The current hype about culture-led local development models is causing an increasing interest in cultural policies in the broader context of urban policy. This is not necessarily a transitory situation bound to fade once the hype is over. Under certain conditions, there is room to believe that culture may indeed become a main development driver of urban systems. For this to happen, however, it is necessary to abandon simple mono-causal developmental schemes (such as the ‘creative class’ model) and look for more articulated approaches. This calls in turn for a complex systems-based conceptual framework that is at the same time rich enough to capture the complexity of the interdependences among policy and state variables, and manageable enough to be of practical use, not only for policy design professionals but also for local stakeholders who want to take part in collective decision-making processes. Inclusiveness and collective decision making are almost unavoidable in the case of cultural planning strategies, as the social sustainability of culture-based value creation processes crucially depends on boosting the level of access to cultural opportunities by local residents. In this article we present an approach that may be a tentative first step in this direction.