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Cultural Mapping Tools and Co-Design Process: A Content Analysis to Layering Perspectives on the Creative Production of Space

Division of Geography and Tourism, KU Leuven, Celestijnenlaan 200e, BE-3001 Leuven, Belgium
Department of Economics, Ca’ Foscari University, San Giobbe 873, 30123 Venezia, Italy
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2023, 15(6), 5335;
Submission received: 24 January 2023 / Revised: 26 February 2023 / Accepted: 15 March 2023 / Published: 17 March 2023


This study draws on the lessons learned during a summer school on cultural mapping (CM), which linked these methodologies and the co-design process to the city’s re-application to the UNESCO creative city designation. The event implemented artistic and participatory approaches, such as experimental initiatives that focused on the involvement of artists—the main creative producers of space—to foster participatory governance processes and reflect on the validity of the UNESCO label and its inherent monoculture emphasis. A content analysis of the course was done to provide a conceptual analysis of the theory and practice of cultural mapping that is generally under-theorized. By situating the course’s exercises in the theoretical triad of Lefebvre’s social production of space, the article indicates a possible structure for multi-perspective layering toward the participatory practices on the creative production of space. The results show that there is still no consistent way of presenting CM methodologies and processes, and for that CM remains not fully integrated into the planning and development practices of places. The study suggests further investigation on the links between cultural mapping and design science for co-design process crafting, and cultural mapping tool selection according to the different stages of multi-stakeholder work on articulating people-place meanings.

1. Introduction

Since the 1990s, the creative city concept has become an inspirational paradigm and model of orientation for urban planning, management, and politics [1]. The urban theorist Landry, the cultural policy planner Bianchini, and the economist Florida have become the main representatives of what can be conceptualized as the creative city, stressing the importance of culture, creativity, the arts, and the “creative class” in the development of urban areas [2]. In The Creative City: a tool for urban innovators [3], Landry describes how planning should become a more holistic endeavor, combining the perspectives and expertise of spatial planners, architects, and those concerned with the physical hardware of a city, as well as those concerned with the soft and intangible matters. This strategic model is considered a call for imaginative action and public participation and has been further developed by UNESCO and deployed by local and national authorities until now. However, this has been done without much scrutiny, and the public engagement processes in the planning of creative city labeling are often not developed.
The UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) [4] was created, in 2004, to promote cooperation with and among cities that have identified the cultural and creative industries and sectors (CCIs) as strategic drivers for urban development at the local level and cooperating actively at the international level. CCIs include all the sectors with activities that are based on cultural values, as well as individual artistic or collective creative expressions, which are defined under the framework of the Creative Europe program [5]. According to the ESSnet-Culture report [6], CCIs’ occupations include a wide variety of activity/product providers, such as various crafts, jewelry and precious-metal workers, musicians, musical instrument makers, tuners, and technicians, as well as authors, journalists, librarians, archivists, art curators, among many others. However, one of the main limitations of the CCI sector, pointed out by the European Union, is to clearly delimit creative domains of activity (i.e., the literature, music, and film industries). Thus, the complex notion of the CCI system is not yet well explored in the strategy of urban development and planning, and authorities still struggle to implement participatory systems of cultural governance. The assumptions underlying the present models of governance still fail to recognize the potential of cultural and creative workers’ involvement in emancipatory systems thinking within the CCI sector. This is particularly relevant to be analyzed, as the cultural and creative industries are concerned with the generation and communication of the symbolic meaning that embodies or conveys “cultural expressions, irrespective of the commercial value they may have” [7]. As Galloway and Dunlop [8] describe, unpacking these industries “has been found to be rather like a Russian doll; once the layers are discarded at heart, it appears an amorphous entity” (p. 29).
The UCCN provides a divisional structure of the CCI sector, covering seven creative fields: crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts, and music. The main idea behind this is that creative cities are places that reflect a singular creative identity, and the creative development of urban areas that hold this designation is associated with only one creative field, which is placed at the core of the city branding process and urban development [4]. The identity of a place is constructed to distinguish one place from others, referring to its natural features, and the local culture is used in the discourses of politics, governance, city branding, and tourism marketing purposes [9]. In the case of creative city planning, as Duxbury [10] notes, this recipe for urban renewal and cultural re-invention has proven unsuccessful because its approaches “are tailored to large metropolitan centers that tend to neglect issues of social equity and inclusion, dislocation of existing creative communities, and favored big and flashy globally circulating art products, over nurturing approaches to authentic local cultures and heritage” (no page). Cities are living organisms endowed with a variety of creative expressions, with communities of people, and creatives working and making a living on several art forms. Therefore, the monoculture emphasis of the UNESCO Creative City label associated with little public participation presents a strategic dilemma that is worth exploring.
This study investigates cultural mapping (CM), a field of interdisciplinary research and methodological tools for participatory planning and community development. The focus of the research is on tools, as they concern the representations of how humans understand their social and physical environments and relationships [11]. CM is a form of participatory action research (PAR) in which researchers and community members-as-researchers create maps collectively [11] to bring a diverse range of stakeholders into the conversation about the cultural dimensions and potentials of a place, and make visible the ways that local cultural assets, stories, practices, relationships, memories, and rituals constitute places as meaningful locations [12]. As a mode of inquiry, CM intersects two main areas of study and practice. The first documents the cultural and creative assets of a territory by identifying, locating, and quantifying tangible and intangible resources. Hence, from an operational perspective, cultural mapping is “a process of collecting, recording, analyzing, and synthesizing information in order to describe the cultural and creative resources, networks, links, and patterns of usage of a given community or group” [13] (p. 8). The second area is linked with emotional geographies and critical cartography, combining tools of modern cartography with creative practice and arts-based research methodologies to record and represent individual perspectives, and the local knowledge of communities, creating a multivocal narrative of places, bringing stakeholders together in purposeful conversations on the meanings of places [14,15]. From an outcome-purpose perspective, CM provides “an integrated picture of the cultural character, significance, and workings of a place” [16] (p. 1). Taking this into account, a defining aspect of CM methodologies is the participatory co-design approach, which offers opportunities for multi-stakeholder value construction. Therefore, cultural mapping methodologies become emergent as post-representational cartographies and emotional geographies, allowing space to layer multiple perspectives on intangible, emotional, social, and cultural dimensions of a place.
Considering this, the article asks the following question: How can cultural mapping methodologies further our understanding of the involvement of artists in validating creative city designations? More specifically, we investigate the art-informed tools and co-design process used during a course on CM to give visibility to the diversity of the creative activities of a city. Therefore, this study provides insights into the implementation of cultural mapping tools in situ, in the context of the validation of one UNESCO creative city designation. This is a one-time-limited and intensive example of a participatory action research approach to cultural mapping, which supports the complicity of creative communities’ experiences as a valid knowledge space, to understand their potential contribution to the meaning of a creative city. The focus on working with the creative community is precisely because they are the makers/providers of cultural and creative products and activities.
A content analysis of the course is done to examine the cultural mapping theory and practice. This research is among the first studies to explore the nexus between Lefebvre’s spatial constructs and cultural mapping methodologies. By situating the course’s exercises in the theoretical triad of Lefebvre’s social production of space, the article provides a conceptual analysis of the practice of cultural mapping that is generally under-theorized. Moreover, highlighting Lefebvre’s theories in a CM inquiry could further inform its empirical practice, in terms of providing a possible structure for the multi-perspective layering toward participatory practices on the creative representation of space, envisioned by the cultural mapping inquiry.
The paper is organized into six sections. Section 1 introduces the background of this research, placing the question addressed in a broad context while highlighting the purpose of the study. Section 2 includes a description of the methods applied, namely directed qualitative content analysis. Section 3 concerns the literature review on cultural mapping in relation to The Production of Space of Lefebvre [17]. The results and findings are presented in the Section 4. Section 5 includes discussions to respond to the monoculture emphasis of the creative city label, and Section 6 summarizes the article’s main conclusions.

