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Creative Recovery? The Role of Cultural Policy in Shaping Post-COVID Urban Futures

COVID-19 had devastating effects on cities around the world. Alongside the loss of life and health, the pandemic had a wide range of socio-economic consequences for urban communities. This included damaging impacts on city cultural life.

Whilst researchers have examined the effects of the pandemic on culture, much less is understood about how urban policymakers actively intervened – and even less is known about the enduring consequences of these interventions for the future of ‘post-COVID’ cities.  

The Creative Recovery? project therefore investigated how city cultural policymakers responded to the pandemic in support of culture, and what the consequences might be for the future. It did so through a collaboration with the World Cities Culture Forum, a network of 42 cities around the globe. It addressed three questions:

  1. How did city cultural policymakers respond to COVID-19 in support of culture?
  2. What was the role of the World Cities Culture Forum?
  3. What are the implications of these cultural policy responses for post-COVID urban futures?

To address these questions, the project brought together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from the Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries, the Department of Geography, and the Policy Institute. This collaboration was supported by the King’s Together Multi and Interdisciplinary Research Scheme.

The key findings and implications of Creative Recovery? are summarised in this video:




Key Findings

1. There were two phases of response: mitigation & recoveryAfter the mitigation phase, cities looked towards recovery and rebuilding – including thinking through the legacies of the new initiatives that worked well during lockdown, often with a view to ‘building back better’.

2. There were opportunities for policy experimentation, iteration & innovationAlongside the enormous difficulties and losses experienced, policymakers often appreciated being forced to look at their ways of doing things, and to do things differently – and the greater freedom to develop ideas and take action at speed.

3. The scope of urban cultural policy expandedOne of the effects of COVID-19 was to force urban cultural policymakers to (re)consider exactly who and what they are responsible for: during the pandemic they were meeting a wide range of needs, and these needs changed over time.

4. Partnerships & networks really matteredIn responding to the pandemic, urban cultural policymakers developed new and sometimes sustained interactions with an expanded range of partners within their cities, and with policymakers in other cities internationally.

5. Amidst loss, there was hopeCity cultural policymakers indicated a range of practices of hope – ways of actively looking towards positive futures – and welcoming the opportunity to make positive changes.

WCCF Hong Kong







Implications for Imagining & Developing Post-COVID Urban Futures

1. Extend time horizons. To creatively imagine and develop post-COVID urban futures, policymakers need to extend ‘time horizons’ beyond crisis management and the short-termism of the typical policy cycle.

2. Cultivate supportive professional networks & partnershipsOne of the conditions that can help policymakers to imagine and develop possible futures is supportive external relationships, partnerships, and networks.

3. Ensure effective processes for identifying citizens’ needsSuch consultations may address very immediate needs, but they also have the potential to involve citizens in sustained and systematic processes of imagining and developing possible futures for their communities, and for the city as a whole.

4. Develop effective approaches to uncertainty – including conditions for ‘hope’Varieties of contingency and scenario planning, and deliberately cultivating conditions for hope, will continue to be important beyond the pandemic.

5. Remember what was possibleAs pre-existing policy processes and systems reassert themselves following the period of pandemic ‘policy-entrepreneurship’, it will be important to ensure that there is shared recollection that things were done differently in the past, and could be done differently in the future.


Download the Creative Recovery? Report

Creative Recovery - Front Cover
To read the report in full, please download here.
Watch the report launch webinar here.

The authors of the report are:

Dr Jonathan Gross – Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries

Dr Lucy McFadzean – Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries

Dr Kirstie Hewlett – Policy Institute

Dr Luke Dickens – Department of Geography

Prof Philip Hubbard – Department of Geography

Prof Roberta Comunian – Department of Culture, Media & Creative Industries

Dr Niall Sreenan – Policy Institute

This project was supported by King's Culture.