Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Entering the Cultural Planning Process by Hatto Fischer

by Hatto Fischer,
Athens 2006 (updated: 24.3.2007)


If people are to enter the planning process and guide developments, then their experiences and memories must count. Sustainability by and through people is dealt with when assessing and identifying themselves what can be upheld over time. This differs from what must be done consciously at planning level to achieve aside from economic, political and social as well cultural sustainability.

The mediation between active citizens and official cultural planning concepts reflects the levels of reflections which are possible and determines at the same time the degree of sophistication in understanding how culture works. Mediation as a way to handle complexity articulates itself through forms of understanding made simple after a process of deliberation and refinement.

There is beauty in the making while drawing inspiration out of already existing beauty of life. In that sense cultural planning is about affirmation of a true life continuing despite many hardships, set-backs, obstacles, financial constraints, lack of information, and many other short-comings. Thus reflections of life, society and economy take on not only another, but a special meaning once this can be realized in an open ended process.

Something becomes convincing over time because it has a true aspiration of life. With it goes a cultural literacy that shows how complexity can be handled. For it is not merely the gap between citizens and decision makers in need of being bridged; equally expertise knowledge requirements and socially balanced information policy presuppose new communication strategies if participation and transparency is to be guaranteed by democratic governance. Accessibility to culture has to mean literacy in the extended sense of being able to read the signs of the time and thereby be able to anticipate future developments.

Translated into practical terms, in order to be able to bridge culture and economic development planning decisions have to be based on cultural consensus while cultural impact studies are used to anticipate consequences of planned actions and projects. Only under the scrutiny of culture to ensure sustainability can there be brought about ‘successful planning strategies’, the outcome positive once all actors engage themselves and thereby become both creative and productive as part of an ongoing learning process. A lively city has this special flavor. Consequently it attracts all kinds of people who intermingle in multiple ways to tell their stories.

Setting the urban agenda

Culture is a matter of recognition not only what are great works of art but fore mostly who contributes best to making life possible on earth and in the cities. Recognition thereof is best indicated as to what priorities a city sets for itself. That is reflected in the urban agenda of a city especially there is the wish to include culture in the planning process. For example, in the Article 10 ERDF project CIED (Cultural Innovation and Economic Development), the City of Galway decided to hire a cultural heritage officer to examine prior to implementation every urban planning intervention as to what will be the possible impact thereof upon the cultural heritage of the city.

Naturally other things must take place before citizens can enter planning as a distinctive creative process and therefore take on cultural value as an open ended learning process. Above all they must understand that setting the urban agenda is no easy task. For any agenda reflects how power is distributed in the city and more often it is defined functionally in accordance with which groups have and share power. Thus the agenda reflects the type of governance based on certain partnerships and institutional practices. It alters once the cultural sector is given a voice and when even poets contribute towards setting the agenda. For then not only the poetic spirit expressing best the spontaneous immediacy (when emotional ideas are brought to form) counts but also the important guideline is being observed, namely that all should learn "to use but not abuse culture" (Brendan Kennelly) for purpose of furthering economic development.

In the implementation of the agenda becomes evident how different planning methods in use are decisive or not when it comes to the allocation of all resources, including cultural ones. Planning must follow practical wisdom, insofar as living habits have an impact on how all resources, including water are used. Good habits should reflect a wisely thought through economy and thereby avoid over abundance or scarcity as both are extreme cases leading to spoilage and waste of resources.

Beyond mere habits: cultural consciousness

Still, involvement of cultural reflections means going beyond mere habits. Yet to attain cultural consciousness the unfolding of the creative personality has to go hand in hand with leading a life which can be sustained due to being based on thought through concepts. The materialization which goes with such a life, from type of work and dwelling to interactions with other people, refrains people from doing other things at the same time. This has its advantages but also disadvantages as flexibility and cultural adaptability are two key prerequisites for living in modern, indeed global society. Therefore different from cultural consciousness cultural planning works mostly on a macro scale, that is at community, regional and even national level. At this level compounded interests draw distinct borders for identification purposes but also for the sake of claiming resources.

Planning and chaos  with or without consideration of others

Still there exists a lot of confusion as to what cultural planning means and entails. There are even member states in the European Union said to use no planning (never mind cultural planning) whatsoever. For instance, Greece has the stigma of letting chaos rule even though there are people who uphold the theory of chaos as a way to rule and be ruled. Moreover there is generally great mistrust in any regulation nor do citizens agree necessarily by what rules they should be governed by. Again it may be a problem of interpretation but also it takes sometimes years before mistakes are recognized and corrected. Once a beautiful beach has been encroached upon by high rise hotel buildings, such a process of destruction of cultural and natural landscapes is irreversible. As society becomes complexer and wealthier, new needs for mobility and infrastructures make themselves felt as new demands upon cities. Consequently they have expanded beyond their administrative borders. It makes all the more necessary to find new forms of cooperation and governance with cultural planning thought to be a new tool to bring about the needed coordination between different social, economic and administrative unities.

Planning becomes crucial when it comes to land uses. Unfortunately there are so many violations mainly due to illegal practices but not only. There exists in many countries no sufficient cultural consensus to uphold any law e.g. protection of forests, rural country side, sea shores etc.. Often violations of planning laws reflect a double morality: people are against the state when of personal advantage, and for the state when at social disadvantage. Strange but really an expression of one sided views are appraisals of politics being only then good and not corrupt when to the benefit of oneself. No distinction is made in the analysis between impact of tax laws upon oneself compared to others before reaching a verdict as to what is fair and just. The social dimension seems to be missing in most cases. There seems to be missing the consideration for others.

