Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do



This study about ‘successful cultural planning strategies’ is based on numerous, equally unusual experiences. Until most recently it was not common practice for professional planners and city officials to take culture into consideration when planning interventions into the city's fabric and structure. Since the cultural dimension contains as well reflective approaches to the role of the arts and culture in the life of a city, planning cannot be understood if it does not include this philosophical angle of further going reflections. For what citizens image their city could be, that differs from what usually planners conceive in conjunction with financial interests wishing to develop the city in but only a certain way. Thus reflection of the imagination is crucial as is in the final end the self understanding by which citizens move about and live in the city. All the more reason to think about one key departure point, namely Lewis Mumford's 'the Story of the City' and his reasoning for a need to have a city museum which preserves the memories of lived through stories in the city.

The link between culture and space started to become a focal point at the Aegean Seminars which started in Naxos 1983 and have continued to do so till the present. The important development in these seminars was that topics of discussions were marked at first only by critical planners and geographers interested in theories of space. But then happened what became known as the ‘cultural turn’. It altered the approach to how urban spaces are used and planned for. The 'cultural turn' was first provoked by one geographer expounding in Samos 1987 the simple thesis that urban mobility can be explained by cultural needs being satisfied or not; if people feel their cultural needs are not fulfilled within the immediate vicinity they live in, they move either to another part of town or leave the city altogether.

Thus there is already one indicator, namely if culture is sufficiently provided for by a city? This means not merely, if the city has but one theatre and perhaps several cinemas, but something more and which can be called a distinct cultural atmosphere. It would include lively neighborhoods with children playing in the streets and parents not afraid for them due to cars. More so it would mean the citizens identify with the city in a way that can be linked with their 'cultural well-being', even though this term is most evasive and never a sound policy concept. However, it is an indication of something and therefore in need to be taken further into consideration when planning the future of the city.

Above all any city must take care to come to terms with the more encompassing sense of culture based on real life expectations citizens have and while pursuing an active life so that their lived through experiences forms a narrative within the city's cultural fabric.

Often culture is referred to only as the medium in which people can meet other people. It is, therefore, the equivalent of public spaces i.e. places where everyone hangs on once the sun has gone down and the coolness of the evening allows life to take place outside the houses. These city squares are configured in a certain way with one corner reserved by the old men playing forever chess while in another the children's playground attracts young parents with their children. The same can be extended when applying the notion of public space to what takes place near the fish market or in the streets which are converted on a Saturday morning into a market. All these places and spaces offer an inter exchanges of ideas and of commodities. It is itself already a part of culture.

Today these streets and urban spaces are marked above all by one phenomenon, namely the car as sign of mobility and as private space within public realms. Here then the question is what does the city give away freely while people do not know how much such system of streets cost to be maintained everyday? Filled with many different signs to be at least noted if not read, moving about in the city has become a required and special kind of literacy before knowing where to go in order to find out what is going on in the city.

Thus the outlay of a city expresses the way people chose to deal with the complexities of life. Since that is already an expression of culture and which no other function or organisation of the city can manage to provide or fulfil, it is best to recall how Lewis Mumford perceives the city:

Though the great city is the best organ of memory man has yet created, it is also – until it becomes too cluttered and disorganised – the best agent for discrimination and comparative evaluation, not merely because it spreads out so many goods for choosing, but because it likewise creates minds of large range, capable of coping with them. Yes: inclusiveness and large numbers are often necessary; but large numbers are not enough. Florence, with some four hundred thousand inhabitants, performs more of the functions of the metropolis than many other cities with ten times that number. One of the main problems of urban culture today is to increase the digestive capacity of the container without letting the physical structure become a colossal, clotted, self-defeating mass. Renewal of the inner metropolitan core is impossible without a far greater transformation on a regional and inter-regional scale.[1]

Since urban culture is made primarily by people themselves, even though the quality of interaction may take on such forms as the yearly Edinburgh Fringe festival or the carnivals in Cologne, Patras or Rio de Janeiro, it is an expression of people succeeding to step out of prescribed roles. Always they try to become themselves more confident yet they tend to imitate others so as to become more who they wish to be compared to who they are. All this can be made possible in the city if human self consciousness is brought about by addressing one another in not just any language, may be that of the street, the ghetto, or the national one cultivated by the elite of the country, but by one which includes both the categories of both productivity and creativity. Only then said Marx in his dissertation can human self consciousness be brought about. It is the richness of the urban culture which may add still further categories but it is also the city which can separate the creative artists from all the workers or those without jobs. Most of them are doing just dismal jobs day in, day out. They are like the numerous waitresses, taxi drivers, hospital workers, clerks at city hall stuck in jobs without linkage to the memory base of the city. This then calls for a new approach to planning as a way to see new linkages being developed between culture and the city.

