21 January 2016
For the designated cities, it’s a question of promoting their heritage and dynamism through a year-long programme of cultural and artistic events, with the guarantee of unequalled media coverage thanks to the “City of Culture” label.
In 2016, two cities are sharing the crown: San Sebastian in Spain and Poland’s Wroclaw. The cities preceding Saint Sebastian, the Basque seaside city, and Wroclaw, the Venice of Poland, have undoubtedly seen a “before-and-after” effect, in the short and medium term.
A study commissioned by the European Parliament examining the impact of previous City of Culture designations found mixed results. It reported a considerable effect on immediate to medium-term tourism trends, which in turn can have a significant impact on the city’s economy.
The report says the benefits were especially noteworthy for cities previously little known as cultural hotbeds, in particular Glasgow in 1990, Liverpool in 2008 and Linz in 2009.
Similarly, in 2007, Luxembourg City saw an almost 10% increase in hotel nights during its reign, with more than 4 million visitors to 3,000 cultural events and attractions. As well as highlighting the city’s creative and artistic potential, it also boosted Luxembourg’s visibility with tourists, especially younger ones.
However, over the long term, the most important influence may be social rather than economic. Most cities agree that they were able to raise their international profile, implement a cultural programme, and strengthen their brand and civic pride. But not all were able to carry the stimulus from one year of culture into longer-term projects.
The study also showed that only rarely do the cities that share the City of Culture title develop close contacts or forge joint cooperation, and that this element is not enough to encourage a city to put forward its candidature.
Although a great number of visitors have been able to enjoy the rich heritage of the Old Continent’s great cities through the programme, it’s not clear that the long-term benefits justify the financial cost – ranging from the paltry €1.4 million spent in 2010 by Tallinn, Estonia, to the whopping €194 million invested the following year by Istanbul.