Culture has become increasingly implicated in regeneration and placemaking in peripheral (sub)urban places in recent years (Richards and Diuf, 2019; Miles, 2020). Whereas discussions about culture-led regeneration and so-called creative cities used to be the reserve of major cities, there is growing evidence that smaller cities and towns such as Paisley are adopting similar strategies. In such places, culture has come to be viewed as an important lever in not only the physical and economic wellbeing of place, but also in achieving more favorable media representations, and ultimately improving area representations (Oakley, 2015).

Culture-led regeneration has, however, split academics and policy makers alike, and garnered substantial critique. Most commonly, culture-led regeneration is criticized for its relationship to gentrification – the process whereby economically disadvantaged residents are displayed due to rising living costs and replaced with wealthier new residents (Pritchard, 2018). More broadly, some scholars have been critical of competitive logic of culture-led regeneration (Mooney, 2004) From this perspective, culture-led regeneration pits cities against one another by constructing elaborate urban spectacles with cultural events, landmarks and facilities. However, there is some evidence to suggest that creative placemaking might provide a provide a more holistic vision for cultural regeneration that goes beyond a narrow focus on economic (re)development (Courage, 2021).

Looking at Paisley, we can see a lot of the hallmarks of culture-led regeneration, from building flagship museums or hosting major cultural events, it is clear that using culture to attract visitors has increasingly been foregrounded as a legitimate tool for economic (re)development within the town. But looking a little closer, we can also see the emergence of a more bespoke approach unique regeneration and placemaking in the town that goes beyond the myriad criticisms that have been made about culture-led regeneration. Between 2019 and 2022, I completed my PhD research which looked at how discourses of cultural regeneration were formed and represented in Paisley. In this blog post, I want to share the main policy insights from my research.

  1. i) Embrace critique – but don’t be limited by it

In many ways, Paisley’s approach has shifted massively since the 2021 UK City of Culture bid, or an initial program of ‘heritage-led’ regeneration was outlined in 2014. There are, of course, a number of reasons for this – such as the flows of practitioners and local politicians in and out of key roles involved with overseeing cultural regeneration in Paisley. However, what has aided the process has been the willingness of stakeholders in Paisley to take stock of their approach in engage with debates. Of course, the input of academics via the CCSE has been a welcome development as well. As a result, Paisley’s approach has managed to shift further away from the often-criticized model of instrumental culture-led regeneration towards a more holistic vision of cultural regeneration that more closely aligns with the values of creative placemaking and sees values in culture beyond the immediate economic development opportunities it may provide. Therefore, the key insight here is to be reflexive – while (discussed below) elements of path dependence, being aware of the shifting academic and cultural policy landscape can help inform best practice.

  1. ii) Post-Industrial Paisley: Representations and Regeneration

Beyond understanding internal debates about the direction of cultural regeneration in Paisley, my research also explored how Paisley has been represented – and how that reflects a deliberate attempt to consciously improve Paisley’s image and reputation (CCSE, n.d). In doing so, there was a notable tendency to invoke images of post-industrial decline in Paisley, particularly centered around Paisley town centre and retail decline. There is a tendency to rely on images and discourses of town centre decline to leverage support, or provide justification, for cultural regeneration. From my research, there are two problems with this approach.

The first problem is that this tends to lend support for more culture-led interventions that are directly, and perhaps, narrowly focused on economic outcomes. This is because the framing of cultural regeneration as response to economic restructuring elides local placemaking concerns in favour of large, flagship projects and developing the visitor economy. The second problem is that this has the unintended effect of reifying, much less subverting, negative area reputations. In sum, it is difficult to challenge negative area reputations with a placemaking practice that frames places as desolate or placeless – a common criticism of creative placemaking more generally (see Mould, 2018). As an alternative, my research has proposed that representations of cultural regeneration need not rely on articulating places as destitute and declining. Rather, there is a more holistic vision whereby an attractive external image is not an end in itself – Paisley’s approach has illustrated a model whereby culture can improve local civic pride and bring communities together. However, this is difficult to achieve when ‘flagship’ newspaper reporting in international publications lean in to negative area stereotypes.

In sum, applying these policy insights my research has found that Paisley’s approach cannot be reduced to either a purely culture-led approach or to the values of creative placemaking. There is an element of path dependence, in that previous policy decisions will continue to influence future policy irrespective of changing direction. In Paisley, the result is a strategy that incorporates both elements of culture-led regeneration and creative placemaking. Perhaps, therefore, Paisley’s path dependence shows the limits of cultural regeneration. But this need not be looked upon negatively, it speaks to a more grounded view of cultural regeneration, in which culture is not a panacea but can help improve wellbeing beyond – though by no means excluding – a narrow economic remit.


Dr Conor Wilson recently completed his PhD based at CCSE. You can read about his research in more detail here.


  • Centre for Culture, Sport and Events. (n.d) Place-Focused Cultural Regeneration. Available at: (Accessed 11 November 2021)
  • Courage, C. (2021) Preface. In: Courage, C., Borrup, T., Jackson, M., McKeown, A., Platt, L., Schuhbach, J. (eds) The Routledge Handbook of placemaking. London: Routledge.
  • Miles, S. (2020) Consuming culture-led regeneration: The rise and fall of democratic urban experience. Space and Polity. Vol. 24(2), pp. 210-224.
  • Mooney, G. (2004) Cultural Policy as Urban Transformation? Critical Reflections on Glasgow, European City of Culture 1990. Local Economy: The Journal of the Local Economy Policy Unit. Vol. 19(4), pp. 327-340.
  • Mould, O. (2018) Against Creativity. London: Verso.
  • Oakley, K. (2015) Creating Space: A re-evaluation of the role of culture in regeneration. London: Arts and Humanities Research Council.
  • Pritchard, S. (2016) Creative placemaking, Or a Violently Anti-Working-Class Vison of the Urban Pastoral. Colouring in Culture, 23rd December. Available at: (Accessed 25 May 2021)
  • Richards, G. and Diuf, L. (2019) Small Cities with Big Dreams: Creative placemaking and Branding Strategies. London: Routledge.