What does a cultural district actually do? critically reappraising 15 years of cultural district policy in Italy

Massimiliano Nuccio, Davide Ponzini

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Culture-driven urban and regional strategies have grown since the 1980s in Europe and beyond. Countless initiatives for creative clusters, cultural quarters and culture-led urban policies have mushroomed since the mid-1990s. Being exceptionally rich and dense in cultural amenities and institutions, creative production and cultural consumption, Italy seemed to be the natural ground for such a cultural turn in policymaking. In fact, Italy has been the cradle for cultural districts (CDs) since the early 2000s, fostering both analytical and normative speculations and experiments. Despite this richness, a systematic study of CD policy implementation is lacking and several questions are still pending, in Italy as well as in other countries. For example, how diverse are the CD experiences being developed; and what are the aims and core activities, the urban and regional settings and development effects? This paper presents an original survey of 68 experimentations that were officially labelled as ‘cultural districts’ over the last 15 years in Italy: as such it constitutes the first attempt at a nation-wide comprehensive analysis of CD policy. Even though the major importance of CDs as an analytical tool is acknowledged, the evidence gathered in this study shows the fuzziness and inconsistencies in the implementation of CD policy in Italy. The analysis shows the uneven regional geography of CDs, stresses the large variety of contents and promoters and high rate of failure, and the limited degree of specialization and integration with cultural industries. The paper reconsiders critically the policy notion and practice of CDs in Italy and calls for further international scholarly and policy debates.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-424
JournalEuropean Urban and Regional Studies
Issue number4
Early online date3 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Nuccio, M., & Ponzini, D. (2017). What does a cultural district actually do? Critically reappraising 15 years of cultural district policy in Italy. European Urban and Regional Studies, 24(4), 405–424. https://doi.org/10.1177/0969776416643749


  • cluster
  • cultural districts
  • cultural policy
  • fuzzy concept
  • Italy


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