Space in our rapidly expanding cities is under enormous pressure. If, in the coming years, we allow art and culture to lose out too often to the housing challenge, we will be stuck with bare and boring cities for decades to come. Guaranteeing culture a place in our growing cities is a task that municipalities, cultural organisations and real estate parties face together. In this article, we provide 10 suggestions for tackling this challenge together.

How do we guarantee culture a place in our rapidly expanding cities? Cities in which there is a battle for square metres, with sky-high property and land prices. The financial models in which culture plays a leading role are almost impossible to calculate. Often there is no lack of good intentions to give culture makers a place. But as a development progresses, it often proves difficult to put these intentions into practice. It can then happen that the planned incubator is exchanged for a start-up hub after all. This is of course also a form of flexible workspace, but of an entirely different kind. And with an entirely different value.

If we allow culture to lose out too often in the coming years, we will be stuck with dull cities for decades to come. Art and culture keep our cities, communities and neighbourhoods attractive and lively, but also ensure that we as a society can continue to develop and innovate. Guaranteeing culture a place in our growing cities is a challenge that municipalities, cultural producers and creatives and real estate parties face together. But they do not always know how to find each other. In this article, we present 10 ways in which they can meet this challenge together.

  1. Develop a vision for art and culture as a city and involve the cultural sector and real estate parties in this. Determine what you want to stand for as a city when it comes to ats and culture. How does your cultural landscape distinguish itself from other cities? What makes you unique as a city? And how is this reflected in the allocation of culture? In this way, arrive at a long-term vision for the distribution of the available space at city and regional level, and the place of art and culture in it.
  2. Arrange it on time. Include cultural hubs from the starting point in the strategic vison of the area and ensure that these designated places for culture remain, even if short-term interests put the strategic vision under considerable pressure.
  3. Position the cultural hub in the larger development. On the scale of the entire development, there are always parts that are less financially profitable than other parts, but which excel in adding social value. Each component adds its own unique value and should therefore not be traded in just like that.
  4. Work together equally in a development. The municipality, cultural organisations, whether or not represented in a foundation or cooperation, and the real estate parties involved all have their own role and responsibility in the development in question. In practice, the initiator often remains the driving force and the other two parties adopt a wait-and-see attitude. This is far from ideal. Therefore, ensure that all parties feel ownership and act accordingly.


View on Luxor Theater Rotterdam
  1. At the start of the cooperation, formulate the joint ambition, also taking into account the various interests and drivers. This means that all parties involved express their commitment to the interpretation of the location and to their own role in the development. This ambition also helps to keep each other focused during the process.
  2. In the financing model, include all the values that are realised by the cultural hub. This means looking beyond the financial and economic value alone. Also expressly include the social added value. And look beyond the short and medium term for these direct and indirect revenues.
  3. Start the conversation about money as early as possible. This is often the so-called elephant in the room. What do we want from each other? What can the cultural organisations involved pay? What does the developer or real estate owner get in return? Also: in what way does society as a whole profit and how can the city council contribute to realising that added value?
  4. Focus on the unique identity of the specific place when it comes to programming. Determine which specific cultural functions and which producers and cultural initiatives are suited to that spot. What cultural energy is already present in the location? What do residents need? Do not fall into the ‘one-size-fits all’ trap. Copying other successful locations from other districts or cities is doomed to failure.
  5. If possible, start early with placemaking in the area. Like no other, cultural initiatives are able to build a ‘sense of place’ in an area that has yet to find it’s own identity. But do not only deploy them for the temporary. Ensure that these initiatives, the specific location, and the long-term strategic vision for the area are in harmony and grant these pioneers a permanent place.
  6. And finally, a suggestion for municipalities: be as specific as possible when it comes to culture. Create a level playing field by being as specific as possible in a tender about the cultural location you want on that site. Allow the social added value to be more clearly weighed in those tenders and place it on an equal footing with the financial bid. In addition, zoning plans can also help to determine which cultural function can be placed in a particular location.


This article is inspired by talks with Mieke Verschoor-Boisen, Marjo van Schaik, Alexander Ramselaar and Zafer Yurdakul, initiated by Saskia Kluitmans and David Langerak, Utrecht City Council. 

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