The concept of politics

Insofar politics follows the logic of denying others an equal chance, it creates mainly impossibilities (blockages or cumbersome bureaucratic processes taking a lot of time) as a way to attain new possibilities. The common term of politics applies then best when perceived as an ongoing negotiation and bargaining game about use of resources and opportunities with perhaps the strongest motive being to gain personally while not caring so much about the other(s) nor whether or not it leaves society impoverished.

Such round about ways of seeing politics negatively leaves public opinion far behind the decision making process while urban development is at best highly flawed and very poor in outcome, not only culturally but also socially and economically speaking. As a matter of fact the very absence of planning suggests there is no conscious linkage between culture and economic development although in recent years efforts have been made to capitalize at least on cultural tourism even if without any conscious plan. The closest thing coming to a conscious cultural planning effort are efforts to map cultural resources, to invest in cultural infrastructures and to maintain high standards of good practices throughout all administrative and political institutions.

Still, the knowledge base for cultural planning hardly exists. There is a deficit in the way strategies into the future are communicated amongst people. There is always a high risk that major players like the automobile industry will manipulate future horizons by including short term desirable products despite having negative long term impacts e.g. car upon environment since a kind of traffic culture based on a single definition of mobility (the driver in one car) resulting in enormous wastage of resources.

As a general rule of politics there is always competition at urban level between various groups and different fractions of interests all wishing to gain access to the mayor and the city council. This competition may go so far that one side wishes to keep out the others completely. If not ending in a complete impasse, it will certainly neutralize the political demands of those who are sidelined in the process. [1] That has not only social and economic but as well cultural ramifications because the ability to articulate demands is directly connected with setting the agenda.

The willingness to see where the problem exists

The urban agenda reflects recognition as to what issues or problems need to be addressed or more so what is worthy to receive attention by all and if decided upon positively would allocate resources to such specific demand. Consequently the setting of the urban agenda is crucial for any further cultural and economic development. Still there are limits when it comes to seeking and to setting a progressive agenda. These limits are drawn by various factors.

For instance, Marx mentioned that people are only then willing to recognize a problem when a solution has been found for it. Without a solution in sight they refuse to discuss the problem as if they do not wish to see it. This would mean people tend to live in closed worlds determined by certain standard solutions but which will not work in all cases. But for cultural planning to go forward, there has to recognized the need for open problematization even if solutions have not yet been found. A solution may be found only once the problem has been reformulated. For it is one thing to recognize that water shortage will pose a problem in near future, another matter how to alter everything from how water is obtained to how used in daily life.

Practical solutions

Clearly solutions are only then acceptable if they are a part of the daily lived culture. This is then not merely a matter of habits but how to live consciously the cultural mediation between needs and possibilities created by people in society. It includes parents who pass on good practices to their children e.g. how not to waste water and generally how people animate each other to find good solutions without entering bitter conflicts when it comes to use water collectively and individually. There is always the risk that what appears to be a rational action for the individual, ends up as sum of actions by all to be completely irrational. Thus partial solutions must be re-examined in a wider, even global context if they are to qualify as viable ones, capable of being integrated into future developments.

If some further thought is to be given to cultural planning not merely how experts conceptualize it but how citizens can enter planning as a creative process and in so doing create extra value, then culture has to mean more than being some kind of static reference point. Substantially culture has to be above all the freedom to unfold in a multiple way. As this gives meaning to places in which people live, work and let their children grow up in, then all activities undertaken are created in conjunction with these meanings. It is an understanding of how memory works. That is something tangible and intangible at one and the same time.

How memory works to give meanings to places, times and spaces

Tangible memory manifestations can be found in monuments, public buildings, and special events to remember by key historical dates etc. They compound memory at social and collective levels without which no community could sustain its identity. Yet these very acts of remembrance entail as much suppression of hidden truths, as they tend to overemphasize in a non critical way how society deems it necessary to protect itself e.g. military parades on independence day.

Interestingly enough often these meanings of how memory works are hidden. But once it becomes a conscious idea, it can be transformed over time into a key guideline for cultural development. For example, in Volos, the need for a new valorization of cultural heritage was linked to the question but how to give local people again access to their own history. It had become obvious that they became cut off from their own history and cultural heritage by the latest developments. In Volos cultural heritage means not only the ancient but equally the recent past, the latter connected very much to the industrial age.

Moreover once the materialization of meaning of place out of which people create their identities becomes possible, it brings into existence many, equally sometimes distinctive private, semi public and public spaces, all of which have as explained by Bart Verschaffel different truths of meanings. These have to be mediated in the process called cultural development since based on certain value premises and intended to preserve the dignity of everyone as human being. [2]

How then to distinguish between these different spaces?  It is a matter of working out not merely agreements between different interests groups as if culture and values can be objects of negotiations. Rather the difference between moving within the stream of humanity and entering such thought processes that they can be referred to as planning for something ahead has the demand to know what can be shaped consciously and is, therefore, not subject to fate or a reality impossible to be changed.

