Public space and urban creativity: the dynamics of places in three cultural neighbourhoods

  • Luís Balula Rutgers University
Keywords: public space, creativity, creative cities, cultural neighbourhoods, economic activities, urban vitality, urban competition, Bairro Alto, Vila Gracia, Vila Madalena


The deterritorialization of the public sphere and emerging social formations in the virtual "public spaces" of network society have been contributing to a significant erosion of collective life in public spaces and traditional urban places. However, alongside this new city of flows, certain central urban areas are distinguished as spaces of reference for the city of places. This study, which aims to contribute to the discussion of the Creative City, analyzes comparatively the dynamics of three of these urban places, informally recognized as "creative neighbourhoods" or "cultural neighbourhoods": Bairro Alto in Lisbon; Vila Gracia in Barcelona; and Vila Madalena in São Paulo. In the first part of the article the theoretical presuppositions of the study are presented: an approach to the theme of urban creativity from the binomial public space / public sphere; recognition of the importance of certain economic activities for the vitality of public spaces; and the hypothesis that the morphology of the public space - determinant of the way in which the people appropriates it - associated with a great concentration of private spaces of public use, contributes decisively to the creativity and competitiveness of the urban territories. The second part of the article describes the three case studies, comparing the dynamics of the public spaces and the private spaces of public use of the three districts in terms of their functionality, accessibility, and morphology; as well as the perception of several key local agents of the relationships between these urban factors and the creativity, vitality, and competitiveness of each neighbourhood. This analysis allows us to identify some of the conditions and opportunities of traditional urban territories to attract and fix creative actors and activities. On the other hand, it also makes it possible to critically examine the possibility of developing new competitive but socially and culturally responsible urban areas.