Regional identity and regional development: the role of narratives in the European Capital of Culture Programme

Little, Stephen and Lemmetyinen, Arja (2009). Regional identity and regional development: the role of narratives in the European Capital of Culture Programme. In: 3rd Central European Conference in Regional Science, 6-9 Oct 2009, Kosice, Slovakia.


This paper discusses the nature of the debates around the presentation of Liverpool–08 and a project which will track the development of narratives around the 2011 capitals of Turku and Tallinn, as a contribution to the larger evaluation of the impact of Capital of Culture status on these cities.

Over the life of the Capital of Culture programme for Liverpool, from the success of the bid to the final transition events held early in 2009, the narratives used to gather and maintain interest in and support for the bid shifted. At different points in this process key aspects of the history and culture of Liverpool and its region were either suppressed or neglected, only to resurface. The initial strategy of emphasising global and relatively elite activities was overturned and a more local flavour given to the whole project.

Heritage is recognized as a driver of tourism income and of distinctive identity for destinations. However, as heritage sites replace 'real industry' heritage is also seen as a nostalgic retreat from current and future concerns. Narratives should not simply celebrate a 'lost past', they should also acknowledge their potential for empowering and building confidence in the community to which they refer.

Japan's rapid absorption of foreign innovations, particularly during the years following the Meiji restoration created a relationship between heritage and progress which both transformed and secured aspects of the pre-existing society. In a similar way, the Soviet Union maintained parallel narratives of progress and heritage. In the UK, examples of progressive heritage references already exist, notably in the context of natural heritage at the Eden Project, Cornwall, where the need for scientific understanding in order to conserve and protect legacy is stressed ( However, the narratives developed in support of the UK's European Capital of culture bids for 2008, and those deployed by the winning city, Liverpool, demonstrate the contestation between nostalgic and progressive forces and local and universal references most clearly.

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