The idea of cultural planning to be presented in this study evolved out of various developments. For instance, the Fifth Seminar about ‘Cultural Actions for Europe’ organised in Athens 1994, created a base to link culture with ten different aspects of importance to urban society:

1.      International Networking

2.      Urban and Regional Planning

3.      Transportation, Energy Questions

4.      Unemployment, Training, Equal Opportunities

5.      Economy and Business

6.      Civilization e.g. theatre as mediator of values

7.      Education

8.      Literature, Poetry, Languages

9.      Health e.g. Art Therapy

10.  European Cultural Capital Cities as concept

Planning and poetry was merged the following year at the conference ‘Myth of the City’ in Crete. It brought together 15 poets such as Brendan Kennelly, Paula Meehan, Katerina Anghelaki Rooke, Anne Born, Bruno Kartheuser, Pedro Mateo, Sophia Yannatou etc. and 15 planners, architects, philosophers such as Phil Cooke, Juergen Eckhardt, Bart Verschaffel, Anna Arvanitaki, Nikos Stavroulakis. Once it became clear to planners that the poetic approach to cities has validity, [2] and vice versa poets started to heed the advice by urban and regional planners what it takes to include the cultural factor in planning, the setting of the urban agenda became a focal point. There were also interesting remarks by Socrates Kabouropoulos who pondered why a stranger may love a local place more than the local residents, and he said so in reflection of how they neglect their own environment. Or else Pedro Mateo, a Spanish poet living in Athens, writing about the ‘reality of streets’:

The street is a place of passing by, of meeting, of acquaintance. We do not know how the people of Phaistos expressed themselves or if they wanted to be understood, when they walked, or walked past each other, when they gathered to hear the news or to negotiate, when they were just talking and a laughter could be heard…Maybe, apart from the language they didn’t differ so much from us. It is rare that when two or more people meet, they don’t strike a conversation or that they don’t go through the ritual of shaking hands and smiling. This happens even in Athens, a warm and human city which resists the invasion of uniformity.”


In Athens there are many types of streets: The wide, old style boulevards, lined with trees and stately buildings, narrow streets with steps, climbing, because of the morphology of the soil, wary with rocky hills…Athens does not have a monumental character because it was built piece by piece; at one place the commercial center, at another the new town, somewhere else a little insufficient park. Streets dipped in light, alleys lost in the shade, covered passages and markets. Busy streets, deserted streets, practically useless but with a unique charm. The street: a concrete space observed by the vigilant eyes of the windows of the houses.” [3]

It goes without saying that cultural planning without such observing eyes of poets and artists is impossible. A main thesis of this study will be, therefore, how to bring into planning not only culture but those who can express best observations especially when details matter by showing how things are to be understood as a way of life.

A symmetry can be imagined by which society becomes the pivot point for linkages between culture, economy and politics. That means the structural disposition is not to re-unify society, but to maintain a symmetry of relationships in the interest to gain something out of the urban space. As this is but a theoretical introduction to the notion of a cultural economy in the making, naturally planning without taking culture into consideration would miss out perceiving the linkage between human development and development of cultural resources. In the case of the latter, language linked to sharing of values and of stories forms communication patterns which are themselves reflective of human and social relationships. They become typified as much as they are 'rational' to a certain extent to other than mere materialistic motives i.e. the wish to gain money. In that sense, the interdependence between civil society and urban governance becomes an expression of the prevailing culture in that specific city.



Within the Article 10 ERDF project CIED the refinement of planning methodology became a way to bridge culture and economic development. It was sought within the five partner cities of CIED (Volos, Cardiff, Galway, Palermo and Leipzig). The CIED methodology includes cultural impact studies, cultural consensus and cultural calendar as some of the cultural planning tools in need of being developed further. All in all it was most important to orientate the project along the objective of ‘learning to use but not to abuse culture’ when it comes to attract investments and to create with the help of culture jobs. At the same time the anxiety of the European Commission, over commercialization could lead to a destruction of cultural identities in Europe, was heeded. Most important seemed to be in the case of Galway and Gaelic culture to transform presumed threats to one’s own culture into challenges as the difference in both perception and response matters in how a city allows for such cultural development which is not commercially organised and yet an integral part of local identity.

