Social Capital, Local Communities and Culture-led Urban Regeneration Processes: The Sydney Olympic Park Experience

Jason Hugh Prior
Giorgio Tavano Blessi


Culture has become increasingly important in regeneration processes designed to deal with urban futures. Urban regeneration processes in which culture has played a prominent role range from large-scale public investments in cultural facilities and artefacts as ‘hallmarks’ of urban regeneration projects (e.g. Guggenheim Bilbao), through to the use of ‘one shot’ cultural events such as the Olympic Games as a catalyst and engine for regenerating urban areas. The aim of this paper is to examine the association between social capital (SC), local communities and the culture-led regeneration process at Sydney Olympic Park (SOP), New South Wales, Australia. The catalyst for the transformation of an industrial wasteland into SOP was the awarding of the Olympics to Sydney in 1993. A convenience sample of 47 professional reports associated with the regeneration process at SOP between 1993 and 2010 were analyzed, the aim being to understand how local communities had been linked to the regeneration process through SC. Results from the analysis identified three principal associations between SC, local communities and the ongoing SOP regeneration process. The first association related to how, during the early years of the regeneration process, SC was used as a means of expressing concern about how governance mechanisms implemented at SOP might adversely impact the ability of local communities to engage in decision making that affected their local environment. The second related to the use of community development programs to build SC in local communities through the SOP development. The third related to a call for the development of measures to understand how the development of SOP impacts on the SC in local communities. Eight in-depth interviews with professionals involved in the regeneration process were used to provide further insights into the three principal associations. The paper discusses findings through reference to broader arguments surrounding the potential, capacity and nature of SC.

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