Making places through creative tourism?

Greg Richards

Places around the world are often caught in a mindset of global competition. Many cities are convinced that they need to compete with other places, near and far, in a zero-sum game. If new residents, visitors, or investors do not come to us, they will go to our competitors. In this global competitive environment, cities try to develop effective place branding to position themselves and undertake place marketing campaigns to let the world know where they are and what they represent (van Ham, 2008).

There are significant problems with the current vogue for place branding. First and foremost, it tends to be superficial, concentrating on just one image or story of a place, blocking all alternative voices for the sake of being ‘on brand’. Second, it tends to normalize competition between places as the natural state of things, when in fact one could argue that collaboration is often a better strategy (Richards and Duif, 2018). Third, competing places often confuse ends and means, trying to climb the city ranking tables rather than improving the quality of life for their citizens (Giffinger, Haindlmaier, and Kramar, 2010).

Although place branding and marketing is usually where the big money is, there are alternatives for places that want to put themselves on the map and make themselves better places to live in. The most important of these is ‘placemaking’ as an alternative to place marketing. As Hildreth (2008) has pointed out, marketing and branding simply do not work unless the reality of a place matches the image. He suggests that places that want to be successful should improve their reality, and the image will follow. If a place is good to live in, it will also be good to visit and to invest in.

This is one important reason why there is growing attention nowadays for placemaking. The problem is that while placemaking is in vogue, it is poorly understood, and has even become a contested term (Courage and McKeown, 2018). There are many different definitions, and most of these relate to a fairly narrow concept of placemaking as an intervention in the physical environment of a place. But, as I will argue here, placemaking can be far more than a physical intervention. It is a complete social practice that involves physical change as well as changes in thinking and doing.

This conceptual chapter reviews recent work in the fields of creative and cultural tourism and placemaking to consider how cultural sustainability

Making places through creative tourism? 37 can be supported through the development of creative tourism and creative placemaking.

Towards a definition of placemaking

Historically, placemaking has been the preserve of architects and planners. Not surprisingly, they tend to concentrate on the construction of the built environment, and how this can improve peoples lives. Providing better places to live and work was an ideal of the garden cities movement (Ward, 2005) and ofjane Jacobs (1961). The desire for high-quality living environments could be met, the argument went, by putting people at the centre of the development process. One of the problems now is that many places have already been developed with an eye for tourism, and in some cases over-developed, which has led to a new paradigm of ‘tourism without development’ (Russo and Richards, 2016). Simply building new houses or even retro-fitting old ones is no longer the answer. Making places better these days needs a total re-think of the relationship between people and space and place.

As Erdi-Lelandais (2014) outlines, many scholars have drawn on Lefebvres (1991 [1974]) ideas about the nature of space (Table 3.1). He argued that physical space was just one element of space as a whole. People also make space through their use of it - the ‘lived space’ of everyday life. Planners, designers, and politicians also create ideas about space that influence the way space is viewed and used — the ‘representational space’. Physical space, lived space, and representational space form an essential triad that need to be considered together in the making of places.

This spatial triad underlines the essential link between people, communities, and place. People form an attachment to places through living in them and using them. Ball (2014) argues that:

Placemaking is a concept that emerged to describe the intentional process of activating new or existing public spaces to create that emotional connection. Placemaking, which can take many forms and include a range of activity, activates public space through design, programming, community empowerment, wayfinding, art, marketing - whatever is needed for that particular community. Placemaking is contextual and situational, and whether a project begins with a community’s needs or a specific physical location, it will require a unique recipe.

(no page)

Table 3.1 Lefebvres dimensions of space

Dimension of space

Original French term



Spatial practice

l’espace perçu



Representation of space

l’espace conçu



Spaces of representation

l’espace vécu



Source: Authors elaboration based on Lefebvre (1991).

The importance of this emotional connection to place is increasing as people become more mobile and communities need to find new ways to define themselves. When people in the developed world can be anywhere they choose, the choice of location is an important one. Why here? Why now? Cities around the world therefore compete not just to be the most powerful or the richest place on earth, but also to be the ‘place to be’.