2. Methods

This is a qualitative study directed through content analysis. Directed qualitative content analysis (DQCA) is a research approach commonly used for the analysis of qualitative data across the health care research literature for describing, interpreting, and structuring textual data [14,18]. DQCA has been classified as a deductive and theory-driven process [19], as it is often used in studies that seek to build upon a theoretical framework or conceptual theory. In this research, the theory supporting DQCA is based on Henri Lefebvre’s Production of Space [17], a fundamental work on the metaphysical meanings of space, influencing the development of the cultural mapping inquiry. This method was chosen because this theoretical lens is generally under-theorized. We used the process of directed content analysis suggested by Assarroudi et al. [14] as guidance. The authors divided the process into three phases (preparation, organization, and reporting). However, we did not follow the step-by-step order due to the specificities of this research that are described throughout the process below.

Process of Data Analysis of Qualitative Content

In the preparation phase, we started by identifying and defining the themes and main themes from the existing theory and course materials, and we deductively related Lefebvre’s triadic relationship of social space, with the three parts of the event (shown in the schedule—the activity guiding document of the event). The sampling methods selected were expert and purposive sampling, as this study involved individuals with a high level of knowledge of cultural mapping, and the focus of the study was on a particular group (artists). The participants included the team of international research experts leading the cultural mapping event, doctoral researchers working in the fields of tourism, spatial planning, heritage, cultural policy, creative placemaking, sociology, arts, and urban studies, cultural mapping practitioners working in the private and public sector, and local-based artists at different career stages, working in several creative fields. The content of the course covered the following areas: cultural mapping processes and methodologies, art-informed cultural mapping, place-based meanings, cultural/artistic heritage, and dimensions of care with communities, to apply cultural mapping techniques in practice and connect findings to cultural and creative tourism, and the local development policy of one city in Portugal. This was done through ice-breaking exercises, artistic workshops, daily visits, learning seminars, and hands-on workshops, as well as discussions on community-based cultural and creative tourism, cultural planning, local territorial, and strategic planning, and engaged social change working with communities. The collected materials included the event’s schedule, learning documents, and PowerPoint presentations provided by the summer school organizers, as well as observations and personal reflections through note-taking. Concurrently, we conducted interviews with the local-based artists. However, the interview guide was not developed by us. A general guideline for open-question interviews was predetermined by the organizing team of the summer school and given in accordance with sub-themes outlined in the event’s calendar. The questions were the following:
What connects you to this place?
What inspires you here?
What resources—tangible and intangible—are important to you?
What are the challenges in terms of work and personal life?
What are your aspirations regarding your creative work in the city?
How do your personal aspirations align with the development and plans for the city?
During the organization phase, we transcribed all the content from oral presentations, a question-and-answer session, and interviews, considering these as the units of analysis. After rendering all the materials to writing, we immersed ourselves in the textual data, to obtain a sense of the whole data, and analyzed the manifest and latent content found by simultaneously recurring to the literature to code and sort the data into the predetermined themes and sub-themes. At this stage, we broke the data into three main parts and grouped the coding samples under the higher-order headings (themes and sub-themes), generating categories and subcategories (tools/description) that served as the anchor for the higher-order headings to link the cultural mapping theory and practice. This process was done manually and, to fully make sense of the contents, all the materials were read several times to produce an overall impression of the data until reaching redundancy.
In the reporting phase, we converged all steps of the analyzing process into a conceptual model of content analysis (Figure 1) and reported the results in two tables further below.
The proposed model distinguishes two aspects of meaning: (1) philosophical meaning, to explore the foundations of the theoretical framework; and (2) functional meaning, to detail the participatory process of the cultural mapping practice. Thus, the model is divided into two tables, respectively: theory and process. The first table is theory-guided and outlines the main themes from Lefebvre’s theories of space, while the sub-themes were pre-determined by the team of research experts organizing the event, according to the existing cultural mapping theory. With Table 1, we wanted to check how the cultural mapping sub-themes were related to the main themes, based on the triadic relationship of Lefebvre’s production of space [17], as this knowledge is not yet explicitly validated. In Table 2, we linked the main themes with categories of cultural mapping methodologies to refine the theory underlying the co-design process, as there is a need to expand the existing knowledge and the description of this process from a design science perspective.