Learning to anticipate or the difference between success and failure

Cultural planning is more a question how can something be changed before a negative pattern of development overshadows everything. Here culture can show a way out of the dilemma created by lack of freedom and fear of too much uncertainty. Since people can easily be over demanded they tend to block off many positive changes rather than bring about such cultural motivation leading them on to not only workable but equally liveable solutions. In essence that is cultural innovation. Yet possible solutions must be tested against the complexity of life and not deemed only good within the working and production space i.e. by bringing in money. While parents must earn a living, they must bring up as well their children and together they need to make come true their dream of having a fulfilled life.

Many success stories but also failures with regards to parent - children relationships have to do with how mediation of different values can be made possible by entering consciously a specific culture. As signature of a way of life it indicates what values have been adapted to indicate thereby what is not merely best, but true to the human being in and outside of any specific society. With such cultural freedom goes an independence not to be limited by needs of others upon others for that would mean imposing relationships upon the individual and therefore not conceivable as being open to change and to life itself.

There are other details to be noted in reference to cultural development such as upholding meanings in avoidance of misunderstandings. Here the plurality of opinions is as valid as the need to create a consensus despite the existence of often conflicting and even hostile viewpoints. Hence part of the process must exercise not merely caution but resolve these conflicts peacefully. If not, as often the case between Israelis and Palestinians, unresolved questions erupt in violence and humiliating practices.

The concept of culture as non violent mediation between various possibilities is moreover based on such emotional intelligence which is akin to how people give meaning to things and therefore remember them. They can experience then what sustains their normal lives and relationships and therefore appreciate all the more the efforts made by all others to sustain life. In practical terms it presupposes a cultural sustainability as meanings are only upheld by people as long as they experiencing all relationships becoming and remaining humane, open and honest. To this Phil Cooke added the value of shared interest in doing excellent work so as not to compromise the standards when it comes to find solutions, including finding work for everyone, as part of the quality of life to be strived for.

The underlying motives which play a role in the formation of all relationships range from wishing to preserve some relationships while changing others. All along there is going on a search for continuity and where successful consistency will take on a deeper meaning, especially if it translates itself into lasting equally open relationships. These aspects of cultural development need to be taken into consideration. Consequently of interest is to examine use of culture to foster human relationships on the basis of which ‘cultural planning strategies’ can be conceived as a way forward and therefore deemed to be successful. Already the existence of such conviction gives stamina to the process while a culture allowing the articulation of needs by filtering and validating things and priorities in accordance with the foremost need of society shall ensure in practice people will have the feeling to be human because free. Hence any practical use of cultural planning strategies relies on a more profound understanding of culture itself.

Article 10 - ERDF project CIED (Cultural Innovation and Economic Development)

Unfortunately the European Union and with it nation states, regions and cities in Europe are still far away from realizing the need for bottom-up success stories as part of an approach that includes people in the planning process. This is said despite a growing interest in culture planning and related methodologies such as cultural cooperation to foster new types of partnerships and interactions.

In an effort to create new standards when it comes to linking culture and planning, the non profit Urban Society POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN has been created in Athens, Greece. As the name suggests ‘to create and to do’ efforts are made that both systems of categories can go together. The aim is to ensure that planners in dialogue with poets, artists and cultural actors develop together such a language which can address the human self consciousness and thereby include citizens in the planning process with the aim to improve life in cities. Already how citizens are ready to give to strangers orientation is an indication not only of friendliness and hospitality but also reveals how well citizens know their own city. All these efforts to refine common planning practices by including the cultural dimension have a certain background, including various experiences of different participation models of citizens.

Specifically the organisation of the Fifth Seminar sponsored by the Flemish government under the title ‘cultural actions for Europe’ in Athens 1994 and the subsequent conference in Crete 1995 under the theme ‘Myth of the City’ touched upon this effort to link culture and planning. By letting in 1994 experts of various fields (traffic, education, economy etc.) consider the cultural dimension, urban/regional planning and culture became a major focus. In the second event planners and poets were then brought together to talk together about living conditions in cities. All this lead to the  ERDF Article 10 project CIED with five partner cities, namely Volos (Greece), Cardiff (UK), Galway (Ireland), Palermo (Italy) and Leipzig (Germany).

CIED (Cultural Innovation and Economic Development) aims to bridge culture and economic development by refining planning practices and methodologies. As such CIED stands for a cultural approach to economic questions and aims to affect differently compared to a purely market or economy approach the policy decision making processes from a cultural angle. Here the critical remarks by Michael D. Higgins are of utmost importance. Society should not be only consumer driven and therefore be governed solely by market forces. Rather cultural diversity would mean cities are not only there for consumers but for all kinds of people with various and different identities each challenging and thereby enriching each other. It is in the positive nature of culture to make these challenges become productive and thereby to facilitate avoidance that people feel threatened by other identities and by the alternative living possibilities which go with them.

As these alternate identities have to do with other survival strategies, implying therefore a different use of resources and of territorities, this can easily lead to war if these differences of identities are not understood in cultural terms as interesting challenges but perceived as mere threat to own identity. If perceived only as a threat, it leads to 'ethnic assertiveness': a negative cultural assertion aiming to exclude other identities. Interestingly enough the most extreme cultural assertion links itself directly to language, in particular in its purest form. It had provoked Adorno to say 'foreign words are the Jews of the German language'.

The Article 10 - ERDF program was implemented in the late nineties. Interestingly enough the European Commission became interested from a structural fund point of view in culture and more specifically in the cultural sector (‘cultural industries’, ‘creative industries’). They saw culture as source of employment but at the same time the European Commission was increasingly worried by tendencies of over-commercialization because it can lead to destruction of cultural identities. This double problem or paradox - use of culture for creating employment, fear that overuse destroys cultural identities - turned out to be a most fruitful positioning when it came to conceptualize this EU funding program of culture through the structural fund.