This phenomenon of global mobility has produced a new range of explanations for the success of places. Perhaps most famously, Richard Florida (2002) has suggested that it is no longer the availability of work that attracts people but the creativity of places and other members of the ‘creative class’. Nichols Clark (2003) has also argued that the amenities that places can offer are important in attracting people, including the built infrastructure, cultural facilities, and ‘atmosphere’.

One of the effects of such ideas about the attractiveness of places is that big cities tend to be the favoured locations. These are the world cities, the creative hubs, the storehouses of cultural treasures. Florida (2017) has even suggested that today’s major cities are simply not big enough, and that they need to grow bigger to be more efficient and competitive. At the same time, however, there is a countervailing movement towards smaller places. People fed up with sitting in traffic for hours daily and paying a fortune for a cramped apartment in a big city have begun to reassess the benefits of metropolitan living, a process hastened by the COVID-19 crisis.

For example, Lorenzen and Andersen (2007) found that the creative class tended to be more prevalent in cities of between 70,000 and 1.2 million people than in larger cities. The smallest cities cannot provide the range of services demanded by the creative class, but the largest cities are also unattractive because of congestion and high costs. In Canada, Denis-Jacob (2012) also found that the presence of cultural workers is no lower in small cities than in larger ones. Many small places have therefore managed to stop or reverse their previous population decline. Being small, they have managed to make an emotional connection between people and the place they live in, visit, or invest in. These are the places that many people now also want to visit (Richards and Duif, 2018).

Even the smallest places can make themselves attractive if they engage in what Ann Markusen and Anne Gadwa (2010) term ‘creative placemaking’:

In creative placemaking, partners from public, private, nonprofit, and community sectors strategically shape the physical and social character of a neighborhood, town, tribe, city, or region around arts and cultural activities. Creative placemaking animates public and private spaces, rejuvenates structures and streetscapes, improves local business viability and public safety, and brings diverse people together to celebrate, inspire, and be inspired.

(p. 3)

One of the reasons why placemaking can be applied in the smallest of places is that creativity is everywhere, springing from the practices of the everyday.

Making places through creative tourism? 39 As Edensor and Millington (2018) have emphasized, there is a need to re-focus our gaze away from big cities and city centres to consider everyday creativity and the potential for ‘creative citizenship’ in the social connections of smaller communities.

Creative placemaking has arguably seen a policy shift in America in which cities and neighbourhoods now take a more holistic approach to planning places and the communities that live in them (Markusen and Gadwa Nicodemus, 2018). Placemaking is increasingly seen as a process, a practice in which a number of key elements are involved. Just as in classic approaches to placemaking, the starting point is often the physical space and tangible resources that make up the cityscape. But physical resources are not enough, because one effect of globalization is that places are beginning to look increasingly similar — the same shops, the same restaurants, the same architecture. Famous architects now work around the globe, often selling similar plans to different cities (Ponzini, Fotev, and Mavaracchio, 2016). This type of‘serial reproduction’ (Richards and Wilson, 2006) is what gives us a feeling of deja vu in many of the places we visit. If the physical space of a city is no longer enough to create distinction, what else do we need?

People feel connected to places because they have meaning. They are special because of the things that happen there, the experiences we have there, and the feelings of identity they create. Our very mobility stimulates us to seek links with and meanings in places. Decades ago, Dean McCannell (1976) and Erik Cohen (1979) illustrated the ways in which modern people were looking for new meanings and identities in their travel consumption. In those days, much of this search for meaning was related to the classic sites of tourism pilgrimage - the famous cathedral, the collections of the major museums. This form of tourism became labelled as ‘cultural tourism’, a form of consumption that today is estimated to account for 40 percent of all international tourism (Richards, 2018). In fact, cultural tourism has become so prevalent that it has ceased to have a meaning for many. Consequently, people are beginning to look for new sources of meaning in the relationships they can build with people in the destination, not just using the photos they can take of famous buildings (Richards, 2021).