How to resolve conflicts of local identity with challenges coming from the newest economic development, that was a major concern to all five cities. They described in their Volos Reports how culture can both structure planning and act as filter to ensure good implementation. It is the selection and the setting of cultural priorities that matters in how the cultural impact of planned interventions can be both anticipated and assessed. Here people must have access to information whether through user groups or cultural committees so that the cultural sector has a voice at official level when decisions about further developments are taken by the city.

Within CIED the working together with the business community was then not so much a problem as it was rather more important to create ideas for new use of buildings and areas having in the past other functions but now, with the fading away of the industrial age, have lost their economic viability. For instance, in Leipzig 95% of its industry shut down after 1989. It left in Plagwitz a huge industrial arsenal without use.

One of the ideas offered was to create in Cardiff a cultural quarter for Mount Stuart Square and this with the aim to attract to and around the former coal exchange, once refurbished, again the small and medium sized multi media companies. They had been driven out originally by the city giving in to a multinational company which after having gotten the bid decided then not to realize the project and thereby creating a void of inactivity not easily to be resolved once the cultural fabric of a quarter has been destroyed.

A similar development was observed to be the case in Leipzig where the famous slogan of ‘investment on the green meadow’ meant relocating the new exhibition of the ‘Leipziger Messe’ outside the city thereby neglecting and destroying the original innovative network consisting of printing firms, graphic design shops, book sellers, publishers etc. which had been created in the past around the old fair grounds hosting every year one of Germany’s biggest book fairs. One reason given to the start on new grounds was capital did not like the restrictions imposed in the old town. It would have meant the need to heed cultural heritage guidelines in order to preserve the character of the inner part of the city. A novelty despite all this became the renovation of the train stations by including underground shopping malls while keeping the function of a train station intact above ground.

Based on these and other experiences, the City of Volos has decided to pick up this specific thread and asked for a specific study about cultural planning strategies which have proven to be successful over time. This current study has been done within the framework of the Interreg III B – CADSES project HERMES with the aim to protect and to promote cultural heritage by use of the new media. It is linked to how museums collect and preserve items of cultural heritage. HERMES set up as well a specific form of communication about cultural heritage in the form of an Internet Radio. [4]

This study about cultural planning strategies is, therefore, complementary work to a second study asked for by the City of Volos, namely about ‘museums and the use of the multi media’ in order to examine if this new technology provides the means to enrich the narrative to be told about the city and its linkage especially to the Myth of the Argonauts. Since it is thought that they started to set out on their journey from Volos, the city plans to create three new museums one of which being about the Argonauts while the other two deal with the memory of the city and more so with the special phase of industrialisation the city went through in become a regional centre of importance with a striving port and a beautiful location at the foot of the Pelion mountains.

Consequently it makes sense to ask for these two studies since the ramifications of certain strategies adopted by cities must be understood first before undertaking any similar policy venture. Or to quote Lewis Mumford, the museum and the city go together when it becomes essential to look again at the cultural resources which have been gathered over time due to many people coming together and exchanging ideas, news while responding to the information received in a way that reflects these and no other times. In that sense, argues Lewis Mumford, the museum is an outcome of the excessive growth of the city with subsequent results:

Inevitably the museum has taken on many of the negative characteristics of the metropolis: its random acquisitiveness, its tendency to over-expansion and disorganisation, its habit of gauging its success by the number of people who pass through its gates. Too often physical size serves as a substitute for adequate organisation, as in the labour market; and mechanical expansion is confused with significance. Yet in its rational form the museum serves not merely as a concrete equivalent of the library, but also as a method of getting access, through selected specimens and samples, to a world whose immensity and complexity would other be far beyond human power to grasp. In this rational form, as an instrument of selection, the museum is an indispensable contribution to the culture of cities; and when we come to consider the organic reconstitution of cities we shall see that the museum, no less than the library, the hospital, the university, will have a new function in the regional economy. Already, in travelling exhibitions and extension departments, many museums have begun to transcend some of their original megalopolitan limitations.” [5]

Cultural planning in terms of anticipation and coordination between overlapping functions and organisations of any city can only happen once culture is taken into consideration at policy level. At the same time, it is not cultural policy but a practical way of defining how to use cultural resources in future that matters. This is not automatically a given but has to be learned by working together with artists who are visually orientated, as Carol Becker would point out, and therefore disposed to see things and to use space differently than most other people. That is not meant as replacement of previous practices and plans as suggested by architects, planners and engineers, but it does require another approach if these inputs are to be included in the next development plans.

