events or Cities of Culture should not be seen as a quick fix for structural socio-economic problems within post-industrial cities. They can, however, provide a temporary influx of resources that help build networks, deliver otherwise unattainable opportunities and act as a catalyst for change.  
  • The economic motivations driving the bidding process for mega-events and Cities of Culture may distract from the placemaking opportunities afforded to cities holding such titles.  
  • Studies suggest grassroots approaches to placemaking had more positive socio-economic outcomes than initiatives developed by non-local stakeholders. It is also worth noting placemaking practices within grassroots contexts are as much about social processes than tangible outputs. 
  • Brokering collaborations between residents, communities, policymakers, funders and private sector companies is often an essential part of placemaking. It is vital that this work involves careful consideration of the power dynamics in and between different parties to help dissolve imbalances and inequities. Otherwise, there is an acute danger that placemaking work will become exploitative and even destructive.  
  • Researchers and policymakers need to bring in the voices and perspectives of local residents when exploring the effects of gentrification.    
  • Culture and placemaking research points to "a sense of place" being a key factor in people’s positive wellbeing.  
  • Placemaking studies tend to use the term ‘creative’ not necessarily to mean arts-based or culture-based but rather collaborative in nature. This highlights that social processes carry significant value and are prioritised within placemaking studies.         
  • Combining quantitative and qualitative data is key to developing a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the impact of culture and placemaking on wellbeing.  
  • Placemaking policy and research focus overwhelmingly on cities. More work needs to be done to understand the role and impact of arts and culture in placemaking in towns, provinces and rural areas. 


Placemaking is a relatively recent field of study that began to gain traction in the 1990s and has had a surge in interest since the 2010s. In practice, indigenous knowledge of places is hundreds of thousands of years old, but the concept of placemaking was only introduced in the 1960s.  

To start it was widely used in architecture, urban design and public spaces planning. In these contexts, placemaking focused on cities and how to make them fit for people to live in.  

William ‘Holly’ Whyte and Jane Jacobs were prominent figures in this movement to make cities liveable for people. Jacobs wrote that: “The main responsibility of city planning, and design should be to develop […] cities that are congenial places for [a] great range of unofficial plans, ideas, and opportunities to flourish” (Jacobs, 1961) 

The ideas and concepts within Jacobs’ writing are still very relevant in our current context. Jacobs, and others within the wider urban design movement, have been credited with the ideas and practice of what has become associated with the term placemaking.  

The use of the term has now become prevalent across different fields of study and research. Equally, it is used by diverse cultural practitioners, policymakers, community-led organisations and artists. Wider adoption of the term has resulted in placemaking being attributed to many different things by a wide range of stakeholders.         

An audience on a hill: a family of five sat on a hill watch a "civil war" event happening below them at Pontefract CastlePontefract Castle - Civil Wars event (Photo by Sarah Zagni)

Creative placemaking emerged from US policy and was developed by the Obama-led National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).  

In 2010, Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa published a white paper that presented a definition of the term ‘creative placemaking’. Markusen and Gadwa looked at how different stakeholders and actors, such as “partners from public, private, non-profit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighbourhood, town, city, or region around arts and cultural activities” (Markusen, 2010) 

The white paper drew upon 20 years of research into placemaking in the US and made the case for creative placemaking as both an economic driver and a mechanism for social change. It is worth noting that this white paper received criticism for not adequately factoring in aspects such as power, race and class within its findings.  

Placemaking has received critical attention from academics, artists and activists. Research has linked it with gentrification processes, neo-colonialist underpinnings, a lack of critical understanding of already marginalised people’s experiences and, at worst, the active displacement of people: “at their worst, ‘place-based’ arts projects dispossess socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and continue the hegemonic momentum of Euro-American cultural expansionism” (Wilbur, 2015) 

These complexities mean that the term is contested, with many researchers and cultural practitioners adopting different phrases such as ‘place-shaping’ and ‘place-guarding’ to shift the emphasis away from these connotations. However, work is ongoing to readdress the term by bringing these realities to the fore. This will help critically frame placemaking in terms of both its history and its theoretical and practical usefulness for many different aspects of society.   


