The Role of Creative Placemaking

Re-visiting Darağaç Art District, Izmir

How to Cite

Sarı, S., & Mengi, O. (2022). The Role of Creative Placemaking: Re-visiting Darağaç Art District, Izmir. M/C Journal, 25(3).
Vol. 25 No. 3 (2022): cities
Published 2022-06-27 — Updated on 2022-06-27


The evolution of creative city paradigm in the last three decades has dramatically changed the notion of placemaking and the meaning of art and design for urban development in the creative and cultural economy context. Very recently, a spontaneously emerging art district has been exploited by policy actions in many cities, resulting in its presence on the global stage at the UNESCO Creative City Network. The two most common approaches that drive art and design-based development policies are seen in the creative city approach and community development approach (Evans; Murdoch III et al.). The creative city approach aims to contribute to economic development by focussing on the economic role of art and design (Florida; Murdoch III et al.). The community development approach, on the other hand, is seen as an important factor for social benefit and democratic development (Murdoch III et al.; Grodach; Markusen and Gadwa). Grassroots arts movements and community arts organisations, in the community development approach, support the arts as a low-income community involvement and development initiative (Murdoch III et al.). According to Grodach, public spaces and art and design spaces have three main roles in community development, and are built on local assets to increase community engagement, interaction, and participation. Despite the vast range of economic considerations in the current literature, it remains unclear how creative placemaking through arts, crafts, and design operates in the context of creative cities. Particularly, there is a need for a more comprehensive perspective of how creative placemaking contributes to art district development.

Economic competition among creative cities has increased, especially since neoliberal policies diffused to the urban agenda. The city of Izmir, located in the Aegean coast of Turkey, being one of the world's top 130 cities (Tekeli), contributes to globalisation of the region and occupies a unique position in Turkey’s democratic history. Regarding the global arena, Izmir has reformulated its governmental structure in the making of places, with particular neighbourhoods seeking to increase their attractiveness to the creative class, support the creative industries, and to become a ‘Creative City’. Since the Culture and Art Workshop in 2009, when the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality established a creative city vision to serve as a high point in a democratic era, in particular involving elements of culture and creativity of importance for local and global actors, there has been a series of programs with different design strategies and governance mechanisms, such as the design projects (e.g. Izmir Sea Project and Izmir History Project, and History Design Workshop), formations (e.g. establishment of Izmir Mediterranean Academy with branches of history, design, ecology, culture, and arts in 2013), events and organisations (e.g. Good Design Izmir in 2016, 5th World Design Talks by the World Design Organization [WDO] in 2018), and applications for candidacy (e.g. for the World Design Capital title 2020, and UNESCO Creative Cities Network in 2019).

The purpose of this article is to explore the drivers for art and design-based development in the urban environment through the lens of creative placemaking, and how this is practiced by creative class grassroots initiatives in cities such as Izmir, Turkey, which was shortlisted in the Creative City Network competition in 2019. The methodology is built on 1) a framework analysis through the research on art and design districts and the utilisation of creative placemaking, and 2) a field study exploring the creative placemaking drivers in an emerging art district, Darağaç, in Izmir. The field study is composed of site visits, visual mappings, the use of snowball sampling to reach the creative class, and structured interviews. The framework analysis findings suggest a set of creative placemaking drivers for art and design-based developments, and the case study findings present implications for future policies for integration of localised initiatives into the creative city framework.

Framework Analysis

The practice of creative cities applies one-size-fits-all strategies based on tangible and intangible characteristics to attract talent and support economic growth, whereas creative placemaking offers some crucial approaches to contribute to a locale's success and involvement in larger-scale plans. Therefore, placemaking appears as a phenomenological process that explains a sense of place, attachments, and, more broadly, the interaction between a region and its inhabitants (Mengi and Guaralda). The term ‘creative placemaking’ was first used by economist Ann Markusen and art consultant Anne Gadwa in the 2010 White Paper of the National Endowment for the Arts, as a solution when cities, suburbs, and small towns are faced with structural changes and displacement. Creative placemaking aims to revitalise space and economic development with creative initiatives. Markusen and Gadwa argue that creative placemaking provides gains in areas such as innovative products and services, livability, diversity, jobs, and income opportunities.

