7 City Districts to Live and Breath Culture

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We are always talking about cities: the top 20 best cities to live in, the top 10 coolest cities… etc… but, what about those conglomerations of similar lifestyles that come together to form a neighborhood, district, arrondesement, or whatever they call it in your city? Let’s go on a tour around some of the most defining, trend-setting, urban shapping districts/neighborhoods/zones of some cities all around and that you really need to visit.

Today’s metropolis are a collage of urban pieces that define the character as a whole of it. The diversity of the neighborhoods represent the different purposes in life and realities of the inhabitants of a city. Some of these neighborhoods have been carefully planned and pre-disposed, the vast majority have just emerged (we tend to love these last ones because of its authenticity):

Kreuzberg

Berlin (Germany)

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Heart of the cheap and chic conception of Berlin, Kreuzberg is today a very active cultural transformation zone of the city, where the highest concentration of immigrants meets with political striving landmarks. Here, you can find the most “alternative” scenes of the city composed by countercultural activists and trendsetting newcommers.
The zone is still one of the poorest in Berlin but it has one of the fastest growing night scene and restaurants offers, which propels creative industries in the neighborhood. Combined with the active political role of this district, Kreuzber has attracted innovators to move in, creating new forms of cuisine, trendsetting boutiques and non-traditional artistic developments.
Kreuzberg has been home to the German punk movement as well as other cultural striking subcultures. The former punk haven SO36 Club is now an electronic music temple and a leader in musical experimentation across Europe, recognition that has made this neighborhood a place to go when going against “established conventions”.
Along with Schöneberg, Kreuzberg is also an important place for artistic expression around the gay movement in Berlin. The Schwules Museum is dedicated to communication, media and arts expression around LGBTQ history. Another statement proof of this zone’s support of diversity is the Carnival of Cultures, celebrated every May in which folklore and cultural expressionist from hundreds of countries parade in the streets of Kreuzberg. This is complemented with a huge world fair taking place in the neighborhood.
Kreuzberg is rebellion, protest, political activism, diversity and alternativism. Is that son of the separation of Berlin that loves to be heard and be on the spotlight for counterculture.

The Plateau

Montreal (Canada)

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Flooded with multimedia production, fine art and bohemian undercurrents, The Plateau sets the trend in Montreal. Its influence has gone far beyond the city to be considered one of the most hip zones in North America.
The zone has gone under gentrification becoming a yuppie haven. Despite this, it has not lost its vibe and The Plateau still being a point of reference for arts creation in French-speaking Canada.
During the last year the diversity of the population has increased its average income as well as the amount of cafés, shops, bars and pubs in the area. This has attracted different sort of visitors apart from the arts-driven curious, transforming The Plateau’s daytime and nightlife scene in one of the most in-vogue activities to do when visiting Montreal.
You can visit the designer boutiques at Saint-Denis Street, the gourmet restaurants at Prince Arthur street or even go and explore the growing urban art exposition all around the zone by just talking a walk down Saint-Laurent boulevard parallels.

Bellavista

Valparaíso (Chile)

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A place experiencing a recent boom of a creative population, Bellavista has served as a haven for arts and culture, not only for Valparaíso but also projecting its influence to nearby Santiago, the country’s capital city. You can see the inspiration of many of recent emerging Chilean artist on this colorful and bohemian place located in the rapidly progressing coast of Chile.
Its many hills are being occupied by artistic workshops, creation spaces and the arrival of a very trend-setting “methodology” of arts exposure: the art hostels. With their bright colors and cozy atmosphere, these places are full of masterpieces from local artists and serve as a hub for inspiration and exhibitions.
The prosperity created by the success of recent Chilean economy and the proximity of the port of Valparaíso has recovered the character of this neighborhood as an influential cultural spot, bringing back memories from past glory as the city was the pioneer in several aspects in Chile and Latin America: the first public library, the first stock exchange in Latin America, as well as the memories of being an immigrant magnet, reason why the city is considered the most ethnically diverse in the country.

Chelsea

New York (USA)

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Gallery tours. That’s right, Gallery Tours is a good way to summarize the what the New York City offerings are all about. And the term is not for granted. Chelsea has the world’s largest concentration of art galleries in the world and it’s all for a reason: the neighborhood has embranced cultural expression since its very beginnings when it was the first theatre-zone of New York. Today, the diversity of the place in terms of arts production is amazing. You can find contemporary, modern, experimental, dark, ethnic, avant-garde, classical, whatever art you fancy.
One of the most outstanding recent acquisition of the zone is the High Lane which goes all around the neighborhood connecting landmarks, landscapes, galleries, restaurants and beautiful gardens with a glimpse to the urban art printed on Chelsea’s walls. Just under the High Lane you can go through the spectacular Chelsea Market which brings together several independent clothes makers, cuisine afficionados and arts creators and collectors to create a space of active intervention to the former Nabisco factory.
Chelsea is also home to the highest concentration of gay people in New York thus fostering an active gay clubs offering, hence enriching the already very active nightlife of the zone. The nightlife per se is an exercise of culture creation; due to its diversity creates an atmosphere of “night experimentation” when paired with the amazing cuisine of the area.
Chelsea is definitely a world trend-setting place, best of the world there for the visitors’ entertainment and cultural enrichment.