3. Theoretical Framework

According to ref. [17], the theoretical underpinnings of cultural mapping are grounded in the ‘spatial turn’ of the social sciences, bringing to the forefront several cultural inquiries, such as the unpacking and development of the idea of sociocultural space [13], and the construction of different meanings on place identity, by several groups of actors ‘perspectives. The identity of a place refers to the subjective descriptions of feelings of identification with specific places, the meanings attributed by their inhabitants and users, and how these meanings contribute to conceptualizations of places [9]. In the context of defining the identity of cities with creativity, through specific creative fields, few studies examined how the so-called “creative class” contributes to the formation of a creative city’s identity, as developing the participatory processes with multiple stakeholders to unfold the meaning of places is quite complex [16]. Thus, there is still the need to investigate deeper how to facilitate the involvement of creative agents/artists and other potential enactment stakeholders’ perspectives in the process of labeling creative cities [15].

3.1. Lefebvre’s Production of Space in the Theoretical Underpinnings of Cultural Mapping

Lefebvre advances a general dialectical understanding of space that offers three main points of view in the process of space production: conceived space, lived space, and perceived space [17]. First, the conceived space (or the physical space) is the space of planning and the quantitative ordering of a territory. This is the domain of spatial planners and policymakers and includes “the production of certain forms of narratives, which encapsulate selected readings of the environment” [17] (p. 37). Second, the lived space (or social space) is formed by the invisible degree of people’s connection/attachment to a place, which also comprises complex symbolisms that are difficult to decode [17] (p. 33). This representational space is a product of a specific society at a specific time, determining the use of space and its social formations [17]. Third, the perceived space (or mental space) is produced by the spatial practice of all users due to their daily interactions and is loaded with symbolism and stimuli, with a visual essence infused with the social reality from which it exists and fits one’s personal experience and perception. For Lefebvre, the three perspectives of space exist simultaneously, interact, and overlap. The symbolisms inherent to the production of space can be decoded through language, the study of practical relationships, and the “interaction between subjects, their space, and surroundings” (p. 18). This is where cultural mapping comes in, as a conversational tool used to combine different human perspectives, symbolic constructions, and interpretations of space to provide knowledge on cultural and creative resources.

3.2. Cultural Mapping Methodologies—Artistic Approaches

Cultural mapping methodologies serve to understand the impact of territories, in which emotions arise while participating in intangible cultural practices, to draw an emotional landscape linking both communities’ perceptions, their living experience, built heritage, and territory [16]. Artistic approaches are a form of socially engaged practice that highlight critical interest in mapping cultures and the creativity of places, in an attempt to tackle issues of artistic production, and social engagement in the strategic planning of places, stressing the role of artists (and arts) as agents for enhancing community self-knowledge on the creative identity of cities [20]. These approaches are present in informal types of communication, such as verbal (oral and written texts), customary (behaviors and rituals), or materials (physical objects), expressed through a wide variety of artistic mediums, such as handicrafts, design, performing arts, music, architectural forms, and many other creative and cultural traditional expressions, to more contemporary approaches. Therefore, the use of artistic mediums is a prerequisite to developing work in this direction. Artistic approaches are usually abstract and expressive of their creators’ and users’ emotions [20] and are embedded in the constructivist approach found in Lefebvre’s production of space [17], in which the materials and the symbolic dimensions of human activity are constitutive elements of a socially organized universe.
Examples of this constructivist approach in research include emotional mapping, to map the affective, sensual, and ephemeral complexity of spaces, focusing on intangible “subtleties’’ (i.e., EmoMap Project [21], Invisible City Project [22], and Mn’M Project—Measuring the Non-Measureable [23]), and cultural mapping with objects (CREATOUR Project 2017 [16]), using these tangible/intangible assets as probes to formulate individual perceptions and attachments to a place, and explore the relationship between the self, the object, and individual experience to make sense of a place.

3.3. Co-Design Approach

Cultural mapping theory explains that its methodologies encompass artistic activities, used both as processes and methods, to bring individuals together to co-design a joint understanding of their cultural and creative resources, stories, practices, relationships, memories, and rituals toward building the meaning(s) and character, to connect with a place [24]. Worth highlighting, is the term “co-design”, as the action verb in cultural mapping, which is not yet well explored from a design science perspective and will be further deconstructed in this study. As a participatory form of inquiry, the co-design process of cultural mapping interweaves knowing, doing, and making, and follows a place-based approach to giving a voice to people and honoring local knowledge. Therefore, cultural mapping focuses on a collaborative design process as a way of seeing, listening, and engaging with communities’ stories, and history, to co-create meaningful place narratives [13]. Moore and Borrup [25] present an overview model of cultural mapping as a process, placing the local community at its center, arguing that cultural assets are best recognized by its members. These authors advocate that “the process itself of getting people together to share resources and stories—and the working relationships that can result—have equal or greater value than the map or inventory of the assets that might be generated” (p. 147).
Co-design is the umbrella term used in the design of cultural mapping projects [24] to refer to the co-creation initiatives among stakeholders. Co-design can be linked to two design science approaches: (1) user-centered design, translated by the users’ knowledge that designers could work with to formulate and conceptualize an idea or service [26]; and (2) participatory design, pioneered by Kristen Nygaard [27], and described as a set of methodologies that include multiple perceptions on the design process. However, these can only be articulated if users are provided with the appropriate tools to express them [28]. Both approaches have been influencing each other over time, marking the way co-design is defined within design science. From this perspective, co-design is broadly understood as the co-creation process of designing with rather than designing for others [26]. Designing with others is a central distinction that underscores the commitment to learning, empowerment, ownership, and the ongoing involvement of actors, as “the people destined to use the system play a critical role in designing it” [29] (p. 11). Therefore, at its roots, co-design is a very political view of design, with a focus on users’ engagement, and the development of relational practices among people, and organizations [27].