But making these kinds of links between the local and global, between tourists in search of meaning and the local meanings of culture, takes a lot of imagination, a lot of creativity. We need to be creative to understand what resources and meanings we can offer to the inquisitive tourist or the global investor. The creativity of places lies not just in the formal structures of the creative industries that are now so popular with governments seeking to stimulate economic development (OECD, 2014). Creativity also lies in the everyday life of places, in the daily rhythms of work and play, in the ingenious ways in which people have adapted to the world around them. Usually, these things are almost invisible to the ‘locals’, like water is to the fish that swim in it. In order to frame their creativity for others, places therefore need to think creatively about what they have, and how this could be interesting for others.

What we have

Buildings, people, knowledge

How we do things

Governance, storytelling, branding

Figure 3.1 Elements of placemaking.

Source: Image by author.

Placemaking can therefore be seen as a combination of three essential elements: resources, meaning, and creativity (Figure 3.1). This triad of elements deliberately mirrors the three elements of social practices identified by Shove, Pantzar, and Watson (2012): materials, meaning, and competences. To use a suitable creative example, the practice of painting embraces all of these three elements. Artists need materials to be able to paint in the first place: paint, brushes, and canvas. They also need a certain level of skill or competence to be able to use these materials to produce a recognizable picture. But the picture gains meaning through being exposed to the critical eyes of the audience. To the uninitiated, Barnett Newmans “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III?” is just a canvas covered mainly in red paint. But to the trained art expert it is one of the defining pieces of contemporary art — a statement about art itself (Newman, 1992). Only a combination of all three elements of the social practice produces something that can be seen as a work of art.

Placemaking is also an art, particularly if we consider what Markusen and Gadwa (2010) have termed ‘creative placemaking’. The problem is that too many places have bought into the rhetoric of ‘creative cities’ and the ‘creative industries’, seeing artists, architects, and other members of the ‘creative class’ as central to the process. Although there are members of the creative class

Making places through creative tourism? 41 everywhere, even in the most remote places (Brouder, 2012), most places simply do not have the concentration of artists that will feed a creative cluster or crowd a biennale. In the eyes of creative class and creative industries analysts such as Richard Florida and Allen Scott, only big cities can really claim to be creative hubs.

But this ignores the everyday creativity that is present in all places and which visitors also increasingly want to experience. The everyday creativity that is embedded in local lifestyles is what makes most places. It is found in crafts, pastimes, the visual arts, music, and literature. These among the aspects of creativity that keep places distinctive in a globalizing world.

These were also the types of creativity that inspired the original concept of ‘creative tourism’, defined as:

Tourism which offers visitors the opportunity to develop their creative potential through active participation in learning experiences which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are undertaken.

(Richards and Raymond, 2000, p. 18)

This definition was based on the idea that tourists could develop a relationship with the places they visited through learning about local creativity. Originally, we thought about this in terms of formal learning, such as courses or workshops. But as we gained more experience with the concept, we realized that most people do not want to spend all of their holiday in a classroom or atelier. What most people want is an experience, a taster of creativity that will enable them to develop their own knowledge and skills as well as provide a relationship with the people they are visiting. The most memorable part of a cookery class is usually not the recipe or even the food, but the people who were teaching you their creative skills. This was when we began to see that creative tourism was not just about learning, but also about creating relationships. Creative tourism seems to work particularly well in the ‘lived space’ of the everyday, where people can encounter one another on an equal footing. Creative tourism can, therefore, also be a form of‘relational tourism’ (Richards, 2014).

The relationships formed via creative tourism also tend to be of a particular type. People tend to seek out the ‘local’ creative, often their equal in terms of knowledge and skills, but embedded in a different local context. One could argue that the local has become the new touchstone of authenticity or originality (Russo and Richards, 2016). We want to go where the locals go, do what they do, experience as they do. The ‘live like a local’ phenomenon is now widespread on the Internet via sites such as ‘Spotted by Locals’. Even global companies such as Airbnb offer their clients the chance to ‘belong anywhere’ and enjoy experiences curated by local hosts. But the reality of this kind of ‘relationship’ is often a brief encounter with a gentrifying property' developer or one of their staff, who hands over the key's and a guide to local restaurants before heading to the next client.