As to a vision for Europe, indeed not more exploitation for the sake of purely economic development is needed but redemption in cultural terms. Of course for redemption to become a conscious policy term there is a need for further clarification. It is a term Adorno shaped after Second World War insofar literature and generally speaking culture should allow a second glance at what took place but by not manipulating or beautifying how things took place and played out, including the Holocaust, a chance is given to avoid the same mistakes from being repeated a second time.

The radical loser

Nowadays redemption of a different order is becoming ever more crucial. Many people or even entire populations can feel at times as if they have been outplayed and therefore are subject to great losses e.g. Germans after First World War through the Versailles Treaty. The German writer Enzensberger has consequently taken Hitler as an example and identified a new figure, namely the ‘radical losers’.[3]

Enzensberger warns that such a radical loser is about to erupt out of silence especially if he manages to unify all trivial motives by which everyone lives daily but is often too bored or not motivated enough to undertake anything. The unification of motivations is done by becoming enraged over his looses. In so doing he elevates himself onto another level. Suddenly he can step out of silence and engulf everyone else in his 'rage'. The force of rage is that strong that it allows him to dominate everything and everyone. It is legitimized by claiming to seek justice through revenge for those losses suffered all in silence (a way of non language). It allows him to equate beyond doubt personal losses suffered with all injustices prevailing apparently in society. But by seeking only revenge he manages to convince everyone else and above all himself that there is no other way out but to affirm the looses suffered already. As this is no way to preserve life, the suicide bomber an outstanding example of that, utmost destruction is given a powerful confirmation. It means the 'radical loser' extrapolates out of history all previous loses into what makes the present appear so negative. Consequently there is the danger of degrading if not entirely alienating and dehumanizing life then to negate all those human relationships which could off-set personal losses. Interestingly enough for the 'radical loser' friendship does not count. He appears to act alone.

If this downward spiral is not halted by a culture capable of bestowing everyone with dignity and self respect in recognition of being human, as was the case in Germany under National Socialism, then anything is possible even if unexplainable once the 'radical loser' like Hitler has his way. Nowadays the consequences of such loss of dignity can be seen in the irrational increase in sectarian violence in Iraq after the invasion and occupation in March 21, 2003 by American, British and other coalition forces. Since then more lives have been lost, wounded or traumatized than the 3000 who died when the Twin Towers in New York collapsed on 9/11. The toll of those seeking mere revenge is just that: a taking of more lives than ever before. The 'war against terrorism' as exaggeration and blind rage hinders any intelligible, rational and therefore peaceful solution from ever reaching the level of redemption as Adorno had maintained to be of cultural importance even after the Holocaust experience during Second World War.

As culture can help to overcome borders, not by trespassing them but by bridging different worlds, the very nature of border needs to be known from the outset. External borders have been drawn by national sovereign states but which have become less and less a guarantee as 'regime change' and other pretexts for entering other territories has become since 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall the key aspect of global politics. It helps to mask war as humanitarian intervention. It is claimed that this is done with the intention to restore human dignity and thereby bring about democracy. Not perceived is the political fallacy that such interventions by starting war are acts of violence and that they rob other people of their chances to achieve political emancipation on their own.

Poverty of experience and lack of participation in culture

On the other hand inner borders are drawn by various types of social isolations and economic limitations. Together it creates a 'poverty of experience' inhibiting people to undertake initiatives of their own. This includes especially people who draw these borders out of fear mainly because they think that they cannot articulate themselves in public. Therefore they are inhibited on all accounts to participate in social and cultural events even when offered free of charge. The psychoanalytic Alexander Mitscherlich posed that crucial question why so few people take advantage of culture and do not participate even though cultural opportunities are offered to them?
Surely lack of education and poor socialisation but also the negative value attributed to culture (e.g. as not bringing in any money) has over time created reluctance in people to venture down that road or step forth to make a contribution stemming from their own creativity. They could so only in appreciation of other creations but not to be intimitated by that but rather to be stimulated and inspired to do the same in a different way. By nature people hesitate to recite their own poem or sing a song in public unless culture gives them the needed knowledge and confidence that each personal expression is understandable as everyone has his or her own marks of creativity. Of course there is always this great risk of not being understood by others. This creates fear and inhibits many people from even trying. On the other hand there are cultures as in Greece where almost everyone can sing along or write poetry so that it can become a common expression and accepted if done in such a way that it conforms to the rule of society.

Stories told, stories passed on and when to go public with them: cultural differences

Still it will take time for stories to be told and be accepted as valid ones by the others. As this hesitation characteristes almost all Western Societies, great imbalances with regards to going public manifest themselves in individuals and social groups. Usually it is only the celebrity capable of doing that, namely to perform in public while the media focus on a few stars does not help either to encourage a bottom-up cultural expression. Interestingly enough though the American writer George Crane suggests American English differs from the British. He claims the American language comes more from the street, hence it is more open to everyone. He feels the language as being less rigid when using it and even more articulate to express people's thoughts and feelings. That may explain certain cultural characteristics in the United States such as the tradition of the open mike when anyone can come up and join a poetry slam or as the case with rap poetry a performance which can easily outmatch any other possible form of entertainment even if done out in the streets of New York.