Review shaping

Our consultation process included open, online question scoping, roundtables with stakeholders, and members of the team attending key place-based events and conferences. Our approach uncovered a wide range of interest in placemaking.  

Five key interrelated themes emerged:  

  • Creative placemaking and regeneration   
  • Gentrification and placemaking 
  • Approaches to placemaking  
  • Wellbeing and placemaking  
  • Placemaking and its relationship with power 

What questions did we ask?

Based on our consultation exercises, we asked the following questions to help guide our analysis: 

  • Who should lead on placemaking?  
  • What is the relationship between placemaking, culture and regeneration?  
  • To what extent has creative placemaking led to gentrification?  
  • What is the impact of cultural mega-events on place? 
  • What literature exists on the relationship between culture, placemaking and wellbeing? 

Full details of the research sources used for this digest are included in the literature database, which is available from the link below.

Read: Research Digest - Culture and Placemaking (Full Bibliography)

What we included

We conducted a rapid review of the peer-reviewed studies, using a systematic approach to identify relevant literature. The search terms were based on the questions and areas of interest identified through our consultation process.  

Accordingly, this digest focuses on the interrelationship between culture, placemaking and regeneration. We address interrelated themes of wellbeing and the impact of cultural mega-events such as Cities of Culture (CoC).1

In total, 647 articles were reviewed in our study. This was then narrowed down to 126 using specific search terms (see Appendix 1) and enhanced by: 

The literature we reviewed was published between 1 January 2013 and 31 August 2023 to provide a snapshot of the most recent research and evidence. We also asked experts to make suggestions for literature that had not been identified within database searches. 

What we didn't include

This review does not attempt to define what ‘place’ is. Likewise, the public conversation on place is vast, covering a broad range of subject matters that this digest cannot adequately capture. Nor does this digest explicitly focus on the ecological and environmental implications of placemaking because the literature in this area is so extensive it warrants its own space. We will address this growing body of literature in a forthcoming digest.  

The literature we reviewed was also limited to the English language.


Trends in the literature

We reviewed 126 studies ranging across 26 different countries, with the United States of America (US) having the largest share at 27. Eighty-four percent of the studies2 were carried out in Western countries. This was closely followed by those involving multiple countries, of which only two were in the Global South.   

Study review map: A heat map showing where studies included in this digest came from, reflecting that the USA brought in the largest share of studies, with 84% of studies coming from Western countries.Figure 1: a map illustrating where studies for this research digest were drawn from

This trend correlates with the coining of the term ‘creative placemaking’ in the US and a growing focus on placemaking in the UK, Europe and Australia from policymakers, funders, artists, localised cultural organisations and, to some extent, community-led groups.  

However, it does mean that research and any policy recommendations emerging from these studies are very Western-centric. They are, therefore, not globally representative and may not meet the needs of peoples and cultures in the Global South.    

We found that 45 of the studies we reviewed employed some form of ethnographic research methodology. This is a term used to capture a range of different methods that involve researchers immersing themselves within a given place, community or environment. The large proportion of studies using this approach was unsurprising given the focus on specific places, as both case study and ethnographic approaches lend themselves to these forms of research. 

Although some key placemaking literature, such as Creative Placemaking: Research, Theory and Practice (Courage, 2019), explores artists’ and cultural workers' relationships with placemaking, we found the majority of the studies focused on audiences, visitors, communities, citizens and participants rather than directly on cultural workers or artists. This presents challenges for both research and policymakers in understanding the nuances of how different cultural producers within cultural ecologies respond to placemaking processes.    

The literature is overwhelmingly focused on urban and city environments with only 13% of studies focused on towns, provinces and rural areas. Of those studies, only three focused on in-depth qualitative engagement with rural cultural ecologies. This represents a clear gap in the research but also highlights a trend in placemaking policy, which is overwhelmingly city-centric.  

The studies point to the concept of the ‘creative city’ and the ‘creative class’ as greatly influencing policymaking and the cultural and creative sectors in the first decade of the 21st century. Developed, in part, by Richard Florida (2003), the research positioned the city as the centre of creativity, effectively creating hierarchies between places.3

Placemaking, regeneration and gentrification

Regeneration is often framed throughout the literature as the combination of vision and action toward the improvement of an area – such as a neighbourhood or a city – for different stakeholders, including established or incoming residents and tourists.  