Much more sustainable portals to the local are provided by creative links. People who want to share their creativity and skills with each other are likely to form more lasting relationships than glorified key keepers. Learning a skill involves extensive face-to-face contact with those who have the skills we are seeking. The focus on skills also mitigates the problem of the language barrier that usually restricts entry to the tourist market. Sharing interests in a skill is a great leveller — it removes barriers of gender, class, and origin. The common (often non-verbal) language of making and doing carries an enormous amount of meaning (Sennett, 2008).

Creative skills and knowledge are also widely present in the host community. People are usually not looking for ‘experts’, but people with whom they can share an emotional link to a creative process and therefore the place they are in. In this sense, the act of‘doing’ is key. Crispin Raymond (2007) summarized the essence of creative tourism with a saying from Confucius: ‘I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand’. It is the doing that is essential in social practices (Baerenholdt, 2017). By doing things together we share information, ideas, and feelings. This is very different from the normal range of interactions of tourists and locals, which tend to be acted out in a scripted way at reception desks or restaurant tables.

Creative tourism as a form of sharing experiences and skills between tourists and locals moves the focus of tourism into the sphere of daily life. This is enriching for the tourist experience but it also increases the vulnerability of local culture. When sharing a creative process it is much more difficult to confine tourists to the ‘front stage’; they want a backstage pass. But you have to be confident that those who share a creative enthusiasm will be relatively small in number and positive in demeanour.

Placemaking through creative tourism

If we view placemaking as a practice that unites the elements of resources, meaning, and creativity, then we can start to chart the potential contributions of creative tourism to this process.

In terms of resources, creative tourism is often a way of conserving those things that the local community might otherwise be in danger of losing. Very often, the everyday creative skills of the community are losing ground to new areas of creativity that are more attractive to young people. One way to get them interested in the creative legacy of the community is to show why it is important and how it can generate future resources and possibilities. By introducing tourists to the creative products and processes of the community, these can be valorized and new generations can find new ways of interacting with them. This was one of the original inspirations for the creative tourism concept — the re-discovery of traditional craft skills in the Alto Minho region of Portugal, in Crete in Greece, and in Finnish Lapland through the EUROTEX Project (Richards, 1999). By taking traditional crafts and retro-fitting them to be attractive to new generations, the pool of craft producers could be expanded and the potential tourism market as well.

In terms of meaning, the development of creative tourism generated new ways of looking at the relationship between communities and the areas they lived in. Through EUROTEX, textile crafts suddenly became a source of income. More importantly, the fact that tourists were coming to learn traditional skills changed the meaning of the tourist—local relationship from hostguest, or server and served, into a relationship of equals - people interested in the same skills and creative processes. Creative tourism also became attached to new meanings as an alternative to ‘mass cultural tourism’ and as a touchstone for authenticity.

This led to the realization that creative tourism could be an important path for placemaking, and that the use of tourism to identify, concentrate, and harness creativity was an important potential means for making places better. If we view creative tourism as a practice, as a means of doing, then the power of creative tourism compared to more conventional forms of tourism becomes more evident. When we examine the practice of creative tourism more closely, we also begin to identify the essential elements of practice that make it different. Going back to our triad of placemaking, the action of developing creative tourism also falls into three basic areas:

  • 1 ‘what we have’, including materials, people, and the knowledge endowments of a place;
  • 2 ‘how we do things’, which encompasses the application of creativity to the use of our resources, including governance modes and the representational nature of place;
  • 3 ‘what we do’ to implement knowledge and creativity-related policies and projects.

