New Cultural Challenges for European Cities

December 5, 2016, 5:18 pm

By Julie Hervé, EUROCITIES policy advisor

Many European cities already recognise the importance of culture and the creative industries for local development. Culture is integrated into their strategies in a range of areas, such as innovation, branding, tourism and social inclusion. But developing and implementing cultural strategies that make a real impact to economic development and social cohesion remains a challenge for cities. Several factors need to be in place to deliver the desired results, including: strong political will and leadership, a cooperation strategy between local and regional bodies, cooperation between various local actors from the public and private spheres, and capacity building measures involving stakeholders and experts.

There can be no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to culture-led local development. Instead, cities should build on their unique profiles and use culture as a means to differentiate their offering from others, in order to boost their competitive edge. By using their own local and regional resources smartly, cities can make the most of the added value of culture.

It is important that cities share their experiences. Networks such as EUROCITIES, and initiatives like Culture for Cities and Regions, provide a platform for sharing knowledge and practices.

Culture has a wider contribution to make to a number of other urban policies, such as economic development and social inclusion. The cultural and creative industries are important for driving the local economy and boosting employment, especially during tough times. Culture contributes to greater social inclusion, social innovation and intercultural dialogue. Ensuring that people have access to culture is an important tool for boosting social cohesion, and helps generate unique local identities.

There are new challenges emerging for cities all the time. They must adapt to different contexts and make the most of new opportunities. With a view to 2030, EUROCITIES has identified a number of areas which we think will affect cities and their cultural strategies over the coming decades.

The demographic challenge

Over the next decade or so, many cities will experience changes in their populations. Some will see growing numbers of young families and older people, while others will shrink.

The arrival of many more newcomers to cities means that their populations will become increasingly diverse, and there will be a greater need for proactive integration measures.

We will also observe that people are more highly educated, and that digital natives are the norm.

In response, cities will need to develop new cultural offers. For many, intercultural dialogue will be at the heart of their strategies as they endeavour to welcome newcomers into their societies.

New audience expectations

The audiences of the future are likely to expect more flexibility and tailored cultural offerings. Local cultural actors will need to work more closely with their audiences to better design content that is interesting for them.

Co-creation will be an important part of this. Cities’ cultural administrations can facilitate this process by acting as brokers to make local cultural organisations and different audience groups discuss how to work together. Some cities already organise regular local cultural fora that serve as platforms for local cultural actors, both institutions and audiences, to share views build a local cultural agenda together.

A new approach to governance and networking

Cross-sectoral projects involving culture should multiply over the coming years, addressing a broad range of areas such as health, wellbeing and social inclusion. Cultural organisations will join forces with others outside the cultural sector. Cities will foster new partnerships. Will we move away from a ‘cross-sectoral’ approach towards a more holistic one?

Throughout this transition, cities will play an important role in safeguarding the intrinsic value of culture.

Riding the digital wave

We already know that audience expectations will change in the coming years, but what role will digital technologies play in this? How will cultural organisations and city administrations responsible for culture need to adapt to this new digital context?

Cities will have an important role to play in ensuring everyone is included in the digital transition. They will need to address the potential of social and generational divides as cultural organisations increasingly work with new technologies. Equipping people with the right digital skills will be necessary.

Future fit local cultural administrations

Public administrations are increasingly dealing with fewer resources to go around. Instead of providing financial resources, cities can broker new partnerships, or they might provide physical space for artists and cultural organisations. They may offer advice, such as assisting local cultural organisations with responding to calls for EU-funded promoters. And they can promote local cultural organisations’ activities.

Learning from Culture for Cities and Regions

The Culture for Cities and Regions initiative (2015-2017) offers interesting insight into how culture contributes to local development. Funded by the EU’s Creative Europe Programme, it aims to highlight successful cultural investments and promote knowledge transfer. This is done through 70 thematic case studies, 15 study visits and coaching for selected cities and regions. EUROCITIES is leading the consortium responsible for this initiative.

We recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to culture-led development, but cities nevertheless have plenty to share and plenty to learn. Their experiences and ideas, successful and unsuccessful, can feed into others’ cultural development strategies. It is essential therefore that cities have a place to share and exchange expertise and good practices, which is why networks are so important. They provide a platform for exchange and debate, enabling cities to confront future cultural challenges together.

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