The surveyed texts that looked at culture, placemaking and regeneration focused attention on the benefits of placemaking initiatives in urban areas. Key themes within the aims of these interventions included the redesign of public spaces, the repurposing of former industrial buildings, and the development of new businesses and residential areas to increase economic activity and enhance the area's identity.  

Whether focused on investment in mega-events and cultural infrastructure or supporting informal community-based craft groups, the legacies of urban placemaking in cities such as Athens (Karachalis, 2021), Liverpool (Platt, 2019) and Beijing (Li and Liu, 2019) are undertaken with the shared goal of facilitating a positive impact within a particular setting. 

Street art in Hull: people walk down a street in Hull decorated with bunting and street art on the building walls, including a smiling face shaped like the sun. Street art in Hull, a former UK City of Culture in 2017.

Two distinct categorisations of approaches to regeneration through placemaking were evident in the studies reviewed:  

  • a ‘top-down’ pattern in which a regional-level or higher government leads the design of a regeneration policy; 
  • a ‘bottom-up’ pattern in which resident groups take the lead in developing projects.  

Throughout the surveyed studies, ‘bottom-up’ approaches to placemaking and regeneration initiatives were found to be more favourable than initiatives developed by non-local stakeholders.  

An example of the differences in approach are demonstrated within Li and Liu’s (2019) study of placemaking within regeneration efforts in Guangzhou, China. This notes that policymakers' formal designation of creative and cultural districts is more likely to facilitate the establishment of “highly commercialised marketplaces barely exhibiting any sign of creative activities” (p. 394), compared to community-led investments in placemaking.  

This case study suggests that positive socio-economic impacts, such as improved community-building between established and incoming residents and increased entrepreneurial opportunities, are more likely to result from grassroots placemaking efforts as compared to formalised ‘top-down’ approaches.  

Placemaking initiatives led by external stakeholders are further credited with being more likely to contribute to processes of gentrification. The relationship between placemaking and gentrification within regeneration schemes is a reoccurring theme. As outlined within Pritchard’s (2019) observations on the use of art in both the development and preservation of place, within recent years placemaking has been continually identified as an effective means of gentrification.  

What do we mean by regeneration and gentrification?

Neither regeneration or gentrification can be neatly defined, as both terms come with a range of connotations for different groups.

Generally speaking, gentrification refers to the process by which working class or global majority people are displaced through private capital by predominantly middle-class residential and commercial property development. This tends to happen in areas that are deemed by governments and states as being socio-economically deprived.

When speaking of regeneration this often means the act of improving an area for economic or social change. The main aim is to reduce inequality in an area through sustainable investment in things like infrastructure and housing with the needs of local residents and communities at its core.

The extent of this is demonstrated throughout the surveyed texts, most clearly by Nieuwland and Lavanga (2021) in their study on the role of creative entrepreneurs in sustainable neighbourhood development in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Linking the establishment of creative districts and remodelled public spaces with the economic benefits of increased tourism, the research found that creative and cultural producers were aware that their presence in both a business and residential capacity created an expectation of improvement to the neighbourhood. 

Importantly, this finding highlights that many of these schemes do not serve the interests of the majority of residents and incoming visitors. Instead, they are focused on increasing economic productivity and reflect a standardised focus on the creative and cultural sectors within regeneration initiatives.  

However, despite the depicted awareness of the impacts of placemaking related to gentrification, the perspectives of local residents are notably absent throughout the research. Many of the studies reflect upon this within addressing the limitations of the individual research projects. They suggest that the positive impacts of placemaking are predominantly linked to the perceptions of arts and culture stakeholders rather than reflections from residents.  

The most explicit example of this occurs with Paul and Bloomfield’s (2020) examination of cultural literacy among landscape architecture students in Auckland. While discussing their role within placemaking and regeneration interventions to public spaces, Paul and Bloomfield note a limited range of social, economic and cultural interests represented among stakeholders involved in the planning and implementation of such interventions.  

In raising observations of the relationship between placemaking, regeneration and gentrification, it is important to note the lack of a shared definition surrounding the methods that constitute placemaking.  