Creative placemaking is also defined as a community-participatory tool to strengthen and enrich the identity of a place as well as development of a place. Community identity enables local assets to build trust and relationships (Kelkar et al.) while exploiting social and civic fabric that brings out the local character and narratives (Borrup). Moreover, Redaelli formulates creative placemaking as an innovative way of thinking for solving community problems that utilises the creative power of art and artists. From an economic perspective, Gallagher et al. point out that creative placemaking can happen in communities of any size and uses art and cross-sector collaboration to benefit the space. Creative placemaking through cross-sector collaboration is directly related to political ideology, social division, community size, resource limitations, and capacity of arts organisations.

The theoretical discussion derived from the literature enables us to reconsider the use of creative placemaking approaches for creative city strategies and provides a framework that brings the most significant drivers of creative placemaking, especially for art and design-based strategies in urban environments (Table 1).



Creative Practices


  • Products
  • Artworks
  • Events
  • Festivals
  • Cultural Production
  • Local Assets
  • Local Knowledge
  • Context
  • Listening & Gathering Stories
  • Knowledge & Skill Exchange
  • Creativity Exchange
  • Experiential Learning
  • Community Involvement
  • Co-Creation
  • Collaboration

Creative Placemakers

  • Artists
  • Designers
  • Craftspeople
  • Resident of the Community
  • Local Audience
  • Virtual Platform
  • Archive/Publications
  • Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Collectivity

Spatial Environment


  • Neighbourhood
  • Streets
  • Place Identity
  • Digital Hub
  • Atelier
  • Digital Studio/Maker Space
  • Art Galleries
  • Exhibition Spaces
  • Art Equipment Maker/Supplier
  • Meeting Place/Third Place

Institutional Support

  • Networking
  • Platform for Dialogue
  • Space for Exhibition
  • Publicity
  • Public Fund
  • Private Fund
  • Philanthropists
  • Sponsorship
  • Education Institutions
  • Art Institutions
  • Art Organisations
  • Non-Government Organisations
  • Government

Table 1: Major drivers of creative placemaking.

Creative Practices, as the first driver, aim to describe tangible outputs such as products, works of art, events, and festivals. Wyckoff defines projects and activities involving art, culture, and creative thinking as the driving forces of creative placemaking to create collective memory. In this regard, Mutero et al. emphasise the importance of listening and gathering stories, in which it associates definitions such as community, local knowledge, and context. Describing community participation as a tool to improve the development of a place, Kelkar et al. mention that it helps to change the perception of the community. In this context, it creates trust and relationships while building community identity and sense of belonging.

Creative Placemakers, as the second driver, represent actors in creative placemaking. One of the six drivers suggested by Markusen and Gadwa for creating a successful place are the creative initiators. Borrup, on the other hand, underlines the role of crucial actors, named as creative placemakers, such as city planners, developers, artists, local policy makers. neighbourhood residents, and local audiences, who also take part in creative practices guided by artists, designers, and craftspeople. According to Gaumer et al. and Schupbach, local actors must be involved as partners to realise more effective successful creative placemaking practices. Similarly, Kelkar et al. argue that the relationships that are built on the collaborative nature of involving actors transform productivity and create social capital.

Spatial Environment, as the third driver, focusses on the spaces of creative practices. Spatial environments can be referred to at different scales, such as the digital hubs, ateliers, maker spaces, and event areas such as art galleries and exhibition areas that bring creative placemakers together and enable them to produce together. According to Ellery et al., such spaces enhance the use of public spaces while providing a sense of aesthetics, security, and community. Wyckoff lists drivers of creative placemaking as art spaces where artistic, cultural, and creative projects take place, work and living spaces for the creative class, art, culture, and entertainment activities.