4. Results

4.1. Themes

According to Lefebvre’s triadic relationship of social space embedded in the theoretical underpinnings of cultural mapping, three main themes, and related sub-themes, were identified: (1) conceived space—territory, and characteristics of a place; (2) lived space—stories of the (creative) community (and their connections/attachments to a place); and (3) the perceived space—self-perspectives of a place (Table 1).
In Table 2, the main themes are linked with the categories of the cultural mapping methodologies and the tools used to make sense of the co-design process.

4.1.1. Theme 1: Conceived Space—Territory and Characteristics of the Place

  • Field visit and guided tour
During the field visit around the city center, the local historic and contemporary context of the city was introduced. The architect guiding the tour told stories about the founding queen of the Municipality: “one of the most important symbolic figures of the city”. The storytelling during the guided tour was about one of her travels when she saw a group of humble people bathing in hot springs. Intrigued by this, she stopped to learn more about the mud and hot water treatments. The story notes that: “the muddy waters were miraculous: calming pain, and healing wounds”. As the Queen was suffering from a chest ulcer that had no way of closing, she wanted to “test the waters” and saw that everything she had been told was true: she was cured in a few days. Following this, the Queen ordered a building for therapeutic purposes to be built there—the Thermal Hospital, which is one of the main landmarks of the city.
The architect highlighted that since the creation of the Thermal Hospital in the XV century until the XX century: “the ceramic tradition has been a mark of the city’s identity and recognition, national and internationally”.
The XIX century is understood as the golden age period of ceramics, marked by the transition of this craft from a more utilitarian character of kitchen dishes production to the recognition of ceramics as decorative arts. Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro is one of the most famous city artists, and the creator of the ceramic statue Zé Povinho (a national icon), also appointed as the artistic director of the faience factory of the city, establishing the connection between ceramic art and industrial production, which has been continued by his descendants.
  • Seminar on cultural mapping history and contemporary approaches
On the second day, the first cultural mapping scholar gave a seminar on the topic, focusing on the concept’s history and contemporary approaches.
According to the expert: “cultural mapping has come to be a way of recognizing and making visible many tangible and intangible aspects of communities of a place that make it meaningful both for the people who live there and visitors”.
The scholar briefly introduced the process that participants needed to engage in within the following days to conduct cultural mapping and mentioned that: “there is no standard way of presenting the process or a consistent way of managing cultural mapping projects yet”.
Following this seminar, a presentation on the UNESCO creative city application was given by the director of the Cultural Department of the Municipality.
  • Presentation on the UNESCO creative city designation and process description
The director started by telling information about the artistic context of the city, which is based on its “natural features, more specifically soil and water”. The city has 500 years of history of being an important center for “ceramic production” in Portugal. The city is served by two large industrial units as well as around 17 workshops dedicated to this craft, which have shaped not only the city’s educational infrastructures but also its commercial and economic vitality. Above all, the director of the Cultural Department of the Municipality stressed: “the importance of ceramics to the city’s cultural life and heritage”. According to the municipality’s officer, the purpose of labeling the city as a creative city in this specific field is to “find the balance between artisanship and industrial production”.
The creative city’s application procedure is led by the local municipal council and several civil society members and institutions. The application involved several local institutional partners, all of which played an important role in attaining the success of this endeavor. The first stage of the application encompassed the following initiatives: exhibitions, cultural exchanges, conferences, research projects, and concept stores. These actions generated a new momentum of interaction between local agents (both individuals and companies), with little or no previous connections among one another. The cultural department officer also mentioned that “the long-standing tradition of the city’s ceramics (both handcrafted and industrial) prompted the emergence of a new generation of creative designers”.
A last remark mentioned by the director that adds to the potential of the city itself and deserves to be continued is the “stakeholders’ network”, which was referred to as the origin of the creative city application. In addition, the director re-emphasized “the key role of ceramics to the city, without neglecting the other artistic expressions that are so dear to the city, but this art form is important to the community and deserves an attentive look by the local authorities as well as the municipality’s special support”.
  • Question-and-answer session
This presentation was followed by a question-and-answer session, in which the summer school attendees wished to further explore the reasons behind the relevance of this application to the city.
Municipality’s officer: “There is always a symbolic value to anything that is international, especially such a stamp from an organization like UNESCO. I believe this is an extra incentive to do our work and to keep the status of the city as a creative city since UNESCO is like a window through which other people and communities can look at our work. UNESCO Creative Cities is a network of many places throughout the world also awarded the designation, so it gives the benefits of being in an international network, as well as the status of an awarded creative city by UNESCO, pushing the local community to do more and better”.
Moreover, the attendees asked about the influence that a UNESCO creative city designation plays on the creative community of the city.
Municipality’s officer: “This designation plays two levels of influence: the symbolic influence and the networking influence, in the sense, that the authorities are going to promote and organize events and activities to keep the standards of the designation and to promote the city as a creative city, and undoubtedly will involve local artists and creators in this process”.
Finally, the attendees asked about the level of involvement of the creative community in the application process.
Municipality’s officer: “Obviously, when we went through the application process for this UNESCO designation, we didn’t give or have much notice of the locals, as they always do with these things, especially if we talk about culture. Preparing for a huge sports event is one thing, but when we prepare for cultural events, the public at large usually doesn’t get so much involved. But once we attained this award in the past, which was widely publicized, and people got to know about it, of course, they liked to be part of it. Nevertheless, the UNESCO creative city designation is mostly cherished among the creative community then the public at large, but it is something that people like to have as part of their identity and would obviously feel very disappointed if we would lose the designation.”
  • Presentation of the creative hub
The creative hub was introduced by its director as “a multidisciplinary creative platform that hosts the creative mass” coming from the school of arts and design. The former students use the space for “creative business development”, and “networking within the cultural and creative industries sector”. The building used to be the old grinding plant of a factory, appropriated by the creative community in 2010. The students and artists living in the city started giving visibility to the creative hub, through the creation of art events, contributing to the value and visibility of this space, as a creative platform. The presentation was followed by a mapping activity/group work, based on interviews with creative hub-based well-established creators.