Outer borders of the city

As to outer borders of any city they are linked not only to the administrative ones but to the radius of influence a city may have and exert upon its surrounding region. Observers of urban planning developments will say that even the location of an international airport outside the city’s outer borders will have as many implications as the limited potential for cohesion any city can offer to its citizens will have to be taken into consideration. As a city attempts to service global demands, many more activities and functions will have to be in place but can a city even like London bear the entire environmental impact of being an international transportation and financial link to the rest of the world? [4]

Nowadays cities are not defined anymore solely in terms of traditional criteria of importance but are drawn into a wide spread of networks over extending the geographical limits of a city. It indicates the challenges any city regardless of size faces since the global scale of economic, political and military activities have direct or at the very least very wide spread impacts on entire regions and therefore on the cities which are located within those regions. An added factor has been the concern for being hijacked by these global interests and therefore be driven by but few factors overriding all other concerns. In the end things may not work out as wanted and first signals of real crisis are not merely the burning cities as in the late sixties in the United States or racial riots in British cities in the seventies but failures of power grids as experienced by New York or California. At the same time, 'the global war against terrorism' has made cities like Baghdad or lately Beirut into socalled urban archaeological sites of repeated destructions on which its citizens have to rebuild as their way of life.

Moreover, cities stand to loose their unique identities once they take on the characteristics of strategic operations at global level. Once there is no mediation and only the brand of buildings to be found everywhere else imposes itself, then cities become faceless copies of other international ones. Politically this has often been described as the disenfranchisement of not only cities but nation states as well. Even the European Union as global player has to recognize its limitations. Since expansion continues it struggles to keep regional development in line with these global challenges. Among the most urgent ones are the movements of people, legal and illegal immigration difficult at times to distinguish, while the extension of world markets and the political developments that goe with them can all have adverse effects upon how European cities shall deal in future with crisis and their potentialities at one and the same time. Lately it is being recognized that an urban based cultural policy is needed after the European Union published its study on the relationship between 'culture and economy'.

But to come back to the ‘fragmented city’ just for a moment, one of its most striking characteristics is that its borders are drawn by contradictions between affluent and derelict areas. They can co-exist even on opposite sides of the same street or while one street swims in affluence just around the corner there awaits one an appalling scene of urban poverty. It seems as if these contradictions and obvious gaps in the distribution of wealth of a city can never be bridged. While more and more problems loom ahead, urban alienation and corresponding vandalism spreads. It leads to various forms of violence and produces many other social problems. In the end they all threaten to over demand not only individual citizens but the services of the city itself.

Practical examples: Glasgow 1990 - Brussels 2000 - the concept of European Cultural Capital City

Brussels had for a long time and really until 2000 when it became a European Cultural Capital City been marked by such contradictions. There were not only streets which had literally a high life on one side while just around the corner houses and streets were steeped in horrific poverty. More so fragmentation was intensified by many municipalities (18) all with their own agenda. They could not really work together while tension between the Flemish and French speaking populations rose steadily. These two cultures along with their respective institutions were more at odds with one another than willing to speak with the other side.

When Bob Palmer became artistic director of Brussels 2000 he brought with him all the experiences he had made when in a similar position in Glasgow 1990. At that time Glasgow had become Cultural Capital City of Europe. For the first time there was available a huge budget to be used for artistic and cultural actions but due to Palmer's concept used as a strategic way to go forward with the notion of urban renewal. A part of the Glasgow strategy was to bring about new uses of old places. A prime example was a church which became a public cultural centre and thereby attracted people back into the centre of the city which had been abandoned till then.

As to Brussels Bob Palmer made it possible to find a consensus between the two major linguistic and culturally distinct communities and developed jointly ideas on how to use again the arts and culture in general for urban renewal projects. Youth centres were created in areas were till then only poverty and crime ruled. Above all Brussels became united around the idea of a special parade which has continued since then as a traditional event taking place every year at the same time. The parade draws out the ridiculous parts of everyone and in so doing makes the daily life be accepted as more normal than what had been the perception till then, namely as something weird and not at all capable of overcoming the huge gap between the Eurocrats and the local population. Most of whom commute daily by train into the city to work at extremely low salaries in highly exploitative work places. Thus the city had to learn how to come to terms with its different functions and still provide room for discussions and participation based on the notion ‘you never know for whom else such openings are good for’.

It is an interesting process to watch how individuals like Bob Palmer coming from Glasgow would provide orientation on how to use culture to resolve first of all conflicts and then still make space for everyone to express ideas so that the obliteration of identities due to the Belgium past and European presence would not continue in the same way as before. That problem existed as long as there was no political resolve to this question. It means culture is first of all a way to bring together people who otherwise would not speak with each other. As a strategy it works by providing space without occupying it oneself – something Michel Foucault said is the prerequisite for any philosophical discourse and in terms of culture a way to overcome structural dispositions towards negative outlooks. That is the case if a city does not provide such spaces.

Translated into culture and cultural actions, Bob Palmer was of the opinion that projects to be selected for Brussels 2000 should work across borders and energize people. In the combination of the two, namely giving space but also working across borders, new energies made Brussels become a vibrant city. Above all he succeeded insofar as all municipalities were able to agree on a common working program for the benefit of the city as a whole. [5]

Cultural planning as a qualification strategy and the ECCM Network

The type of cultural planning involved when a city receives the designation by the European Union to be the European Cultural Capital City for a specific year is an interesting process. For instance Linz drafted a cultural development plan as a strategy to qualify for the designation. There are several phases to be gone through from drafting the proposal to entering the competition with other cities to actually preparing the ground for the one year, and then after one year of implementation, what will happen afterwards. Again Bob Palmer has written a comprehensive report for the European Commission to evaluate whether or not the concept proves to be sustainable.