Institutional Support, as the fourth driver, underlines the expectations of creative placemakers from institutions. The institutional support through networking provides a platform for creative placemakers to establish dialogue as well as opportunities for exhibition areas and performances. The importance of the support of institutions and organisations such as the public sector, private sector, NGOs, and sponsors are essential to creative placemaking practices. Particularly, cross-sector partnership between institutions such as education institutions, art institutions, art organisations, non-government organisations, and government plays an important role in art and design-based development (Markusen and Gadwa; Borrup).

Emergence of Darağaç as an Art District

Creative places are found at various scales, such as regions, districts, hubs, and studios, and constitute the very integral part of the creative city formation. They represent a high culture ground on which artists and designers can design, make, and exhibit art. The secret of the successful transformation of creative places lies in the spontaneity of their development. The spontaneously emerging creative places are found as the result of a bottom-up approach where the resident involvement in this transformation strengthens the bond between local people and the place. Spontaneous developments are visible where cultural producers come together to attract like-minded producers (Zukin & Braslow). Examples of this phenomenon include New York City's SoHo neighbourhood, Beijing's 798 Arts District, Kreuzberg in Berlin, and the Temple Bar district in Dublin (Goldenberg-Miller et al.). The development of a spontaneous art and design district starts with the coming together of artists, designers, and cultural workers to form a network. Factors strengthening the network and contributing to the success of the region include community perception, information exchange within the community, and working and living together (Kumer).

Darağaç has very recently emerged as an art district in Umurbey neighbourhood in Izmir. Known formerly as an industrial zone, it now hosts small industries and artists. Darağaç Art District, home to pre-Republican era factories operated by non-Muslim minorities and nineteenth-century two-storey workers' residences, was developed in the twentieth century as an industrial zone hosting Şark Sanayi Electric Factory, İzmir Cotton Fabric Factory, and Sümerbank Basma Industry (Kayın qtd. in Pasin et al.). A small group of artists from Izmir settled in the region in 2013, in rented former workers' residences serving as studios and residences, and shortly afterwards the district started to attract more artists and designers (Darağaç Collective). Surrounded by inert and functionless industrial buildings, Darağaç Art District still maintains its industrial identity as well as hosting those on low incomes and providing artists with opportunity to live and produce (Kocaer). There has been an increasing dialogue established between the original inhabitants, mostly craftspeople, and the artists, especially after 2 craftspeople and 13 artists opened their first exhibitions in June 2016 (Darağaç Collective). Since then, Darağaç has evolved to an “art district”, home to many projects and national and international artists. This has greatly shaped the physical environment and neighbourhood identity in the Darağaç Art District (fig. 1).

Fig. 1: The integration of artworks or installations with the physical environment and neighbourhood identity in the Darağaç Art District. (Source: Kanal.)

For Yavuzcezzar, the main purpose of Darağaç is to provide a space or a common discourse for young artists to exhibit their works. Darağaç Art District hosts interdisciplinary art works covering painting, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and performance (Yavuzcezzar). Also, Children's Meetings held in Darağaç Art District aim to increase the engagement of children in the neighbourhood through culture and arts (Darağaç Collective). Kılınç et al. explain the three main factors contributing to the development of the Darağaç Art District: site specificity; collaborative art practice; and close personal relationships established between neighbours. The site specificity factor is defined as the expansion of production towards the street and the inert lots in the district, replacing the existing spatial configurations in the neighbourhood, which do not meet the needs of the artists. Collaborative art practice is defined as the exchange between local people and artists. Kılınç et al. argue that the productive roles of artists and craftspeople have enabled them to establish a cooperation. The third factor is the close relationship established between neighbours through the Darağaç Collective Association in 2020 (Kılınç et al.). This has been visible in one of the most influential projects, ‘Darağaç Bostan’, in Darağaç (fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Co-creation efforts in the Darağaç Art District. (Source: Culture Civic.)

