Cultural Quarters as Mechanisms for Urban Regeneration

John Montgomery

This blog reviews the concept of cultural quarters as an approach towards urban regeneration. This is a scholarly work of John Montgomery, who is an urban and city regional planner, specializing in the economy, culture and the design of cities. This scholarly publication discusses the making of place based on culture in broader sense. The publication is divided into two parts. The first part discusses the conceptualizing of cultural quarters, highlighting the most traditional terminology like urban form in broader sense. The second part attempts to discuss the method to preserve and promote cultural production of place and how it can be integrated with economy of place.

The publication begins with the discussion on great cities around the world and what and how are they shaped by and what makes them great cities. Such great cities have identifiable and quarters and cultural entrepreneurs along with planning and policy domain acknowledging such phenomena and work towards their promotion and consumption. The local civic authorities fully realizing the fact the such formation and promotion of cultural quarters will revive and regenerate the declining, especially inner core areas of the city.

The question now is what is cultural quarters and how the author attempts to build the argument of identifying the cultural quarters in a given situation. In order to understand the meaning of cultural quarters, one need to acknowledge that the setting must have first important criteria that place must have living history. Perhaps it is very true that most of the small and medium size towns in India has living history and cultural quarter argument is appropriate and must for understanding of our cities. The second important aspects that governs the conceptualization of cultural quarters is its meaningful relation with place geography. The fine examples are sacred cities and cities driven by local and indigenous economy. The third criteria articulate the mixed-use nature of any setting, which give rise to various kind of social, economic and cultural transaction in various time and situation. It makes place diverse and thriving.  The fourth criteria are about social practices and its placeness situation. While the fifth criteria discuss the character of physical form and quality of its architecture.

The author gives detail account of understanding through activity, built form and meaning as units of analysis. The first criterial broadly discusses the social, cultural and economic aspects of place which requires to be operationalized through diversity of land use, variety in cultural settings, evening cultural economy of the place, small, medium and large enterprises at the same time and place and presence of street life and access to public realm. All listed aspects are an essential pre-requisite for a cultural quarter in making of place with sustainable cultural production method and consumption pattern.  

The character and nuances of urban form is detailed out in consideration as an important attribute. The fine grain morphology means place has small enterprise, mixed-use development and well distributed activity pattern. This aspect is coupled with variety in the building blocks and its capability to adapt the changing function over a period of time. The attributes like permeability, legibility, quality of urban spaces and active frontages are important attributes of urban form to make place socially and culturally interesting.

Jane Jacobs identifies four essential preconditions for urban environments which help promote city diversity: a mixture of primary uses, intensity of the built form, permeability, and a mixture of building types, ages, sizes and conditions

In terms of meaning, good urban places—and by extension cultural quarters—will represent and signal meaning and identity to users and citizens. These aspects contextualize the work of Kevin Lynch on Imageability. This in part reflects a combination of wider cultural processes, values and identities which tend to have emerged over time from associations of events and places. The sense of history, knowledge of history unfolds in time and space, the individual creates both an image of the city and also a frame of reference. This results in both an understanding of the city (its form and legibility) and an image of the city and mobilizes the understanding of its artifacts and architecture. The interrelation of all three aspects have its own story to tell as it unfolds and experiences simultaneously. For, to remain interesting and successful cultural quarters, a good place, a city economy, even an individual enterprise, will need to maintain what it is good at but also to be flexible, highly adaptive and embrace change, new ideas, new ways of doing things and new work.

Failure to do so will mean that the cultural quarter will disappear entirely, else an emblem of former culture ‘decayed heritage’ or homogenous place of global world. The aspects of development and conservation becomes and important side of discussion on cultural quarters as an urban regeneration strategy. In order to do that one needs to build resilience argument to such phenomena of our historic cities.

It is important to stress that a good cultural quarter would contain a unique mixture of these elements and showing capability to adapt finer as well as impactful forces in timeline. He has enumerated the generic list of attributes that requires to be addressed while locating such phenomena in the city or place.

The first attributes belong to the entrepreneur quality of place. The entrepreneur quality of place shall bring about various cultural and social enterprise to the place and also blurs the fine boundary among various aspects of experiences of that place. It is necessary that at any such places, at least has a sizable activity in an area, that occur in the streets, various places and spaces in the city. The second attribute is public realm, that must address the various types and size of activities and provide important setting for social, cultural and economic transactions. The activity and transaction vary from age group, social and cultural background or economic class. The dynamic quality of good cultural quarters is its capabilities to accommodate simultaneously and any given time.

Finally, he summarizes the attributes that hinder the process of formation of an interesting cultural quarter of place. The attributes are relations between activity and urban form, Geography and culture of place, capabilities to produce newer meaning and use over a period of time and dynamic quality of place to adapt and transform. Hence it is important for us to build not only understanding of cultural quarters but also developing resilience strategies and operationalize it as urban regeneration paradigm.

Image Credit: Krvia Post Graduate Program Students: 2018-2020 | Dr. Binti Singh | Manoj Parmar Architects

1 Comment

  1. Very well articulated. In Indian context, the ‘cultural quarter’ collates to the idea from west. A plethora of socio-cultural activities and meanings in relation to the built-form makes our Indian cities qualify as a cultural quarters. But due to planetary urbanisation imposing standard and haphazard developments, a need for place – based cultural quarters is felt for regeneration of our Indian towns and cities.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s