4.1.2. Theme 2: Lived Space—Stories of the (Creative) Community and Their Connections/Attachments to a Place

This is the second theme of the cultural mapping process and it included the collection of creative community members’ stories and their connections to the city.
  • Seminar on “Cultural mapping with communities in world heritage sites and vacant urban landscapes”
This seminar was given by a second research expert on the topic, who presented the Artéria project [30], explaining the creation of a cultural programming network of agents from eight cities in the central region of Portugal to foster the circulation of cultural production in the region. The aims of the project were to rediscover places, their identity, and material and immaterial resources through local knowledge using creative and disruptive methodologies, in which the ways of conducting and participating in the research were constantly redesigned and co-constructed. The seminar provided insights into cultural mapping practices and the use of critical and creative thinking as strategies for artistic mapping, as a result of the participatory cultural mapping process. It included key methodological aspects on layering the cultural mapping process of the research process, toward a flexible strategy research design, through integrated research-practice strategies for knowledge exchange, with the involvement of participants (local partners) in knowledge co-creation.
  • Seminar on “Story mapping initiatives in Cape Town, South Africa”
The following seminar was given by one cultural mapping practitioner, with examples of practices in Cape Town, South Africa. The practitioner explained how story mapping can be used as a tool/framework for the professional development of those individuals or groups wishing to make a career in the cultural and creative industries. Worth highlighting from this seminar are the lessons learned by the practitioner, namely the design of a process for cross-organizational collaboration in support of developing a strong cultural plan through relationship building, and investigating the ways to optimize the (cultural) priorities as identified by the community, identify possible sources of external funding for future priority projects, and develop a draft cultural planning framework using the information gathered during the project.
This was followed by applying new knowledge into practice. Therefore, the summer school participants broke out into groups of 4–5 people to conduct interviews with artists at different career stages.
  • Interviews and tools used with the creative hub-based creators
The tools used by the groups to present their findings on the creative hub-based artists included:
  • Business model canvas;
  • Mind mapping;
  • City map;
  • Post-its;
  • Drawing.
The interviews show stories of foreign and national students (Germany, England, Porto, and Lisbon) that came to study arts in the city, with the wish of “becoming artists in different creative fields”. It was observed that the creative hub-based creators develop work in jewelry, painting, graphic design, ceramics, embroidery, and architecture. All interviewees stated that they decided to stay in this city because they found “familiarity” with the city. This familiarity was translated by “carrying art around, using piercings, tattoos, freak hairs, and not feeling judged”. It was also noticeable that the creators and small business owners based in the creative hub are at different stages of development (cases of startup, growth, and maturity stages), and all wish to build successful companies, where one interviewee’s dream is “to have a small factory”. The cultural and creative workers’ stories revealed difficult life trajectories to make a living out of their artwork and pointed out that their biggest challenges concerned living conditions, such as job stability, fair housing rentals, and decent housing conditions. A common need stated by all was business and marketing guidance to strengthen their companies.
  • Story mapping—group work and tools used by young creators/students at ESAD, and well-established artists
The summer school attendees visited the young creators studying at the school of arts and design to map their experience in the city. Story mapping was the main method used for collecting user stories to understand their trajectories and the use of space. The materials used by the groups were city maps, as well as cardboard sheets, recycled papers, sticky notes, color markers, and other office supplies. The results showed that participants experienced difficulties in pinpointing the places they usually go to on the map.
On a second occasion, the groups visited the workshops of well-established creators of the city to also collect the stories of their use of space. The participants showed little interest in using these while telling their stories. Overall, they were more engaged in the storytelling process than in using and marking their trajectory on the physical map. It is important to highlight that some group members had difficulties interacting with the participants (artists) because of the language barrier. Therefore, the interpretation of the story and synthesis of the data collected became difficult to be disseminated. The summer school attendees suggested the use of different, or more interactive, visual representations of spaces, rather than static or satellite maps. Additional group discussions centered around the mapping process and whether it should be conducted after the storytelling session with participants rather than during. This approach would entail researchers conducting the mapping rather than involving participants in the process. The tools used by the groups to present these findings on the artists’ story mapping exercises were:
  • Mind mapping;
  • Sticky notes;
  • Story/journey mapping.

4.1.3. Theme 3: Perceived Space—Self-Perspectives of a Place

  • Learning seminar on recognizing and interpreting maps of lived and living experiences
This was the last theme of the analysis and concerned the summer school attendees’ perceptions of the examined city. This event day started with a seminar on “recognizing and interpreting maps of lived and living experiences”, conducted by three cultural mapping scholars. These research experts employed an interpretative schema based on Kevin Lynch’s five elements of a city—nodes, paths, districts, landmarks, and edges—that give shape to the mental representations of space. Lynch described nodes as the strategic spots in a city: in representing personal journeys, these nodes are more often personified. The paths are routes taken as people engage with their communities. Districts are physical, social, psychological, or class-infused areas for gathering and sharing experiences and identities. Landmarks are external points of orientation, achievement, or validation, often ceremonial in nature. The edges are boundaries and breaks and impediments encountered during the journey.
  • Workshop on emotional mapping
Following this seminar was a workshop on emotional mapping, where a cultural mapping tool was explained by the last cultural mapping expert, to explore an individual’s emotional responses while moving through space, to add a layer of qualitative emotional observations. The EmoMap tool was conceived by 4is [31], a non-profit organization, and a multisectoral interaction platform for the creation of social innovation projects, in the central region of Portugal. Emotional mapping is used to activate, engage with, and diagnose a specific area by collecting emotions, memories, perceptions, needs, and expectations. It is a process open to all (inhabitants, users, and visitors). It consists of the following steps: (1) define an area; (2) participants start at a rallying point; (3) participants walk around and document the area through photos, videos, drawings, audio, and writing; (4) participants meet at a rallying point; (5) participants jointly build the story about your walk (prepare a creative presentation with collected materials); and (6) participants tell stories to others using these materials. Questions included:
How to tell your story;
How was the walk?;
Which meaningful spots/elements have you found?;
What were the emotions felt?;
What surprised you?
The final output was an in-situ multilayered diagnosis—a compilation of emotions, needs, and expectations shared among participants. The tools used by the groups to present these findings on the artists’ story mapping exercises were:
  • Maps;
  • Photos;
  • Videos;
  • Sound recordings;
  • Drawings;
  • Poetry;
  • Stand-up show;
  • Audio walk presentation.
The emotional mapping exercise ended with a group discussion to understand what became visible, and what are the needs, and potentials, to build a joint narrative on the newly collected ideas to existing development activities aiming to attract and sustain a local cultural and creative critical mass in the city. The very last exercise involved all the groups working together, which culminated in an artistic public presentation of the findings to the local population, artists, and key stakeholders. On one hand, the course participants ended up with several forms of qualitative data at hand during (and after) the summer school, and with difficulties in processing it. On the other hand, the local authorities (from the municipality) expressed that they expected a strategic plan developed by the summer school attendees to re-apply for the UNESCO creative city designation. However, the aim of the event was to link all cultural mapping findings to broader local development issues, to the city’s creative city designation, and foster cultural and creative tourism in the municipality.