A small selection of the reviewed research refers to explicit creative or cultural practices, such as Platt’s (2019) focus on the role of knitting and crochet groups in community development in Liverpool, and Matthews and Gadaloff’s (2021) reference to the use of street art, more specifically murals, within Australian placemaking initiatives.  

However, the main understanding of placemaking throughout the studies appears to frame ‘creative’ as not necessarily arts-based or culture-based, but rather collaborative in nature.  

A Turin case study by Caneparo and Bonavero (2016) provides an interesting demonstration of this, wherein the interactive and collaborative elements of the observed placemaking project are emphasised as “co-creative processes” (p.206). Arts-based methods of engagement such as drawings and photographs are used within the project, yet these are framed purely as approaches to information gathering.  

Although not within the scope of this digest to define creativity or creative methods, the nebulous understanding of creativity highlights a point of consideration within its perceived benefits. This highlights that placemaking practices within grassroots contexts are as much about social processes than tangible outputs. This is similar to findings from our research digest into the social role of the artist 

Examining the benefits of placemaking relating to regeneration, the improvements observed within the reviewed research are predominantly linked to the economic benefits of entrepreneurial and business efforts.  

Darchen’s (2013) analysis of creative-led regeneration schemes in Canada exemplifies this, joining up efforts to attract workers from the tech and film industries with the development of business areas and increased high-end retail activities. As such, more explicit links need to be made within placemaking and regeneration research regarding creative practices and their contribution to social and cultural value. 

Mega-events as an approach to placemaking

As might be anticipated, there are many ways that placemaking can be approached. The suitability of these approaches will differ depending on many factors, such as intention, scale, locality and the relationship the placemakers have with any given place.  

The academic literature on Cities of Culture often intersects with key concepts associated with placemaking such as cultural policy, marketing or branding, heritage and regeneration. However, many papers are essentially case studies on specific cities and do not explicitly draw comparisons between different years and cities or use the term placemaking.  

Within the UK, a large-scale and high-profile example of an approach to placemaking adopted by local government officials is seen in mega-events such as the UK City of Culture. In this context, placemaking as a term has been retrospectively applied to the Cities of Culture model due to the UK governments policy focus on place.  

The UK City of Culture initiative was inspired by the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) programme, which saw a UK city as titleholder in 1990 (Glasgow) and 2008 (Liverpool).  

Dancing in church: two women smile at each other while dancing in the middle of a church aisle while an audience watches them from the church pews.Derby Feste - DÉDA (Photo by Tom Jeavons)

Glasgow’s ECoC tenure is widely credited as redefining the event as a tool to transform the city’s image. The programme was extended into a year-long set of activities and was an opportunity to regenerate – through culture – a city tarnished by post-industrialism and to accelerate existing efforts to bring about change (Damer, 1990; Garcia, 2005).  

It must be noted that this is more aligned to place branding strategies than explicitly placemaking practices because of a strong focus on tourism. Glasgow’s explicit use of the ECoC for purposes of urban regeneration had a powerful legacy, which is still felt over three decades later. The tactic proved particularly popular with similar post-industrial cities, using the ECoC as a tool of “post-industrial urban renewal through cultural policy implementation” (Liu, 2021, p.8).  

This rationale was adopted by cities such as Dublin (1991), Antwerp (1993), Thessaloniki (1997) which viewed the event as an “attractive catalyst for cultural regeneration” (Garcia, 2005, p.841) that stimulates economic development through culture.   

This stimulus might be using culture for “urban marketing and tourism promotion” (Tallon, 2021, p.136), or the regeneration of public spaces to form sites for “beautiful cities” (Baycan and Girard, 2013, p.279) and attract investment.  

While City of Culture initiatives do have their supporters, there are also critics and those that stress the need for more research into impacts (Garcia, 2013). When evaluating from a purely economic perspective, the evidence is insufficient and lacking in nuance. Moving beyond the econometric, however, some studies evaluate initiatives and embrace a more diverse cultural or social understanding of ‘value’ and ‘impact’ (Oancă et. al., 2023).   

