A central platform to exchange best practices and ideas guiding the infrastructure and urban development industry in its transformation, and helping it to address its key challenges.

The strategic use of art to create compelling and competitive cities

Four hands on table putting together jigsaw puzzle illustrating the need to build flexible cities and infrastructure

The challenge

Cities competing for talents and investment

Urbanization is well on its way, and well-educated people flock to cities where they find top pay, exciting jobs and likeminded peers. Established cities face more competition in drawing talent and investment from outside. Today, many features of cities have become exchangeable, cities are beginning to look alike. Great work space, a swift transport system, high-quality entertainment and residential buildings are a must for any metropolitan area. Cities need to have strategies to be distinctive and emphasize their unique features. Culture, and notably art, can create an impact, in a city-narrative, and position the city in the right way.

Creating urban atmosphere

City developments often lack atmosphere. Citizens don’t want to spend time at rather functional places, and this negatively affects the revenue of local businesses, among other considerations. Due to the event-related nature of art, people are attracted to where art is displayed, which can revitalize a location. Art can create a buzz and lively platforms while at the same time building a story around a new development. Such art platforms act as connectors between distinctive buildings and their visitors.

Real-time cities

Since cities will become denser in the future with less space to be shared, there is demand for places for people to meet each other and interact. Today many city inhabitants live in between being a real-life persona and a digital persona. While a lot of time is spent online and in small and/or shared spaces, places of real life and real-time interaction will become more significant. After all, humans are social beings and that might differentiate us from machines. Art can create destinations of inspiration, leisure and well-being.

Less work, more entertainment

As people might work less in the future due to the rise of artificial intelligence and at the same time spend less time commuting due to an optimized transport system, they will have more leisure time. Therefore, cities need to offer a larger range of entertainment and inspiration in many more locations. Art is the ideal medium to provide entertainment and inspiration in future cities.

The idea

Strategic use of art

From creating atmosphere to a business-led strategic tool

The role of art in cities played a major cultural role throughout history. Today art is treated more as a supplement. While many cities place art to optimize their environment and beautify their scenery, the art world has developed into a commercially driven business, where million-dollar art works are sold at auctions and massive private museums are built. It is a rather small but sustainable market and so art has also become an asset class attracting not only a wealthy, but also well-educated urban audience. People who invest in the passion market (i.e. expensive cars, boats, jewellery) have now migrated more and more to the art market.

At the same time, due to the expansion of new technologies and globalization, the art market was unlocked and now serves many art lovers, attracted by the lifestyle the art world represents. Art stands for the creative class, an urban citizen who wants to be noticed as creative, innovative, wealthy and intellectual. The corporate world has discovered that art draws a target group to cater to and has introduced substantial art strategies such as partnerships with art fairs, museums, non-profits or even their own private art platforms and content. Cities can profit from the lifestyle that art represents and at the same time art can provide them with their own and unique urban identity. Art can be used as a carrier to create a powerful city narrative/identity to attract a potent crowd.

Art strategy scenarios

Narrative environments for cities

After their oil-rich times, countries like United Arab Emirates lacked substantial income and had to reinvent their business model. Art plays a major role in this business model. What started with a small event in Sharjah (Sharjah Biennial), quickly transformed into a Dubai vision for an artificial art district based on the western model. Supported by the government, a huge development of such a creative district is underway that is used as a breeding ground for innovative businesses. Art and design act as incubators for a prospering start-up community creating additional long-term income streams for the city.

A similar scenario is occurring in Shanghai, where the government supports the construction of a hotbed of private and public museums, galleries and pavilions along the Xuhui Waterfront, stretching 8.4 kilometers along the Huangpu River in the centre of Shanghai. Shanghai´s vision is to become China’s innovation hub and potentially compete with techsavvy Shenzhen. Again, art is used as a strategic tool.


Quite often real estate developers face the challenge of transforming lacklustre and run-down urban areas into popular districts. Art has become a strategic tool to this as well. Miami´s art district is an example: real estate developers discovered the positive impact of a powerful target group after international art fair Art Basel moved to Miami Beach in 2002.

The Art Basel fairs (in Basel, Miami Beach and Hong Kong) attract a powerful and influential crowd. Developers in Miami started to offer empty space at no or little cost to artists in an industrial area for a limited amount of time. Due to the activities and coolness of the mostly young artists as well as the reasonable cost the area, began to thrive seemingly organically. Creative businesses, design ateliers, private art collections and all sorts of creative people flocked into what was becoming an up-and-coming area. A once-unappealing district transformed and gained vibrant momentum, attracting bigger luxury brands and wealthy inhabitants. This was when prices could be elevated and new developments found their investors.

A similar process is currently happening at King’s Cross in London. The development company engaged with Central Saint Martins, one of the premier art schools of the world, which brought in many students and revived the area. The young creative crowd created a lively and diverse place attracting global companies like Google to have their UK headquarters here. While the district profited from the creative image, even established companies have become part of King´s Cross.

About “Art Hubs”

As shown, art is not only about artists and their work, but can also be about the strategic development of entire urban districts. “Art hubs” are becoming popular. These multidisciplinary physical spaces, where art can be experienced in pop-up galleries, art labs or other innovative ways, are artificial art ecosystems for urban people in which to exchange, engage and entertain, and they can be part of bigger developments. One such “art hub” is currently begin built at “The Circle” at Zurich Airport. The creators of “The Circle” understand that art draws an interesting target group to its new development and is itself an income-generating business case. Making money with art.

The way forward

Certain challenges still exist

For many, however, art is still not seen as a strategic tool and it has suffered from keeping people distant because it seems an elitist and exclusive scene. Due to the complexity and intellectual approach of art, many people feel they can’t understand art, and are shy to engage with it. Art has not yet fully been discovered as a resource for developing cities since its impact is hard to measure.

Taking the chance

Developers and planners can engage with specialized art strategists in order to fully capitalize the potential of art as a strategic tool. Such art world specialists can bridge the gap between people, corporate institutions and the art world so that art can be seen as one of the key strategies to create meaningful and inspiring places. Developers and city planners will then understand that art does not just attract an interesting crowd, but also makes money. Successful “art hubs” serve as good examples and studying these can help to convince more people. The art world, on the other hand, due to need of funding, will become more open in developing business oriented, popular and exciting art platforms and likely invest more in understanding their target audience and linking art to other elements like real estate, tech and brands.