4.2. Findings and Limitations

The perspective layering of cultural mapping was found to be a key concept for obtaining the meaning of a place, unfolding several points of view of the different groups of people that conceive, live, and perceive the space. The contrasting angles provided a more comprehensive understanding of the complexity of ascribing a city as creative, showing that the conceptualization of such a phenomenon to a singular or narrow viewpoint and narrative is reductionistic and unfinished. The content model developed by this study around Lefebvre’s triad of the production of space helped clarify this idea.
Theme 1 (conceived space—territory, and characteristics of a place) shows that local governance players continue to place ceramic arts at the core of the city’s official (and fixed) narrative, constructing the place’s identity around this single creative field to re-apply to the UNESCO’s designation. Concurrently, the categories, and the tools described in Table 2, can be understood as activities that promoted the characteristics of the physical space, and historical background, following the main discourse conceived by the group of planners (i.e., the walking tour and the visit to the museums guided by the architect indicated the prevalence of ceramic arts). In relation to this, and as stated by Lefebvre, the perspectives on space exist simultaneously and interact and overlap. The symbolisms inherent to the production of a space can be decoded through practical relationships and the “interaction between subjects, their space, and surroundings” (p. 18). Thus, the point of convergence between the conceived and lived spaces is the city’s creative hub. This platform has a great potential for connecting the different groups of actors affecting, and affected by, the city’s creative development to foster multi-stakeholder networks between creatives, policymakers, and governments, as well as to be an incubator and/or accelerator platform for associated creative businesses. However, business development and management tools need to be available to creatives throughout the developmental stages of their entrepreneurial endeavors. In parallel with this, Table 2 shows the strategic tools used during the work developed with the creative hub-based artists that could be implemented for business guidance (i.e., business model canvas).
Theme 2 (lived space—stories of the creative community and their connections/attachments to a place) provides perspective on the lived experiences of the place. First, the involvement of artists in the process of the creative city re-application raised issues of local creative knowledge production, showing that crafts and folk art, namely ceramics, is not the only art medium being developed in the city. Instead, there are several creative fields being developed by creative workers, namely jewelry, painting, graphic design, embroidery, and architecture. Second, the creative community’s challenges regarding precarious work reflect the fragmented state of the CCI sector of a city that wants to brand itself through creativity and be an urban center of the creative economy, without acknowledging the creative community’s production and diversity of artistic expressions. This means that the creative diversity of this city could be better integrated into the planning process of city development, as it is seriously affecting the lived experiences of creatives and the potential to grow their businesses. Worth highlighting from the CM methodologies used in this theme is story mapping, and the difficulties and the lack of interest from the participants in using the city maps to explain their trajectories in the city. This happened for a variety of reasons, such as the lack of knowledge on how to read a map and to find specific places in it. Therefore, the study suggests that in these cases, the process of mapping could be done a posteriori by the researchers involved in the process, with the information collected from participants. This means that the exercise of mapping is not always easy to be done collectively in situ, affecting the level of multi-stakeholder involvement in CM practice.
Theme 3 (perceived space—self-perspectives) included the perspectives of the participants of the summer school, who were visiting the place while developing work with the creative community. These users’ mental space was [17] mostly informed by the work and analysis of the other perspectives of the space. Therefore, these reflections are found in the previous themes. The most relevant tool used in this theme was emotional mapping, as the international group of academics and practitioners rediscovered the place using the five senses to get in touch with their emotions and understand the needs, and potentials, of the creative community in the place. However, language was a barrier both to understanding the local people and to making sense of the place. This is an important finding, as Lefebvre posits it, language becomes social practice [17] (p. 5). In fact, there are several references to language in The Production of Space of Lefebvre. Therefore, to no surprise, language was constantly brought up by the event`s participants to reflect on current practices (i.e., the formal type of communication used by key stakeholders was understood as a limitation to developing work with the creative groups of participants). In line with this, the study found several limitations of layering qualitative data, specifically concerning the participatory processes with creative agents. For instance, local artists were not actively involved in the co-design process per se, as, for instance, they did not participate in the daily iterations carried out by the course’s participants, missing out on the daily synthesis and group presentations. Moreover, while it was inspiring to present qualitative data through artistic forms during the event, one of the main limitations found was that it was extremely challenging to convey, for instance, the content of the audio walk presentation, by the means of a literary medium (such as this article). This means that the latent content on emotional and multi-sensorial subtleties, gathered with the use of art-informed tools, are difficult to be disseminated in writing and seem to get lost in this medium. Therefore, there is still a need to accommodate alternative mediums of research dissemination that direct attention to a hands-on qualitative and creative exploration of meaning, without constraining it to literary exposition. These limitations are not new and are shared among many qualitative researchers, particularly the ones that conduct research through creative practice.