The case of Darağaç illustrates a unique case of a spontaneously emerged art district and underlines the importance of creative placemaking drivers for bottom-up creative city strategies. The area has been a democratic space via meetings, exhibitions, and workshops (fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Knowledge-sharing practices in the Darağaç Art District. (Source: Darağaç.)

The Case of Darağaç

The case study consists of site visits, visual mappings, use of snowball sampling for reaching the artists and craftspeople, and structured interviews, and discusses the major drivers of creative placemaking and how they are practiced in Darağaç in Izmir.

First Studies

The first site visit to the Darağaç Art District was conducted in November 2020. At the time, there were a total of 13 artists and over 30 craftspeople located in the area (fig. 4). Following this, the pilot survey was conducted in February 2021, with a total of six participants, four artists, and two craftspeople from Darağaç Art District. All six participants were interviewed face-to-face, and each survey took approximately 15-20 minutes. After feedback from the pilot study participants, several changes were made in the final version of the survey. The following image illustrates the spatial clustering of craftspeople and artists residing in the neighbourhood who participated in the study (fig. 4).

Fig. 4: Darağaç Survey Map.

The Survey and Findings

The four above-mentioned main drivers of creative placemaking, namely creative practices, creative placemakers, spatial environment, and institutional support, were addressed by Likert-scale questions. In the framework of the previously identified creative placemaking drivers, the survey was carried out to collect the opinions of the art district residents and draw conclusions. The participants were classified into three categories: artists, designers, and craftspeople. The first part of the survey is composed of general questions (age, gender, field of study, etc.) to give an overall idea of the participants. In the following four sections, it was aimed to measure the major drivers of creative placemaking, categorised as creative practices, creative placemakers, spatial environment, and institutional support. The fifth part examined the spatiality of art and design-based development in Darağaç in terms of economic, environmental, cultural, and social aspects. The survey was conducted between February and March 2021 in Darağaç Art District. All the art district residents were contacted and the rate of return of surveys was approximately 50%. 58% of the participants were resident in the neighbourhood, 42% were non-resident. 42% of participants reported that they used shared workspaces; 58% used individual workspaces.

According to the survey results, the driving forces that most contribute to the development of the region are creative practices (art and craft works), creative placemakers (artists, designers, and craftspeople), and spatial environment (place identity), followed by institutional support from public, private, and non-governmental organisations, respectively (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Contributions of drivers to creative placemaking in Darağaç.

It seems that the interaction and collaboration grouped under creative practice contribute significantly to the development of Darağaç, closely followed by knowledge and skill exchange and the presence of art and design events, and, lastly, by the final products. Considering the role of placemakers in the spontaneous development of Darağaç, an art district, the findings reveal that artists make the greatest contribution, followed by designers and craftspeople, while the impact of the residents as placemakers is relatively low. The results for the place-based inspirations for creative placemakers show that the spatiality of placemaking has a considerable effect on the texture of the neighbourhood. For the placemakers in the district, the pre-existence of artists, designers, and craftspeople in Darağaç was one of the main reasons for locating there. The neighbourhood’s cultural and historical value and the communication with the local community have equal importance in terms of their contribution to the spontaneous development. Finally, we examine institutional support as the final driver, which falls behind the other three, as seen in fig. 5. Only 38% of the participants reported that they were able to collaborate with an institution before, while only 38% managed to receive financial support. According to the results, the main three actors supporting the grassroots activities through collaborations are art organisations, universities, and municipalities. The results also show that the financial support through funding comes mainly from the existing associations and public authorities.


