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Incoherence and Tension in Culture-Led Redevelopment


  • I would like to extend my gratitude to Robert Lewis and Deborah Leslie for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Thanks also to the three anonymous IJURR reviewers for their constructive feedback. This research was funded in part by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.


This article contributes to contemporary debates surrounding the outcome of culture-led redevelopment by exploring the tensions that arise when a broad application of ‘culture’ is used to theme space. I take as my focus the Distillery District, a private sector redevelopment in the City of Toronto, Ontario that draws on the arts alongside industrial heritage to heighten consumption. The article is divided into two main sections. I begin with a review of Toronto's shifting arts policies — from a focus on securing space for artistic production to a focus on arts consumption for interurban competition — to contextualize the planning framework underlying the redevelopment of the district. Second, I engage with how diverse and creative interruptions directed by the tenancy run against the unifying grain of the redevelopment process. While culture and creativity are drawn into a strategy of place-making for the purpose of place distinction, an incongruous festival and events season, and the tokenistic inclusion of cultural producers to satisfy a public appetite for the creative process, complicate these descriptors of space. Ultimately, the representation of the Distillery as a premier centre for ‘arts, culture, and entertainment’ is unravelled by multimodal ways of seeing and experiencing culture and place.