In another framework of deliberations, the ECCM or Network of European Cultural Capitals and Months with Spyros Mercouris as honorary chairman held a symposium in Athens, October 2005. It showed that by now the success of the concept is spreading throughout the world. Examples from Latin America but especially from Canada can show how the very notion of ‘Creative Cities’ can open up multiple spaces for artistic projects and cultural interactions all done with the aim to upgrade the importance of culture at municipal levels.

In this context it should be taken note of that the ECCM together with POIEIN KAI PRATTEIN and Heritage Radio Network of the HERMES project have collaborated in setting up an Internet Café and online exhibition parallel to the exhibition “Twenty years of History – a Journey through the World” about Europe’s Cultural Capital Cities. This exhibition was shown first in Patras 2006. It is designed to wander to the respective new Cultural Capital City (2007 in Luxembourg and Sibiu, 2008 in Liverpool and Stravanger) and means the creation of an archive containing all the experiences made so far by Cultural Capital Cities. As this can serve as base for further going reflections and exchange of experiences made when implementing the concept, such major reference point for discussions about ‘cultural planning strategies and their implementation possibilities’ will allow some practical judgment about what works in cultural planning, what does not go so well and why certain things fail right from the outset.

Moreover Heritage Radio Network has produced a magazine on the subject under the title “Europe under Construction” [6], some of the leading voices like Bob Palmer can be heard online. One of the persons interviewed, the philosopher Bart Verschaffel who was coordinator for literature when Antwerp was Europe’s Cultural Capital City, said quite clearly every city wants to receive such designation but very few of them have in fact the managerial capacity to cope with the demand. This is in itself an important point: culture as a complexity by itself cannot be handled so simply nor can success be measured only in terms of visitors, amount of money spend in relation to earning made etc. Rather it is a learning and as Linz demonstrates a special qualification process which a city enters if it wishes to be truly successful in the implementation of a far reaching concept once having received the designation.

What now? Gone is the European perspective - cities and the social excluded

Practically speaking, cities can find themselves very quickly in precarious and difficult situations if the political context fails to link the local, regional and national context with the European perspective. It showed itself again when riots erupted in France during October 2005. The wrong handling by the police of juveniles from peripheral social groups existing mainly in squalid suburbs and housing estates of poor quality sparked off a chain of events which went quickly out of control. Instead of dialogue and preventive measures based on anticipation for things to come if not corrected in time, repressive methods were used. The harshness of the various measures applied reflects altogether the tendency of repressive society to use only punitive ones, including arrests and expulsions (of those without any legal papers). Such measures are used by a society which expects of the weak and oppressed simply to behave even if without work and without any proper education or for that matter without any chance of positive socialisation, that is with a chance that they could exist in society under their own but negotiated terms with others. Without any integrative culture that could give them orientation, they have no other choice but to become if not outwardly aggressive, then extremely violent and self destructive.

If no conscious effort is made to let integration happen by opening up the city to cultural diverse groups, then everything is reduced to imposing just a rigid demand that everyone adapts to the norms of the said society or else is forced to get out. Such political confrontations although in their nature complex risk ending up in over simplifications and wrong conceptions. It prevents finding adequate, never mind viable solutions. It leads on to a deepening of the cultural crisis. As such tensions which can unload themselves very quickly in yet another series of street riots come especially at the forefront of bitter confrontations between youths and police.

Of interest is here the repeated pattern of failure in terms of socialisation. Many of these young people feel as having no perspective for the future and even worse no chance compared to what is deemed as being successful in such a society. They resign because they think they will fail no matter how hard they try and therefore they give up trying out of conviction they are failures. From there to the 'radical looser' is but one step away. If confirmed by society that they are failures, they become lost cases. A lot of positive energy is needed to overcome such social deficits while success stories are few. Only very rarely is overcome the feeling of betrayal by both sides, society and youth.

Modern ghettos within cities

Here it is essential to speak about many informal situations which multiply over the years to create ghettos more of opinions and attitudes than in the real sense of a ghetto when associated with the Jewish ghetto in Warszawa. Similar cultural experiences have been made in various ghetto like areas such as Kreuzberg in Berlin where a vast majority of Turkish origin prompted already during the election campaign for a new mayor in 1981 the question, when will Kreuzberg belong again to the Germans? To remember that was at the height of the squatter movement and when Richard von Weizsaecker from the CDU was elected with his promise to restore Property Rights, not Hans Jochen Vogel from the SPD and who represented 'the line of reason' as policy approach to squatters. Kreuzberg was transformed once the squatter movement was pacified, squashed or converted into house owners. Around that same time period restoration of West Berlin started a new wave of housing speculation. It was the time when architectural sins of the past were corrected and empty facades painted so as to give the city at least in West Berlin another composition. [7]

Typical wall mural in Kreuzberg / Wilhelmstrasse [8]

The question of ghettos in a social and cultural sense is triggered off once identity and place no longer guarantee access to all kinds of people but only to those who fit the local code of behavior as opposition to the general social norm. That shield is created to protect the entire local community but as any code of behaviour it has a restrictive side to it as well. Moreover things cannot be always localised since such things (the conflict between different norms when it comes to uses of property) can take place all around the world. It is, however, still a matter of valorization and what local meanings prevail in a certain place even though they may not exist over time. There is always the risk that market forces can easily drive out the original inhabitants, in particular artists and low income people who moved in first into the poor area due to cheaper equally unique spaces which can be put to use differently than in a mere conventional social setting.