Consequently for further understanding there is a definite need for discussions and analysis about cultural planning. The study aims to look at experiences made and outlooks articulated in other cities and this in a way that allows Volos to avoid what cities do best, namely ‘imitation of supposing successful practices’. Usually once models which have proven to be successful elsewhere are adopted, they prove to be a failure. This is because their success rested on very special and very local conditions.

Rather it shall be recommended to follow the example of the city of Linz when taking their Cultural Development Plan to mean mapping a qualification strategy for the city. Linz wanted to obtain and did so successfully the designation as European Cultural Capital. Its cultural plan was developed after two years of deliberations. It included expert hearings, studies and citizens forum. Some valuable lessons can be drawn out of that since the Cultural Development Plan of Linz means more to them the initiation of an ongoing learning process than a blue print for the future when it comes to dealing with the question of culture in the city.

Indeed, no model of cultural planning proposed can be considered of any value if not shaped by real problems and in terms of lived reality in which cultural planning has to be implemented in future. Still, by bringing in international and European references, the study wishes to show that feasible financial schemes to make culture work for the city can be brought in unison with the city learning to make possible cultural development.

Cultural planning strategies’ have to start with everyday actions of citizens and see to it how citizens can be connected to the cultural resources of a city. By opening up perspectives, creativity enhanced by informal and formal learning experiences can upgrade the level of interactivity. That involves dialogue, participation, proposals and innovation. With emphasis upon culture being a different environment in which a special kind of learning e.g. to discover a new poet, or how to see things differently when confronted by an artist’s work, can take place, cultural planning has to keep in mind utilization, performance, entertainment, relaxation and thoughtfulness since all of this can and does go together.

Always this is conditional e.g. what context and especially what people come together to experience a specific event. This is not simply audience creation but interconnectivity by people sharing similar values and tastes e.g. youth in a rock concert where their favourite band is playing to theatre enthusiasts who appreciate a certain performance of Ancient Greek drama interpreted in a novel way to just going out to see a movie and afterwards have something to eat and to drink as a form of social pleasure.

Hence the principle of CIED “to learn to make use of but not abuse culture” does make sense. This does not rule out using culture for the purpose of attracting and guiding inward investments especially when it comes to an understanding between city officials, planners, citizens and investors with regards to what they wish to create in a certain space and in anticipation of what this will mean and bring to the community establish some criteria for the impact of these activities upon culture. At times this might be most difficult to establish while at other times everyone has some notion what it means to establish just another consumer pedestrian like in the United States and thereby reinforce deliberately the culture of consumption with culture being left out in the final end.

Finally, cultural planning reflects the ability of everyone to go beyond mere administrative border and deal with culture in an encompassing way so that details do matter but also the principle of values shared becomes a manifestation of a living community at a specific locality in time and space.



[1] Lewis Mumford, The City in History, (1991) London: Penguin Ltd., p. 640

[2] For instance, the poetess Paula Meehan spoke about the need for ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’ spaces in a city made up only of tamed or planned places, if man is to retain linkage to nature as space free from man’s interventions. The poet Brendan Kennelly spoke about new spaces being like ‘rururb’: neither rural nor urban land but somewhere in-between and therefore without identity. At the same time, Yannis Phyllis from the Technical University of Crete drew attention to the adverse development factor: the more is consumed, the more waste is produced that cities cannot cope with even if developing new methods of waste management. Nikos Stavrolakis, author of the book about Thessaloniki, responded to the destruction of Sarajevo as international city and linked this to the danger of Chania which is neglecting the historical centre by basing economic development only on tourism, thereby neglecting the needs of local residents and in keeping a cultural diverse environment alive.

[3] Pedro Mateo, The reality of the street, (1995) Athens: unpublished materials of the ‘Myth of the City’ conference in the archive of POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN

[4] see www.heritageradio.net or in terms of work related to Volos www.i-politismos.gr

[5] Lewis Mumford, The City in History, (1991) London: Penguin Ltd., p. 639

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