The UK City of Culture programme was developed by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and launched in 2009. The aim was to replicate the perceived success of Liverpool’s ECoC in 2008, with a designation awarded every four years (Cox and O'Brien, 2012; Ploner and Jones, 2020).  

Taking part in Fusion Swansea: a group of school children dance in the middle of a busy street as an audience watches them from the pavement.Fusion Swansea (Photo by Amina Abu-Shahba)

Most recently, the title was awarded to Bradford for 2025, with the bidding process calling for cities to set out a “vision of culture-led regeneration” (UK Government, 2022). The language throughout the guidance from DCMS for cities applying for the title overlaps with placemaking rhetoric. Placemaking is also included explicitly as an assessment criterion on which applications are judged: “A strong and unique vision, which celebrates heritage and uses culture to bring communities together, build a sense of place and inspire local pride.” (see section 16, UK Government, 2022).   

Cities of Culture initiatives are instigated by local governing bodies primarily as a cultural approach to urban regeneration (Macpherson et al., 2015). While the motivations for applying for the title are broad, within the aims of urban regeneration “economic priorities still dominate the rationale for bidding” (Tommarchi, 2022, n.p), with other impacts “considered minor” (Hiller, 1998, p.47).  

It should be noted that many scholars are critical of the view that cultural approaches to urban regeneration, including Cities of Culture initiatives, represent a panacea for structural socio-economic problems within post-industrial cities (Connolly, 2013; Boland et al., 2019; Tallon, 2021; Tommarchi, 2022; Dinardi, 2015).  

Tallon, for example, makes a useful summary of existing research, explaining that while cultural developments can contribute to cities, the risks of gentrification, homogenisation of culture and issues of sustainability are prevalent (Tallon, 2021).  

Importantly, Tommarchi warns of overpromising, and encourages critical thinking when planning such programmes, asking: “what can realistically be achieved through a cultural event”? (Tommarchi, 2022). They further suggest that the economic motivations driving the bidding process may be distracting from the placemaking opportunities afforded to cities holding the City of Culture title, with tensions between the top-down and bottom-up approaches noted by others.   

Scholars and policymakers have long recognised that regeneration and urban development do not occur in siloed sectors, and an integrated approach that combines various departments across local government into one strategic plan is likely to be most effective (Bianchini et al., 1988).  

Mega-events such as Cities of Culture create “temporary generative policy-making environments” (Lauermann, 2016, p.1886) and coalitions – internally, between departments and externally, with partnership organisations. These can offer space for exploratory and iterative policy evolutions to be enacted following a period of evaluation and learning. The Year of Culture model relies on a temporary influx of resources, which can create significant and otherwise unattainable programmatic opportunities to act as a catalyst (Halverstadt and Kerman, 2017; Tommarchi and Bianchini, 2022).  

Culture, wellbeing and placemaking

Wellbeing is often cited as an important aim in placemaking through cultural and artistic activity. In a global context the relationship between health, culture, place and wellbeing is increasingly becoming a hot topic within policy. This is evident from UNESCO's implementation of the UN Sustainability Goals (SDGs) which state that “placing culture at the heart of development policies is the only way to ensure a human-centred, inclusive and equitable development” (Hosagrahar, 2017).4 

The study of the relationship between wellbeing, arts and culture is becoming increasingly visible within arts and health research. We have explored these relationships in our previous research into culture, health and wellbeing (Dowlen, 2023). Yet it is less clear how placemaking features within this growing research area.  

From the studies we reviewed, there is an assumption that a deep connection between art, culture, placemaking and wellbeing exists. Yet there remains a gap in understanding this relationship beyond the specificities of different places. As highlighted by Cheung, Smith and Craven (2022), public art can “promote people’s happiness and improve their mental and physical health through community building and social connectedness” (p.44).   

The authors link public art with wellbeing and seven other themes: economy, culture, innovation, wisdom, society, sustainability and placemaking. This offers an indication of how wellbeing is framed within the placemaking literature because it is often incorporated within a broader set of intrinsic and instrumental values that are prioritised within the studies. This results in wellbeing becoming less significant to the overall study and effectively becoming another social indicator of how different people experience place through culture.     