Indre By

Copenhagen (Denmark)

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Where the green revolution in Copenhagen has its intellectual conception. Copenhagen’s recent and growing reputation as innovative and green-driven urbe is owned mostly to what is happening in Indre By sector of the city. Design, sustainability, culture and arts happen to reign the conversations in cafés, pubs and bars of the neighborhood.
Besides being flooded with the cultural axis of Denmark (Dansk Design Center, The Danish Museum of Art & Design, The National Museum, the Danish National Gallery), Indre By is full of innovators specially focused on design, music and fashion. The neighborhood is actually transforming Denmark, its inhabitants’ customs and creating socially striking ideas. It is a real dynamic society of thinkers and entrepreneurs.
The very centre of the district is the medieval inner city which makes a special contrast with the recent architectural developments. Worth a visit are the Royal Residence, the Charlottenborg, the City Hall and the Marble Church, as well as the museum clusters located in Slotsholmen. You also want to visit Tivoli, the world famous amusement park located just in the middle of the busy downtown of Copenhagen.
Indre By is an idea-shapping place with plenty of means and talented people to make them real. Go and get inspired.

798 Art Zone

Beijing (China)

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It may sound strange to stand out a free expression hub in China. Well, 798 Art Zone is at least a place for expression and arts development in Beijing transformed as so by the contemporary artists community of the city when the opression forced them to look for a new home on the fringes of Beijing.
798 Art Zone is more a complex of galleries with surrounding homes for artists, therefore sometimes it can be felt as a forced urbanization effort, but the expression endevour is quite noticeable when you visit and see the vast shock-art “collection” happening. It is the speciality of the zone, as the famous display of he Yunchan when he cemented himself in a wooden box in order to call the attention on what is considered art.
There is a duality in the role of 798 Art Zone; it “codes” the place for transgressive expression in China but at the same time follows a role specification in society. In any case, the zone worth a visit in order to go through the hundreds of galleries and performances present in the place and to witness some of the shocking art acts that make the zone famous.

Saint-Germain-des-Pres

Paris (France)

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If you ask Parisians about Saint Germain-des-Pres, will tell you it’s lost most of its enchantement because of gentrification produced by the arrival of world-class boutiques to the zone. But, nothing’s further from the truth. Saint Germain-des-Pres is breathing culture and arts production all over the place. The Academie des Beaux-Arts has played an essential role in this maintenance and growth of spirit. What’s more, the association of the local galleries has reinforced the promotion and purpose of them in the neighborhood. The cultural management and arts production is quite alive in here!
Walking through the streets of Saint Germain-des-Pres is getting caught by the beauty of its light Parissienne colors and the traditional cafés and brasseries of the place. The famous Café de Flore o Les Deux Magots play their role as forum for creators and intellectuals of the city.
The new features of the zone’s inhabitants have also allowed the growth in the number of entrepreneurs based in here. It is providing Saint Germain-des-Pres with a line-up of start-up and innovation hubs that are booming the creativity of the place.
Once the dominating music in the streets of the district, jazz is back. The neighborhood is becoming a magnet for new jazz bars and clubs, as well as “improvisation” hubs.
Saint Germain-des-Pres is more alive than ever, providing Paris with large part of its romanticism, but mostly with its creativity and hipness.

What are your top trendsetting, cultural hubs? Which of these are in your favorites? Leave a comment below with your thoughts!

5 Comments

  1. Andrea

    Nice article! I don’t know how the situation is with the other neighborhoods/districts/.. but as for Kreuzberg.. it’s no longer the cheapest part of Berlin! Paradoxically, thanks to its rise up as cultural alternative space, it became “the place to move in”.. Now its as expensive to live there as to live in cities like Frankfurt! In fact, many of the old buildings are being made to luxus apartments disregarding how long people have lived there or if they can afford to pay the rent after the remodeling!

    Reply
  2. Vicente

    I lived in Mexico city for 7 months. There is a zone called Polanco, where are most of the ¨ministerios¨ and embassies buildings. There are a lot of fancy restaurants, bars, pubs and discos; most of the people are foreign or foreign children. You can rent bicycles to ride in the zone and there are a lot of green zones.
    The only con is that it´s very expensive to live in.
    That`s why I think it can be in a chart like this. I liked the article and hope to get to know most of these neighbourhoods. Thank you.

    Reply
  3. Roberto Gettile

    Kreuzberg is an amazing example of natural cultural evolution. Very nice article but I surfed around the webpage and it does not feel like fitting the rest of it. Where can I find more about this series?

    Reply
    • Paola

      It’s a new series from our new editor, Juan Carlos. More is coming!

      Reply
  4. Andreas

    I’m very glad to see Indre By in Copenhagen included here. It’s certainly a zone that transform the world and inspire a lot of people.

    Reply

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