5. Discussion

Creativity is a well-established feature in European urban policy, promoted as an essential driver for transforming and developing urban areas in Europe into safe, inclusive, and sustainable places, as stated in Sustainable Development Goal 11, on sustainable cities and communities, specifically target 11.3 on inclusive and sustainable urbanization. The goal is to enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and the capacity for participatory, integrated, and sustainable human settlement planning and management. However, the concept of creativity is often used (and abused) as a symbolic and attractivity label by authorities and space planners, who neglect the issues of social equity and the inclusion of communities who contribute to the creativity of places, resulting in the under-development of public engagement processes for the sustainable urban development of places, as is the case of the creative city designation. This form of strategic planning is usually defined by the conceivers of space, while the lived experiences of people that constitute a place as creative are often not included in the development of cities. Rethinking the practice of creativity could help form future frameworks, to support a more sustained development that could meet the needs of more users of the space, improve the quality of life of creative agents, and foster the development of the CCI sector.
Lefebvre’s assertion on the ‘politics of space’ emphasizes the challenge of planning and designing constructed environments, highlighting the need for layering multiple points of view to understand the complexities of social practices, the production of artifacts, and attributed place meanings [32]. These meanings are constructed by people doing things in a place and, therefore, there is a need to acknowledge the production for the construction of a place through the constant and iterative processes of multi-level negotiation on place meanings. In this sense, incorporating Lefebvre’s spatial theory in the cultural mapping inquiry acknowledges more fully the role of participatory design to further elaborate on the processes of multi-level work to reinvigorate, and regenerate, urban space as a socially constructed environment, and not merely as a commercial place designed for consumers and impelled by the needs of power and capital [32]. Lefebvre is critical of a narrow meaning of the production of space in the sense of economic production. According to this author, such a restricted notion hinders the symbolic significance of the non-economic facets of human reality that contribute to the construction of a place’s meaning. With his theory, Lefebvre seeks to demonstrate that space is produced and reproduced in connection with the relations of production.
In the context of creative cities, the monoculture emphasis of this designation seems to happen due to a lack of a holistic vision on how to implement creativity in the development of urban areas, as well as understanding the role of artists in the cultures of sustainability of these designated cities. Monoculture is a concept widely used in intensive farming as the practice of focusing on only one crop species in a field at a time. In the short term, this practice is profitable for economic growth but, in the long term, it brings major challenges at different levels, such as soil degradation [33]. Transporting this approach to the creative development of places, the focus on one main creative field per city degrades its diversity, as creative agents are not all dedicated to working in only one art form. In most cases as in this one, the monoculture practice boils down to efficiency. It is simpler to take care of one crop than to individually manage and organize multiple products/activities. It is certain that the artistic background of the creative city examined in this study is rooted in ceramic arts, mainly due to the characteristics of the territory, and the history of the place and, therefore, it is understandable that the group planners set the purpose of the re-application to the UNESCO’s designation in finding the balance between ceramics artisanship and industrial production. Nevertheless, it is also important to acknowledge the creative producers’ perspectives and the diversity of creative fields they develop in the city to open space for creative agents to improve their living experience, develop networks, and contribute to the narrative of the creative identity of their place [20,33].
Cultural mapping scholars argue that “under the banner of cultural and creative industries development, cultural mapping has emerged as a broad-brush analytical tool used in positive ways (e.g., a technique to delineate the spaces of the city for cultural practices/activities), but also negative ways (e.g., for mounting arguments about the capacity for culture and art in place revitalization, and as a remedy for industrial decline, masking the roll-out of neoliberal creative city planning scripts and exposing “hip” places prone to future gentrification, justifying the privatization of cultural/art spaces, etc.)” [20] (p. 2). On the one hand, cultural mapping has been proven as an effective methodological approach to detail tangible assets on the CCI system (i.e., counting physical spaces, cultural venues, organizations, public art, and other resources) and is, therefore, used by municipalities to identify gaps and access, layering various datasets and future cultural provision, and as an archiving tool. Some authors argue that “predominantly, there has been a focus on gathering quantitative data at the expense of more textured qualitative information about how such assets are recognized, valued, or used by local communities and visitors. Perceptions of the significance of qualitative data have largely been effaced, in favor of simplistic surveys which promote inter-city competition through image management” [34] (p. 8). On the other hand, cultural mapping has proven less successful in mapping intangible cultural assets (i.e., identities, and a shared sense of place, among others). Most authors agree that the involvement of artists/creative agents in cultural mapping is crucial to make these intangibilities visible, and the implementation of artistic approaches to cultural mapping is said to foster grassroots and experimental initiatives within participative and creative community planning and development more broadly [20,24]. The engagement of artists (and university-based artist-researchers) in cultural mapping is a recent development and is usually a one-time initiative (as in the case of this study), with contributions that are project-based and time-limited. These end up as data accumulation and are considered “art projects” rather than initiatives for long-term strategies. Accordingly, cultural mapping remains not fully integrated within the planning and development practices of places [35].