The loss of sense of community: the case of Harlem

For instance, Harlem was for a long time for outsiders a crime invested neighbourhood where hardly anyone dared to go. Then New York City decided due to the mounting pressure of expansion of city in that direction to invest in the community. At first the Harlem community spoke with a single voice. All groups came together in the church which became a mediator with city officials. It was clear to everyone a large influx of money will have an impact upon the community but no one knew and could anticipate what would really follow. Of interest is that once the huge investment was made, other capital ventures followed suit. They no longer required one single voice but could start of businesses, build new houses, create exclusive high rise apartments etc. without mediator representing the whole of the community. Consequently the community of Harlem was broken up and as fragmented social entity it could no longer bargain with the outside world in terms of own interests.  Planners from Columbia University in New York would say the breaking up of such a community means a real loss of identity with the place. If the analysis is taken further, then loss of place or conversion of meaning goes hand in hand with the destruction of the previously existing cultural heritage. With goes a real loss of memory especially if periods like the Harlem Renaissance are forgotten. Fortunately some keep up this work of the memory and preserve in another way this spirit as expressed through paintings but especially through the music played around that time.

William H. Johnson [9]

The negative impact of urban development following new housing projects and speculations on urban land can be observed as to what happened culturally speaking. Many artists who used to live and to work in Harlem left once their lofts made way for bulldozers and instead expensive apartment buildings became the home for the new urban class who can afford such a place.

The Harlem 1958 jazz portrait is used with the generous permission of the Art Kane Archives. [10]

Not only the famous basketball team, the Globe Trotters, gave this community a name. As shown by the picture of the musicians in 1958, the history of Jazz was very much linked with Harlem, but since then, and more so in the nineties, musicians and the places they played in vanished as the musicians moved on. It can be traced in the history of the Blues known through locations where every evening famous and not so famous groups and musicians played. Today the spirit of creativity, once felt in the vibrant streets of Harlem, has evaporated. That negative cultural development goes hand in hand with the new money which came in after New York city made the initial investment and from then on something else started to dictate the life style in that community. It was no longer an atmosphere in which a unique culture could strive. [11]

Indeed the challenges to communities to hold together, to safeguard the life of its citizens, are huge. On the other hand, the break up of a specific community or its exclusion from the rest of the city when perceived as mere burden can let local tensions spill over very quickly into adjacent neighbourhoods and from there on to larger areas. That is why borders are drawn to mark the modern ghettos. It is done to contain problems the rest of society believes it cannot and does not wish to resolve. There is an 'irrational' refusal making the acceptance of a need to work out solutions for everyone that more difficult.

What happens to city areas where those with high income never move in or else move out?

Since needs for culture go together with what people want to do in their lives, entire neighbourhoods can be affected by this insofar as those with better incomes would either move out or never move in (Andre Loeckx). In its wake old people, or those less able to move, would end up in social isolation while those who will move in and who may come from other countries with a different culture would demonstrate new social abilities to hold together and to network at global scale. Especially in the age of the Information Society this ability to network has become decisive as it will mark in future the urban pattern of employment, social interaction, political discourse and cultural fulfilment. What is often not seen are the ones left out by the digital cultural age and who have not adapted so well to the new technologies of communication. They will be frightened by those who seem to be better interconnected. Numerous tensions and misconceptions about the others can result out of that. This has added an extra burden upon communities faced by disproportionate demographic structures leaning more and more towards an ageing society while the others experience a quasi population explosion with ever new children being added.

The city's worldliness

Still another reflection of a city’s reputation can be made by means of two categories which Hegel used in his philosophy and which can be best described as interdependence between the immediate and the mediation any city can offer. For instance, when the German writer Thomas Mann returned from exile which he had spend during Second World War in America he set down foot first in Hamburg. He expressed disappointment as he felt the city's streets did not suggest in its immediacy as being connected with the world. He said this despite Hamburg being a port city and more so as legal entity a city state within the German constitution, there was remoteness from the world: strange form of alienation. [12]

Taking this first impression of Thomas Mann a bit further, the loss of immediacy of Hamburg as an inability to stay in touch and to communicate openly with the world raises the question, how can cultural planning alter this? Can cultural planning bring about such a dialectic between the immediate and mediation so that the imagination of people in the city is touched upon. They would feel themselves to be in tune with not only their immediate surroundings, but also with the rest of the world. Consciously the term ‘imagination’ has been used here in the way Cornelius Castoriadis understood and used it, namely reflections of people upon the institutions that surround them and make up the composition of a city in a way that they feel themselves understood not only as citizens of that city but also as human beings in this world. Such reflections are indications of the degree to which people participate in life unfolding and becoming ever more interesting.

Unfortunately Hamburg has experienced in recent years a rise in xenophobic fears fueled by right wing politics seeking to exploit the fear factor by ordinary citizens of foreigners. Most of these fears developed in monotone suburbs where people had grown accustomed to safe and quiet neighbours leaving them unable to cope with the diverse and even dangerous underground night life in the inner part of the city, in particular in vicinity to and around the train station with an extended red light district.

