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From cowboys to creatives: transition from traditional economies to creative economies in the rural American West

Authors: Jennifer Shelby*, University of Colorado
Topics: Rural Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Economic Geography
Keywords: Rural development, creative districts
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Rural towns of the American West tend to be associated with cowboys, extractive industries, and boom-bust economies (Booth 1999; Hines 2007). While nostalgic images may drive tourism, they mask the reality of rural places, many facing decline as mining, agriculture, and manufacturing industries collapse. Recently, a number of communities across the region have developed arts and cultural districts, attaching hopes for prosperity to the promise of attracting the “creative class” (Florida 2002). Historically, arts based economic development has been used in urban centers to infuse character into a downtown, spur revitalization, and stimulate economic development (Ashley 2015). In Colorado, a unique state-led approach to creative district development aims to enhance and develop creative economies across the state, with particular focus on rural areas. Currently, twelve rural districts have been certified through the state led creative district process. Little, if anything, is known about the ways in which these districts affect rural places and whether or not they achieve what they promise. Using a mixed-methods approach, drawing on grounded theory, network analysis, and economic analysis, this study examines rural creative districts across Colorado. The results reveal how creative district development induces impacts to physical space, social structures, and economic development.

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