Making the most of the European capital of culture. Cultural events and spatial strategies in European port cities

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Since the experience of Glasgow, European City of Culture in 1990, and Barcelona, which hosted the Olympic Games in 1992, European port cities have displayed a growing interest in hosting cultural megaevents – i.e. “large scale cultural (including commercial and sporting) events which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance” (Roche, 2000, p. 1) – as a strategy to trigger or boost urban regeneration and local development (Qu and Spaans, 2009). Mega-events have increasingly been interpreted as chances to accelerate existing urban projects, to encourage discussions about future development scenarios and strategies, to improve local institutional capacities and to raise local communities’ ambition. In other words, cultural mega-events are understood as potential drivers of urban development and as unique occasions for producing positive intangible legacies in the long term. In this context, the European City/Capital of Culture (ECoC) programme has played a crucial role in the last decades. Major European port cities such as Rotterdam and Genoa attempted to capitalise their year as ECoC in order to deliver a renewed image and reposition themselves within global urban networks. Aarhus in Denmark and Paphos in Cyprus are the ECoC 2017, while Valletta and Rijeka have been awarded the title respectively for 2018 and 2020. Liverpool, ECoC in 2008, inspired the UK City of Culture initiative with the aim of extending the positive benefits of event-led and culture-led regeneration to other British cities (DCMS, 2009; ICC, 2012): so far, two port cities have been designated as UK City of Culture, namely Derry-Londonderry in 2013 and Hull in 2017. This interest appears to some extent fostered by a recognition of the potential contribution of cultural mega-events – such as the ECoC – to urban regeneration and development in port cities. In this context, legacy has become a key concept in the rhetoric of the ECoC, while the embeddedness of cultural strategies into long-term planning agenda is increasingly considered a precondition for achieving a positive legacy from the event (Smith, 2012), as well as for cultural mega-events more generally (Bramwell, 1997).
Book of proceedings: Annual AESOP Congress, Spaces of Dialog for Places of Dignity, Lisbon, 11-14th July, 2017
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