Artists as indicators

Something else needs to be emphasized with regards to the example just cited, namely how Thomas Mann felt upon returning to Hamburg and Germany. Writers and artists in general are good indicators of what is happening in cities but usually their voices and observations are not taken into account when experts sit around the table to develop the next Master Plan for the city. It seems as if the world of the arts is on another planet when the dry and technical language of the planners begins to dominate the discussion. Still, a first indication that something is wrong can be taken out of Thomas Mann’s remark about the pavement. For something seems to be lacking. By contrast, a person walking through the streets of Rome will immediately feel a sense of history and an ease when travelling through different time zones. Retaining memories of the past while open to the future is crucial as to how a city designs not merely its streets, but what atmosphere prevails and is being created through the various activities taking place. If cities are only a neutralized consumer version of a fake reality made up of supermarkets and parking lots, then most cities in Germany have especially after 1945 made several mistakes during the reconstruction period and are only now in the early twenty first century rectifying some of these mistakes. That indicates at least an important learning process has set in and underlines as response that cities should not be planned merely from a physical, but equally from a cultural point of view.

When reviewing cultural planning as a term, it should be reminded what Lewis Mumford said about cities as being most complex organisations no one is really able to capture on the drawing board, never mind replicate it successfully. There are limits to what man’s ability to organise things can achieve over time. Consequently cultural planning is more about letting things unfold and less about planning interventions. To let things happen and grow, overlap and reinforce other activities, just like people do when interacting as a lively collectivity of individuals and groups, that is an art of making something possible.

Guidelines for restoration: use of cultural heritage

In reference to just one example, come mere paved roads or instead re-use of cobble stones, when restoration of old towns take place, one aim can be to retain the authenticity of those streets when carriages were still drawn by horses. Anyone could hear then the horse shoes clattering over the stones. This may mean as in the case of Weimar to make out of the historical centre something like a museum like setting.  In a film about Mozart, there is a scene when the composer is no longer the child genius being widely acclaimed by everyone in Paris, but now ignored so that Mozart returns home deeply saddened. Of interest is that the camera depicts this feeling by showing just where the downcast eyes are looking: at the cobble stones. The argument of road safety and easiness to be cleaned should not be forgotten as well. There are many considerations any city administration has to take into account. It is of interest how cultural heritage factors are playing increasingly a greater role when it comes to preserving the past while opening up to new prospects related to how a city presents itself to tourists. As this market expands so will become important the image of the city since key to being attractive or not. So anyone having experienced life in cities like Heidelberg will know such reminiscence with cobble stones goes with the night watchman when going through the streets and calling the hours while making sure the gas lamps are lit.

How the head is held is known from the sculptures of Rodin who had heads positioned only in three directions: deep, reflective thinking is downward looking; determination and courage is shown by looking straight ahead; and filled with hope makes the head be thrown back so that the eyes can look up. When Rodin did the sculpture piece about the citizens of Calais who were ready to sacrifice themselves in order to save the city and who were about to hand over the keys of the city to the invaders, he showed these different positions of heads all while the road underneath their feet led either out or into that city they tried to save from being leveled down to the ground.

Consequently the immediacy of materials like cobble stones resonate within the understanding that to experience a city, one must walk not only through its streets, but be willing to venture around corner. Philosophically speaking, to be prepared to go around the next corner means not to be satisfied by a first look and mere impression but to go on. In terms of perception and experience, a straight look is always limited while around the corner as metaphor means there may just await a solution not to be known when just looking straight ahead. This possibility cultural planning must keep in mind. For human experiences do not follow the lay-out of a military plan but come with people who are free to unfold their personalities.

Identity of old historical towns: crooked streets and uneven sidewalks

Of interest is that strong identities are linked to narrow, crooked streets of historical centres and not so much with the wide boulevards created not merely in imitation of King Louis in France, but in wishing the military having a capacity to roll quickly through the city’s street to squash any protesters or workers in strike action. Cities like Berlin or modern Warszawa are marked by such interests of power to retain control over the city. When Jaruselski declared martial law in Poland Dec. 1980, resistance to his crackdown came from the old quarters of Warszawa as always protesters could run and find niches of hiding that much easier in crooked streets than compared to those wide open for the wind and where the police could easily sweep through with their vehicles.

Once recovery from the past has been fulfilled, then a city can identify itself more easily with the world. One indication of such openness is when many cultural identities can exist in the streets and the voices of the mingling crowd reveal that here many languages are being spoken at all once. That differs from any city in which people wish to belong to but one community as defined by one special language and on the basis of that bring about a single cultural identity. This was the case when National Socialism initiated a pogrom to liquidate Jews, Gypsies and others not belonging to the pure German race. Everywhere Jewish populations were eradicated, including in Kaszimierz of Krakow. Today one of its alleys has become the shooting place for Steven Spielberg’s film ‘The Schindler’s list’.

Kaszimierz / Krakow – alley where Schindler’s list was shot

As a result not only this alley has become a tourist attraction. The entire district, a former Jewish quarter with many synagogues, has become a haven for new investments sparking many more questions and discussions as to how such changes can be managed. Jacek Purchla at the International Cultural Centre of Krakow makes some keen observations as to what this entails.

^ Top

« What is cultural planning by Bart Verschaffel | City Planning and Culture »