A person in a red coat walks across ''Comedy Carpet', a large art installation in Blackpool, placed on the ground next to the beach.The 'Comedy Carpet' installation, made by artist Gordon Young, in Blackpool.

Although this speaks to the complexity of wellbeing within culture and placemaking, it presents a major challenge to researchers in capturing and understanding these relationships in many different contexts. Part of the problem is a notable gap in research focusing specifically on the relationship between placemaking, culture and wellbeing, with only 5% of the studies directly exploring this.  

One of these studies presented a small but important qualitative research project into community festivals and their effect on wellbeing (Brownett and Evans, 2020). The study found that wellbeing is connected to multiple aspects of a place by different people. The researchers drew upon a themed-based analysis with four components: cynefin, spaces for participation, being together and transformation.5 In each of these themes “respondents referred to a strong sense of place and belonging, interwoven with memories, stories, history and heritage within the community” (Brownett and Evans, 2020) 

This interwoven aspect is key across the study because it demonstrates that the relationship between wellbeing, culture and placemaking is always changing and is as much about individuals as about collective groups within society. Drawing from interviews with those involved in the festivals, the researchers encouraged ‘thick description’ to get a sense of the participants’ experience of place within the festivals.6  

Studies such as this can both complement and add greater qualitative depth to the various standardised measures for wellbeing such as the UCL Museum Wellbeing Toolkit or continuous household surveys that are already used by governments and sector bodies to support evaluation and research. By doing so, they help us to understand the emotional and social dimensions of wellbeing, culture and placemaking.  

Another important intersecting field of research is coming from the work being undertaken on everyday creativity. Major ongoing projects such as the Everyday Creativity Research Network (UK) and the development of the global Placemaking X project are bringing together researchers, thinkers, creative and cultural workers, and policymakers to begin to understand how our everyday lives make and remake place, alongside the importance of wellbeing in supporting flourishing and healthy ecosystems.  

Despite these studies, networks and reports calling for health and wellbeing to be a cornerstone of both evaluative frameworks and research, there is still a lack of focus beyond the specialist field of arts and health research, and even less within the placemaking literature.  

Overall, the research that does address wellbeing, culture and placemaking points to ‘a sense of place’ being key to people's wellbeing. This sense of place is complex and ties into other slippery terms such as ‘belonging’ and ‘pride’. This has implications for those invested in place-based ecologies because it points to the need for sensitive and collaborative working practices that are not simply siloed within cultural sectors but transect others such as health, education and housing. It also presents yet more evidence for seeing places not as neutral or blank slates but full of life in all its forms.  

Partnerships, power and collaboration 

A key finding from the scoping activity and literature review was that placemaking is most effective when more equitable partnerships and, in some cases, broader collaborative networks form between diverse stakeholders. These tend to be initiated by a ‘bottom-up’ approach but then rapidly engage with local policymakers, funders and agencies.  

An example of this is in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland. In 2011, local residents and artists came together to develop a working partnership with Dumfries and Galloway Council. Their aim was to present a viable business plan to run and further develop a public arts centre in the middle of Dumfries high street in a recently renovated derelict building (Stove, 2020). 

This project galvanised the creation of the Stove Network, a community and arts-led social enterprise and development trust (Wheeler, et al., 2020). Importantly, the Stove Network is an example of how building trust over time between different parties with often competing agendas can be achieved. As stated by the Stove Network, “we need to think differently about who is responsible for, who benefits from, and how we manage and look after our resources, places and environments” (Wheeler, 2023) 

The complexities of the relationships needed to form these types of partnerships through collaborative practices require careful acknowledgement of each party’s capacities and needs at any given time. Consideration of the power dynamics between the different parties involved in place-based projects is vital to establishing equitable collaborations, otherwise there is acute danger that the work will become exploitative and even destructive.  

This is characterised by Courage (2019) as moving beyond the binaries of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom-up’, which is “a key discontent within the field, and which are necessary to devolve power, encourage self-organisation and agency and integrate citizens’ existing placemaking practices” (Courage, 2019).     


Throughout this digest we have looked at the different positions and approaches of those involved in the placemaking process. This is an emergent field and there remains uncertainty around the language used to describe placemaking.  

