Symbolic maps of the city

dsc05930.jpgGarcia, B. (2007) ‘Symbolic maps of the city: Visualising conflicting narratives to capture the meaning(s) of place’

in: Mapping the City Seminar, Impacts 08, CAVA, City in Film and Institute for Popular Music, Liverpool (7 Nov)


In the context of culture-led regeneration initiatives, the representation of a city becomes a strongly contested issue. Local authorities compete with event organisers and key regeneration and cultural stakeholders as well as the local community to determine a narrative for the city. Opinion-leaders are pressed to provide a coherent and ‘sellable’ story of the city at the same time as gaining consensus to ensure it is meaningful and owned by the wider community. Further, criticisms against city marketing and branding exercises as over simplistic and elite-oriented, emerge in parallel to demands for a raise in local expectations and pride, and the belief that using culture as a catalyst for regeneration can help bridge the gap between external image and local identity needs. This paper considers approaches to understanding conflicting city representations from a methodological point of view. The paper places an emphasis on mapping exercises as a technique that can help capture key cultural relationships and their positioning in the city at a geographical as well as an ideographical or symbolic level. Such exercise can help portray relevant (and contradictory) narratives of the city as well as visualise the sources for such narratives. The focus of this exercise is Liverpool in the wake of its title as European Capital of Culture in 2008. The exploration of a symbolic cultural map of Liverpool is embedded within a wider research programme on the impact of hosting the 2008 title, which combines academic interrogation with the ambition to inform and influence the city’s cultural policy framework. The paper concludes with a brief reflection about the role of academics as contributors to the city’s narrative and, more specifically, their position within the symbolic map of present day Liverpool.