The results obtained from the case study show that cultural exchange has been the most influential factor in art and design-based development. Regarding the creative placemaking drivers, dialogue between the residents of the neighborhood has considerably increased as they share and exchange knowledge and skills since the art district development spontaneously started. Changing perceptions of the neighborhood residents through time and their growing relationship with art, design, and crafts have greatly contributed to the emergence of an art district. When we examine the art and design-based development, it is visible that the neighbourhood has evolved to a more attractive and atmospheric space for art and design practices. The results underline the role of solidarity and sense of belonging for strengthening the community engagement. We can also argue that the adaptive reuse of vacant spaces and the design of possible exhibition spaces have dramatically changed the identity of the space. However, the economic impacts of spontaneous art and design-based development have remained moderate with regard to the creation of auxiliary sectors to the production process, creating new jobs and income opportunities and having a self-sufficient economy.


Since 2010, the placemaking process has been more sensitive, with the help of increased human input and indication of co-creation tactics through creative placemaking. Creative placemaking has been reshaped along the creative city policies and strategies. Before the conceptualisation of creative placemaking, many authors (see Jones; Weitz; Wositzsky), had referred to the link between art and community development, and highlighted how artists, art societies and local communities are positively affected by using art as a tool for the community. Within this context, this article provides a relatively more comprehensive approach to art and design-based development within the framework of creative placemaking for the creative cities of today. It examines and categorises the creative placemaking components, and explores how these components work and how they contribute to spontaneous art district development through the case of Darağaç, Izmir, in Turkey, a place where artists, designers, and craftspeople live and produce together. Culture and creativity as significant tools for economic development and urban renewal are found in many of the recent planning strategies (Codignola). The creative economy, cultural tourism, and creative placemaking have encouraged communities to use art for economic benefit (Gallagher et al.). According to Grodach, art and design spaces can contribute to tourism by attracting visitors from the immediate environment while providing employment opportunities to local artists and thus contributing to individual well-being and local economic development. Although this does not have the power to eliminate problems such as displacement, unemployment, and social exclusion, it makes a great contribution to urban inequality (Grodach).

The four main drivers, creative practices, creative placemakers, spatial environment, and institutional support, all play a significant role in the emergence of Darağaç as an art district. The most influential driver, that of creative practices, highlights the importance of art and design production and events and festivals as creative practices, indicating a high concentration of local assets and tacit knowledge. Secondly, placemakers have a considerable importance in the spontaneous transformation from an industrial zone to an art district with regard to craftspeople’s and designers’ living and work environments. Also, their collective attitude towards the local residents in the area seems to have significantly contributed to this development through skill exchange, community involvement, and co-creation. Thirdly, the spatial environment, originating in the 1930s, and the available amenities have a great influence on the identity formation of the district. Lastly, the available institutional support underlines the strong role of art and design in economic development. However, Darağaç Art District has yet to receive sufficient support from the institutions, and tries to sustain its organic structure by operating as a self-sufficient entity.

In further studies, additional drivers must be examined on an individual basis to arrive at policy suggestions, due to the strategic importance of building a feeling of place in the attraction and retention of creative talent. For the policy recommendations, it is important that the current urban agenda should present a combination of characteristics derived from the framework of creative placemaking for building better and more habitable creative places, rather than focussing solely on the more visible economic and physical urban goals. It is crucial to understand the strategic balance of the various drivers that enable the growth of creative places for future urban development. For the practical implications, the use of creative placemaking drivers for spontaneous art and design-based development enables the collaboration between different actors and engagement of grassroots activities in policymaking.


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Author Biographies

Simay Sarı, Izmir University of Economics

Simay Sari is currently a MA student in Design Studies at University of Economics. She works as a project assistant at Izmir University of Economics, Creative Economics Research Center (IEU+KREA). She has a specialization in Design Management and her research interests are creative industries and bottom-up art and design initiatives.


Onur Mengi, Izmir University of Economics

Dr Onur Mengi is Associate Professor in Industrial Design and Vice Dean of Faculty of Fine Arts and Design at Izmir University of Economics in Turkey, and research fellow in the Creative Industries Faculty, at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia. His research concentrates on urban design, urban planning, design strategies, design management and place-based development processes.