These principles were recently well illustrated in the case of the Dutch city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (or Den Bosch) in their staging of celebrations for the 5OOth anniversary of the death of the painter Hieronymus Bosch (Richards, 2017; Richards and Duif, 2018). The interesting challenge for Den Bosch is that it had no pictures by Bosch in the city itself, as his paintings are scattered in museums all over the world. It needed to develop a creative tourism product based entirely on intangible assets, including the artistic creativity inspired by Bosch’s work and the storytelling potential of the city being his birthplace (Marques, 2013). So the city formed a network of Bosch Cities in order to create global leverage by bringing together all the cities with works by Bosch. It then mounted a Bosch Research and Restoration Project designed to generate new knowledge about Bosch’s work and to restore many of his surviving paintings. To participate in the project (and have their paintings restored for free), all the other cities needed to do was to lend their paintings to Den Bosch in 2016. This enabled Den Bosch to secure sufficient paintings to mount the largest exhibition ever of his work. The exhibition attracted over 420,000 visitors to the city, generating an enormous economic, cultural, and social impact. This process included a clear assessment of ‘what we have’ (or to begin with ‘what we don’t have’) and then established a creative ‘way of doing things’ in order to support the eventual development of a cultural programme for 2016.

Another interesting example is provided by the city of Santa Fe in the United States which, even though it is a small city in the middle of the desert, has become an important destination for artists and art tourists from around the world (OECD, 2014; Richards and Duif, 2018). The basic resource that the city had originally was also largely intangible — the desert and its landscapes and climate attracted artistic people who then began creating artistic institutions. Most importantly, the Santa Fe Opera House, established in 1956, has been a major draw for artists and visitors. Unlike a conventional opera house, the sides are open to the elements, providing a unique link between art and place, hailed by the New Yorker as “A miracle in the desert.”

In 2005, Santa Fe strengthened its international links by becoming a UNESCO Creative City in Design, Crafts, and Folk Art, becoming the first U.S. city in the UNESCO network. This was followed by the development of a creative tourism programme and the hosting of the 2008 International Conference on Creative Tourism. The city also hosts many other art-related events, including the International Folk Art Market, the largest of its kind in the world, attracting 20,000 visitors a year. In 2011, the city launched “DIY Santa Fe Art Month.” The creative tourism programme proved to be a major support for local artists, generating over $1 million income for those directly involved in the programme (Hanifl, 2015). This figure excludes some of the most prominent members of the programme, such as Santa Fe Photographic Workshops, the Santa Fe School of Cooking, and the Ghost Ranch Education and Retreat Center, all of which attract considerable numbers of creative tourists. But the benefits of creative tourism go beyond the purely economic because it also had the effect of raising awareness of the creativity of the city, developing links between creative makers and supporting the general arts scene in Santa Fe. Brent Hanifl s research concludes:

Creative tourism is thriving and vital in Santa Fe, NM due to gallery competition and limited employment opportunities, creative tourism creates value for artists to become, and continue to be, entrepreneurs, therefore diversifying income for artists. Creative tourism provides a resource for tourism and cultural entities to collaborate to build a unique destination.

(2015, p. 82)

The development of creative tourism has been one of the important inspirations for completing a new vision called “Culture Connects: Santa Fe” (Santa Fe Arts Commission, 2016). This is not just about art or creative tourism, but is a community-based vision of creative placemaking: “Through a series of creative, hands-on input sessions, we explored notions of culture, shared our dreams for Santa Fes future and created a ‘roadmap’ to realize our vision.” A prototype asset map was developed “to illuminate how the sensory experience of culture is manifested throughout the community” (City of Santa Fe, 2015, no page).

This exercise is an interesting example of how to integrate information about the material city with the lived space of its citizens as well as the representational space that is usually central to the planning process. However, as the Santa Fe project warns, we must be careful to ensure that creative placemaking, and also creative tourism, does not become hijacked by processes of gentrification and commodification. Creative tourism should ensure places are accessible to all, not just the lucky few.

