Festivals and the City: the Festivalisation of Urban Public Spaces


Before the coronavirus crisis, there was noted a rise in the number and range of festivals staged in urban areas. A pause in activity in 2020, and the knock-on effects of cancellations, have served to emphasise how important festivals are to the economic, social and cultural functioning of contemporary cities. This book explores the characteristics of urban festivity, with a particular focus on how festivals affect the accessibility and inclusivity of public spaces. This is a particularly important issue in Western European cities, given social and cultural changes associated with high levels of in-migration, and because of concerns over the commercialisation, privatisation and securitisation of public spaces. The festivalisation of culture, politics and space in cities is regarded sceptically by academics, but this book examines the positive and negative ways that festivals affect cities and urban spaces.

One of the key themes of the book is the quest for more inclusive urban spaces. Festivals are ways of breaking down established borders and boundaries that restrict who uses public spaces and what those spaces are used for. However, the rise of commercial festivals and ticketed events means that they are also responsible for building barriers that restrict the availability of city parks, streets and squares. A range of cases from across Europe are used to explore these complex issues, including chapters on some of Europe’s most significant and contested festival cities – Edinburgh, London, Dublin and Barcelona.  The book covers a wide range of festivals; including those dedicated to music and arts, but also events celebrating particular histories, identities and pastimes. The diversity of the book is also evident in the range of urban spaces covered: obvious examples of public spaces – such as parks, streets, squares and piazzas – are addressed, but the book includes chapters on indoor public spaces (e.g. city libraries) and blue spaces (urban waterways) too.

Alongside analysing the ways that festivals affect public spaces, the book also examines the ways festivals influence visual and narrative representations of cities. To counter balance the focus on major European metropolises (London, Barcelona, Glasgow, Gothenburg) and national capitals (Dublin, Edinburgh), the latter part of the book analyses the roles played by festivals in smaller towns and cities.

This inter-disciplinary book is being produced as part of the Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA) funded project, Festspace: Festivals, events and inclusive urban public spaces in Europe – a collaborative project involving five European institutions. More specifically, much of the work here emanates from a symposium organised by members of the Festspace team which was sponsored by the Geographies of Leisure and Tourism Research Group. This symposium was staged (online) in September 2020. All the chapters that feature in the book here were either produced as part of the Festspace project or presented at the Festivals and the City Symposium.