Skip to content

Case studies

Thematic Districts Programme

In Buenos Aires the Thematic Districts Programme has pursued policies that attract creative businesses and cultural institutions to cluster in parts of the city suffering the effects of deindustrialisation. This has led to:

  • Decentralised access to culture and creative industries jobs
  • Knock-on developments in infrastructure and public transport
  • Restoration of buildings
  • Improvement of public space.

Buenos Aires is an important cultural hub for Latin America; it has more theatres, bookshops and cultural spaces per capita than any other city in the world, besides numerous free events and festivals. The World Tango Festival & World Cup, the International Jazz Festival, the International Festival of Independent Cinema (BAFICI), and the International Book Fair attract hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. The government supports many training projects, incentives and competitions to encourage creativity, and sees arts policy as an important lever for promoting greater social inclusion.

As might be expected, the cultural and creative industries are a significant contributor to the city economy. In 2011 the creative and cultural workforce of the city of Buenos Aires accounted for 9.3% of the total workforce, and 9.2% of the city’s total GDP. Three types of creative and cultural activity have been especially successful over recent years: the design sector has seen jobs increase by more than 55% since 2004; the audio-visual sector has experienced 94% growth in employment since 2000; and the performing and visual arts segment is 42% larger than in 2000. Buenos Aires’ creative workforce is proportionately three times larger than those of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

However, these industries have tended to cluster in specific areas (for instance, the port has been a magnet around which infrastructure, including cultural infrastructure, has developed) leaving some parts of the city under-served. In recent years the city has developed a policy that both capitalises on its creative talents and uses planning to regenerate low-income or under-developed city neighbourhoods. The ‘thematic districts programme’ uses tax incentives and subsidies to attract certain businesses to particular areas of the city. This triggers further regeneration and widens access to creative industries and culture, as well as supporting the growth of key strategic sectors. The policy focuses on sectors where the city already has an advantage - sectors which provide high value-added jobs and are good exporters.

The clusters programme began with the Design District in Barracas in 2001. Barracas is an inner city neighbourhood that vividly illustrates the bleak fate of former manufacturing neighbourhoods in a city undergoing deindustrialisation: physical decay, degradation of its public infrastructures, disinvestment and the gradual impoverishment of its residents. A key objective of the Design District project was urban revitalisation and sustainability.

At the project’s heart lay the conversion of a former fish market into the 14,500m2 Metropolitan Design Centre. The Centre now houses government offices that promote design, business in the creative industries and foreign trade. It also has 70 workspaces for nurturing entrepreneurial ventures, an auditorium, classrooms, spaces for workshops and laboratories, 3,000m² for exhibitions and displays, a specialist library, a museum, a cultural centre and a cafeteria. The Metropolitan Design Centre regularly opens its doors to the community with expos and international design fairs, and offers free training courses for the unemployed in trades such as sewing and leather work.

This initiative helped Buenos Aires win the designation of World City of Design in 2005. The Design District’s impact on both the design industry and the regeneration of Barracas also convinced Buenos Aires that creative clusters are a successful formula for regeneration and growth. The city has instigated three more such clusters since 2008, focused on the audiovisual sector (film, television, advertising, animation or video games production), IT, and arts.

This last scheme, put in place in 2012, focuses on the visual and performing arts, and publishing. It intends to promote the arts sector, develop infrastructure and increase access to cultural activities using numerous subsidies to entice businesses to the area. The district now has many cultural attractions such as Fundación Proa, Usina del Arte, the Museum of Modern Art (MAMBA), the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), art schools and other cultural institutions.

The Usina del Arte is a particularly good example of culture-led regeneration. Located in the heart of La Boca in the south of the city, the new facility inhabits the former home of an electricity company. The building houses the city’s first Symphony Hall, an exhibition hall, a small, multi-purpose theatre (film screenings, lectures, rehearsals or recordings) and a chamber hall with seating for 280. In developing the project, the city’s Ministry of Culture collaborated with other departments to revitalise the wider area, making it safer and more accessible, and encouraging tourists to visit. Since its opening, 3,800,000 people have attended events in the Usina, with the Tango festival alone bringing 600,000.

Although the four industry clusters have had important economic impacts, the social impact in these areas has been just as strong. The clusters have generated improvements to infrastructure and public transport, greater access to culture and creative industries employment, the restoration of other buildings in the area as businesses move in and need premises, increased training in the arts and creative disciplines, and general improvements in the quality of public space and security. The city government intends to continue its agenda of decentralising culture by physically inserting it into areas of the city previously neglected, thereby increasing the quality of life and opportunities for disadvantaged communities.