The important principle to be applied here, as Bedoya (2013) suggests, is to establish the ‘aesthetic of belonging’ as the basis of placemaking — not only the aesthetics of the physical space. The interesting question, of course, is what does ‘belonging’ mean in the context of tourism? This is a question that has increasingly intrigued me as my own wanderings have begun to re-frame my role as tourist, ex-pat, resident, and ‘local’. In a very literal sense, for example, the UNWTO (2015) definition of visitors as being away from their ‘normal environment’ for less than a year, means that I am always a visitor or tourist — I am always on the move. So what stake does the tourist have in the places they visit? This is becoming increasingly hotly debated as Airbnb and budget airlines make it increasingly easy to ‘be a local’ anywhere. We see a dramatic growth in mobility, particularly in the younger generation, and this mobility is creating its own forms of mooring in place, such as the co-working space, the Airbnb apartment and the ex-pat Meet-up. The interface of the ‘global nomad’ (Richards, 2015) with the places they visit, dwell, or stay in is by its very nature creative, since it involves a constant negotiation and re-negotiation of identity and sense of belonging. The attachment of the tourist with the places they visit may often be superficial, but they still have a stake. There is a good reason why terrorist attacks have recently shifted to public spaces in the centre of well-visited cities: the Ramblas is a part of every one of us who has been in Barcelona, so an attack there impacts us all.

The concept developed in Barcelona of seeing tourists as ‘temporary citizens’ is an interesting take on the question of belonging for tourists (Richards and Marques, 2018). The temporary citizen is of course a formalistic way of saying to visitors that they can share the city with residents, enjoying the same rights, but also shouldering the same duties with respect to the use of public space and consideration for others. But the less formal and more effective means of belonging lies in the relationality of the place itself, in the fact, as Randall Collins (2004) argues that ‘shared co-presence’ and a common focus of attention creates an ‘emotional energy’ that makes us feel good about ourselves and about being in a place. This emotional energy can already be attained by passive participation in rituals such as visiting the Louvre to view the Mona Lisa. But it can be much greater in situations where we are actively involved in the creative process, particularly when we are connected to others that can share with us the skills, meanings, and understandings attached to the place we are in. This is the type of energy that can lead to very effective creative placemaking.

The challenge is to ensure that the interests, and the focus of attention, of permanent and temporary citizens coincides. Where tourism evolves as a zero-sum game, where the provision of facilities for one group deprives the other, then there will be conflicts. This can be particularly acute when there is competition for basic resources (such as housing), or a perceived threat to peoples culture or identity. As Markusen and Gadwa Nicodemus (2018) note, one of the major challenges of creative placemaking is the problem of displacement - the artists replaced by gentrifiers, the local residents replaced by tourists. Places therefore do not just need to be made, they also need to be protected or ‘place guarded’ against the less desirable side-effects of development, such as gentrification and ‘artwashing’ (Pritchard, 2018).

Cultural sustainability therefore depends not just on conserving culture, but ensuring that there is a shared interest in culture. In the development of cultural tourism to date, we have been able to see tangible culture (most prominently, sites designated as World Cultural Heritage) as a unifying force for humanity (Ooster-beek, 2005). The rise of more relational modes of travel means that visitors increasingly will become involved in the intangible culture of the destination as well. In the form of creative tourism, there is an opportunity to develop this connection through a focus on the shared skills, knowledge, and interests of both permanent and temporary citizens, thereby developing an essential aesthetic of belonging.


In a rapidly globalizing world, the serial reproduction of culture is giving new urgency to the distinction of places. While most places still seek distinction in place marketing and branding, a growing number of communities are realizing that there are alternatives. Most importantly, places need to improve their reality, not their image. If the reality is attractive, the image will be too. The reality of places can be improved through the provision of physical infrastructure, but far more important these days in the development of‘soft infrastructure’and, in particular, the creative skills needed to link the local to the global. Tourism is one important route for doing this, but the flow of people, ideas, and resources has to be locally controllable. It needs to be developed by people who are embedded in the places they come from, and who can help interpret the creative resources of that place to others. This act of sharing can help to stimulate the emotional energy that is needed to drive the placemaking process. In this context, creative tourism is an effective gateway to developing shared experiences between ‘tourists’ and ‘locals’ and ensuring that the creativity of placemaking is maintained.


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