6. Conclusions

The article uses the three perspectives on space described by Lefebvre, which are core themes embedded in cultural mapping theory and practice. This was examined through the conceptual model developed by this study to analyze the content of a summer school on the topic. The event worked as a conversational platform for discussion, sharing, and learning, to revive the conversation and echo the concern of multi-stakeholder involvement in participatory governance processes of the creative development of urban areas. During the 5-day program, attendees experimented with working with the local creative community at different maturity levels of their careers, with the guidance of research experts and practitioners of the CM field, collecting different perspectives of local-based artists on the creative production of space. The relevance of investigating cultural mapping to further our understanding of the involvement of artists in the validation of creative cities was to highlight the relation of creative production for the conceptualization of places, as well as to detail information on the participatory and sensorial ways of assessing, organizing, texturing, and presenting qualitative data on the intangibilities of places (such as perceptions of creative identity). The most concrete contribution of this study was inviting reflexive engagements on layering perspectives toward participatory practices on the creative production of space, as well as on the role of language as a complex representational system for interpreting and defining space, and human relations.
Concluding, this intensive example made visible the ways language and meaning, through the conversational platform of cultural mapping, are important for the processes of production and the construction of space. However, there remain practical challenges with such conceptualizations. From a methodological point of view, the research confirms the high degree of experimentation of cultural mapping, which still lacks the structure to decode the people–place meaning through language, during multi-stakeholder work processes. Designing places in inclusive ways involves complex work processes in order to combine several perspectives and create a multivocal place narrative. Future research could address these challenges by further investigating the links between cultural mapping and design science, and implementing co-design process models, around the sets of cultural mapping activities, in an attempt to create a system of mapping to interpret the subtleties inherent to place. Such design models could provide detailed information on different stakeholders` perspectives, as well as intended outcomes (i.e., who should be involved for what reason, and in which order cultural mapping activities should take place, according to the different points of view), linking the implementation of CM tools with the different work stages of the co-design process, to help organize its crafting.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, V.Á.d.A.S.; methodology, V.Á.d.A.S.; validation, J.v.d.B.; formal analysis, V.Á.d.A.S. and J.v.d.B.; investigation, V.Á.d.A.S.; resources, V.Á.d.A.S.; data curation, V.Á.d.A.S.; writing—original draft, V.Á.d.A.S.; writing—review & editing, V.Á.d.A.S. and J.v.d.B.; supervision, J.v.d.B. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Content analysis model. (Source: own).
Figure 1. Content analysis model. (Source: own).
Sustainability 15 05335 g001
Table 1. Themes identified from Lefebvre’s production of space and the related sub-themes pre-determined by the CM research experts and identified in the event’s schedule, supported by coding samples found in the data.
Table 1. Themes identified from Lefebvre’s production of space and the related sub-themes pre-determined by the CM research experts and identified in the event’s schedule, supported by coding samples found in the data.
ThemesSub-ThemesCoding Samples
Conceived spaceTerritory and characteristics of a place
Local historic and contemporary context/know the place;
Natural features;- Soil and water;
Spa thermal city, Thermal Hospital;
Ceramic tradition, arts, artists, museum, production, and industry;
Bridge between artisanship and industry;
Potential of stakeholders’ network to the creative city application, and events as initiatives to link multiple stakeholders;
Creative hub: the multidisciplinary creative platform that hosts the creative mass;
Several artistic events are created by artists in the city.
Lived spaceStories of (creative) community and their connections/attachments to a place
National and international students studying to become artists in different fields;
Creative community develops work in jewelry, painting, graphic design, ceramics, embroidery, architecture, and other fields.
Creative community shares the feeling of familiarity about the city, translated as “carrying art around, using piercings, tattoos, freak hairs, and not feeling judged”;
A common dream is to grow their businesses, and some want to have small factories;
Artists’ challenges concern job stability, fair housing rentals, and decent housing conditions.
Perceived spaceSelf-perspectives - (Re)discover places by using the five senses to get in touch with emotions, and understand the needs and potential of a place;- The main goal was joint narrative building; - Language barrier: some summer school attendees (internationals) had difficulties in working with research participants from Portugal, and making sense of their trajectory and the creative objects/activities produced, to better understand the creative DNA of a place; - The formal type of communication used by key stakeholders was understood as a limitation to developing work with participants.
Table 2. Main themes related to the categories of methodologies, and the description of tools used in each theme.
Table 2. Main themes related to the categories of methodologies, and the description of tools used in each theme.
Main ThemesCategoriesTools (Description)
Conceived space—Territory
and characteristics of a place
Field visit and guided tour with local architectWalking tour, and storytelling as tools to learn more about the territory and characteristics of a place.
Seminar on cultural mappingLearning on the cultural mapping theoretical framework for layering the process of finding the meaning/DNA of places.
Municipality’s presentation Communication of the city’s “official narrative” on cultural heritage, creative activity, and an explanation of the UNESCO creative city re-application.
Question-and-answer session with municipality’s deputiesClarification session on practices of planning and working with different actors on the UNESCO creative city
Presentation of creative hubIntroduction of the multidisciplinary creative platform that hosts the creative mass for creative business development.
Lived space—Stories of (creative) community and their connections/attachments to a placeInterviews with artists at different career stagesConversations to understand different perspectives on the local reality of living as an artist.
Learning seminar on story mappingBest practices from a cultural mapping practitioner on how to use story mapping as a tool/framework for the professional development of those individuals or groups wishing to make a career in the cultural and creative industries.
Story mapping activities with artists at different career stagesField visits, conversations, and working with tools:
City map;
Journey mapping;
Presenting the findings with the tools:
Business model canvas;
Mind mapping;
City map;
Sticky notes;
Story/journey mapping;
Perceived space—Self-perspectivesLearning seminar on story mapping for recognizing and interpreting maps of lived and living experiencesTool to identify patterns of senses and emotions and activate communities’ knowledge of the place.
Emotional MappingExploration walks to layer different/new perspectives on a place based on emotions, and documenting with tools:
Video recordings;
Sound recordings;
Presenting the findings with:
Sticky notes;
City map;
Audio walk presentation.
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de Abreu Santos, V.Á.; van der Borg, J. Cultural Mapping Tools and Co-Design Process: A Content Analysis to Layering Perspectives on the Creative Production of Space. Sustainability 2023, 15, 5335.

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de Abreu Santos VÁ, van der Borg J. Cultural Mapping Tools and Co-Design Process: A Content Analysis to Layering Perspectives on the Creative Production of Space. Sustainability. 2023; 15(6):5335.

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de Abreu Santos, Vanessa Ágata, and Jan van der Borg. 2023. "Cultural Mapping Tools and Co-Design Process: A Content Analysis to Layering Perspectives on the Creative Production of Space" Sustainability 15, no. 6: 5335.

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