Thriving Cities: Placing Culture(s) in Sustainable Urban Development

IDEAS ROOM

In the ideas room, a panel moderated Jordi Pascual, Coordinator of Agenda 21 for Culture, UCLG, dealt with the adequacy of current local cultural policies for medium and small cities. Jordi challenged the panelists by posing two questions; are artists part of the solution or are they part of the problem? and second, how city strategies can provide services at a human scale in a more efficient and adaptive way?  Bernd Fesel, Senior Advisor, European Centre for creative economy (ecce) and chair of the European Creative Business Network (ECBN) unfolded the strategy that has allowed 23 cities from the Ruhr region to collaborate and thrive as a cultural and economic player. A fundamental part of the strategy relied on working with cultural operators in order to mediate between the needs of the city and citizens and the needs of the cultural sector. Middle ground is possible when all players understand that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves and they are not being instrumentalised. Dan Diaconu, Deputy Mayor of the City of Timișoara, (RO) talked about how culture is at the centre of the strategy of the city; from urban mobility to the environment. This transversal approach is flexible in nature. Sometimes culture provides seminal ideas and acts as an engine of transformation. Others, it grow out of the citizen’s cultural and historical imaginarium. For this to be possible, cultural officials had to step out of their comfort zones and engage in highly complex city management processes efficiently. László Pintér Professor of Environmental Sciences and Policy, CEU (HUN) shared that a sustainable transition rest on projects, including civil society initiatives, that can be accelerated and scaled. Sebastiano Sali from the Mayor’s Office of the City of Mantua (IT) and in charge of Strategic Projects, Fundraising and International Relations tackled the wicked questioned of are cultural operators promoting or hindering sustainable transformation at a local level?. He agreed with Fessel that an strategic approach that includes from the beginning consultation with the sector is crucial. However, this is not always enough, especially if there is not a shared language. Nevertheless, when the results of cultural urban transformation start to be felt, those who had initial reticences often re-engage. In this sense, it is important to have a vision to pursue, one that it’s inclusive and can gather support from the wider citizenship. In the case of Mantua, they posed the question: what is it to be a medium city in a globalised world? The answer was, one that offers what big cities can’t offer, quality of life and quality time in community.

 

CAE take away: Projecting and imagining sustainable communities in small and medium cities is possible by a combination of bottom-up and top-down processes. There will be initial reticences by those cultural operators that feel threatened or instrumentalised. Engaging with them sincerely and showing their contribution to a common project that is greater than themselves is the most effective way forward. Even those that do not initially contribute to a shared vision, often re-engage after seeing positive results. For culture to have a transversal place in urban development, city officials had to step out of their comfort zones.