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

STORIES ROOM

Building from the ground, the stories room presented initiatives that tackled some of the challenges outlined above. Annalisa Cicerchia, Senior Researcher of ISTAT (IT) shared the case of Cinema Aquila, where CAE is a partner in the project. Cinema Aquila is a semi-peripheral cinema owned by the Municipality of Rome. Closed after it fell in the hands of organised crime, it had became a dark spot of the neighbourhood. The municipality promoted a participatory process to gather opinions on how the centre could serve the community. BtO participants noted that in this challenging times, participatory process (bottom-up), promoted via public bodies (top-down) offer a chance to counterbalance discourses that renegade of the elites and offer simplistic solutions. Experiencing first hand the complexities of public administration allows citizens to ‘learn’ democratic practices. However, if the initiatives fail the process of trust building collapses. Participatory processes were seen as difficult in big, established cultural organisations where interest’s coalitions have an established long-term presence. As such, the issue of the governance and sustainability is core. The municipality believes that the cinema has to be economically viable but at the same time welcoming to communities. Public-Private partnerships are increasingly seen as predatory on public budgets, as they demand strong investment but offer low returns to the public sphere. The role of cultural entrepreneurs was proposed as a middle way fulfilling both interests. Yet, diverging interest was a cause of tension in Izmir, according to Gökçe Suvari, Project Manager of Izmir Mediterranean Academy in Turkey. The Academy developed a cross-cutting programme combining culture and arts, ecology and history with city design by building upon the heritage and opening cultural spaces for exchange within Izmir and with a wider network of cities. Gökçe noted that the lack of funding from civil society has pushed the municipality to look for private investment. The proposals from the private sector fall back to the ‘tested, show and glow’ big cultural centres that attract high-end tourism and displace the cultural vitality of the city. Lastly, Salvator-John A. Liotta from Farm Cultural Park in Favara (IT) noted how the energy of two concerned citizens lead to a city wide process that has transformed  the town. What started with the setting of a cultural centre in the midst of a derelict town, has progressively led to the progressive transformation of the adjacent building with the collaboration of neighbours. In this sense, community participation is possible and viable but they need to feel a tangible improvement in their lives.

CAE take away: The imbalance of funding is translated into an imbalance of power, which in turn lead to different, even opposing, directions of cultural policy development. Communities will be an ally only if they perceive that culture contributes to their lives in a tangible way. Participatory, people-centred strategies remain the best option for democratic regeneration. However, these processes are risky as failing to deliver further erodes the hope in administrations and political elites. An overarching concept across all stories shared was that of transversal sustainability, that is, political, social and economic.

 


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