What seems to be surfacing from the literature is a need for a relational approach by all those involved in placemaking. Given the clear relationship between art and gentrification, great care needs to be taken by funders, policymakers and arts, cultural and heritage organisations when developing and funding place-based culture. 

We have found that top-down approaches that do not consider the needs of local people risk alienating and displacing them. Although placemaking initiated from the bottom-up is seen within the literature as generally more equitable, these approaches can also become about a ‘select few’ that become gatekeepers within specific communities. This can have negative results for residents and those who feel that decisions are being taken without their input and by people with very different agendas. 

Our review tells us that places are not neutral or cannot be viewed as a blank slate. They are full of the complexity of life. This means that all parties involved in placemaking strategies must work with the histories, traditions, memories and stories of any given place.  

We came across many examples of these strategies in practice during our scoping for this digest. The key learning here is that collaborative networks and equitable partnerships between many different stakeholders help to sustain place-based projects longer-term.


1 Some of the literature we included on Cities of Culture was published before 2013. This was included because it represented important findings that have enriched this digest. 

2 By Western countries we refer to the US, Canada, Europe, Australia and Aotearoa/New Zealand

It is worth noting that Florida has since debunked his ideas on the creative city because of hierarchies.    

It is worth noting that culture is currently not an SDG.

5 Cynefin is a Welsh term to describe the “place we feel we belong”, where the people, architecture and environment are familiar. 

6 Thick description is a technique used to understand not only what someone did but also how they felt to get broader contextual information that could be relevant to a given situation.   

Studies included in this review

Bianchini, F., Montgomery, J., Fisher, M. and Worpole, K. 1988. City centres, city cultures: the role of the arts in the revitalisation of towns and cities. Manchester: Centre for Local Economic Strategies. 

Boland, P., Murtagh, B. and Shirlow, P. 2019. Fashioning a City of Culture: 'life and place changing' or '12 month party'? International journal of cultural policy. 25(2), pp. 246-265. 

Brownett, T. and Evans, O. (2020) 'Finding common ground: The conception of community arts festivals as spaces for placemaking', Health & Place, 61, 102254.

Caneparo, L. and F. Bonavero. 2016. Neighborhood regeneration at the grassroots participation: Incubators' co-creative process and system. Archnet-IJAR 10(2) 204-218.  

Cheung, M., Smith, N. and Craven., O. 2022. The Impacts of Public Art on Cities, Places and. The Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society, 52(1), pp. 37-50. 

Connolly, M.G. 2013. The 'Liverpool model(s)': cultural planning, Liverpool and Capital of Culture 2008. International journal of cultural policy, 19(2), pp. 162-181. 

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Community of place An area where people are bound together because they reside, work, visit or otherwise. People tend to spend a continuous portion of their time in these areas.
Equitable Fair and impartial.
Gentrification The process whereby the character of an area is changed by the influx of wealthier, often middleclass people
Grey literature A term used to describe the wide range of different information that is produced outside of traditional publishing and distribution channels. Examples of grey literature could include evaluation reports, blog posts and articles.
Homogenisation The process by where things become uniform or similar.
Institutional systems A system that organises social behaviour by specific and replicable standards.
Neo-Colonialism The use of economic, political and cultural pressures to intentionally control or pressure other countries, states or peoples that where once dependencies or occupied. Please see Oxford English Dictionary definition
Post-Industrial Intergenerational research may study how the behaviour, or cultural engagement, of those belonging to a particular generation compares or is different to those belonging to another generation, i.e. ‘in-between’ generations. 
Professionalisation A process by which a trade or occupation is standardised and regulated. This usually includes the creation of a trade body that can represent its workers.
Public/private funding Public funding is invested in and delivered by governments or states. Private funding comes from companies, individuals and foundations.
Socioeconomic Refers to the combination of financial and social factors in someone’s circumstances.

Appendix 1

Key terms
Placemaking; placeshaping; culture; wellbeing; policy; policymaking; regeneration; experience; place;
evaluation; accessibility;

City of Culture terms
UK Cities of Culture; cultural events; mega events; commonwealth games; European City of Culture;
Olympic games; Eurovision; cultural programme

Published: 2024
Resource type: Research