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Drawing upon policy documents and interview data, this article critically assesses how the conservation, interpretation and promotion of built heritage is used as a categorical identity referent within urban regeneration discourse in Ireland. The paper is critical of two inter-related dynamics. First, it addresses the relation between "culture-led" urban regeneration and the construction of a "sense of place." Second, it problematizes parallel attempts to constitute a sanitized and marketable urbanism expressed via a rhetorical and contrived veneer of European identity. A fundamental premise of the discussion is that the challenge of articulating a coherent and "distinctive" sense of urban cultural identity has become an issue of problematic salience in the context of European regional cities — not only between various cities, but also within such cities themselves. In particular, the discussion is intended to provide empirical evidence of how a regional municipality utilizes efforts to preserve the built environment and claims about local heritage in order to encourage tourism and economic regeneration. It is argued that the contextualizing of local planning discourse within European policy initiatives serves to legitimate the vision of renewal being proposed. Utilizing discourse analysis assists in displaying how policy architects exert a normalizing view of urban redevelopment, the conclusion is drawn that regeneration discourse is operationalized with the imperative of sustaining economic viability, one in which the existent built heritage of the city acquires the ascription of functional commodity held amidst the marketplace of European cities.


This article originally appeared in Formations: The Graduate Center Journal of Social Research, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2010). Formations was published by the Sociology Students Association of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

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