Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

16. Relationship to other cities

Human Matrix

Mapping of Cultural resources

Cultural planning



16. No imitation but learning from other cities

16.1Relationship to other cities

16.2 Integrate images of other cities within the own urban space

16.3 Twinning and cooperation

16.4 Global discussion about urban based cultural policy


The key advise when seeking a successful cultural planning strategy is to avoid imitating any other city. What works in one city does not work necessarily in any other. There are always some unique local factors that make a difference in the implementation of any cultural plan. Also it depends on the degree of participation by the local population if any even the best designed cultural plan will be implemented in a way that leads to acceptance and a cultural consensus about the value of such an intrinsic plan. Only if an integral part of everyone in their everyday thinking and acting will such a cultural plan to uphold not only a certain image of the city but also a cultural life (which is more than just having a functioning city) in the city have a chance of realization. It should be remembered at all times culture includes the imagination and as such the types of reflections people project upon certain cultural institutions is also a way for them to know what is going on and happening not only in their but in other cities. As such culture sets the frame of references to validate experiences made in other cities and which sets the own city apart from all others since it has certain distinctive features which make the local place unique and vibrant.

16.1 Relationship to other cities

Any city enters a ranking system and knows within the overall scale it figures as medium sized one with so many inhabitants only so much in importance. As this has an impact on resources to be called upon, each city attempts to alter this position of importance and evolves accordingly as importance is given to its development. Political circumstances can alter this tremendously. For instance, with Putin now President of Russia he favors the city of St. Petersburg as he comes from there. Indeed, St. Petersburg has gone through an amazing upgrading after many years of neglect both financially and administratively speaking. By getting special treatment this has altered the cities ability to respond to various demands and investment needs by providing sounder framework conditions than it was much more dependent upon Moscow for its ongoing existence. By the same token, St. Petersburg has undertaken the task to renew relationships with especially those cities who have a similar rich cultural heritage as the city’s museums stand to benefit from cooperation and working together with institutions like the Louvre in Paris or Guggenheim in New York.

Numerous networks have sprung up after European projects involved the partnerships between cities such as the Network of Sustainable Cities, of Car Free Cities etc. Most of these projects have terminated in some sort of declaration with cultural implications of trustworthiness if implemented in terms of how the relationships to these other cities continues to foster the same spirit even after the life time of the project has terminated. There are even more formal networks which can sustain such relationships between cities such as Eurocities and Les Recontres. Both are European organizations with Eurocities in a position to make statements with regards to EU policy affecting European cities. Another such Network is the one for European Cultural Capital Cities. Cities in the latter have to pay an annual fee if they are to continue to participate as active members in the exchange of experiences between former, present and newly designated Cultural Capital Cities. This institution has been one of the most successful European projects and lasts for one year during which many opportunities arise to test what cultural planning can do both in terms of infrastructural requirements and bringing people together so as to articulate and to experience the cultural dimension of Europe.

The crucial question is what kind of cultural cooperation between cities can spark off new cultural developments while allowing for qualitative new relationships. As each city has its diaspora, one way to link up with other cities is to reconnect former citizens with the home city e.g. Greeks from Chios in Chicago through the Hellenic Museum. The latter means oral history and a way to reflect upon the stories of what happened to those who decided to immigrate. By retracing the losses of memory and the linkages to family members back home, social ties can be renewed and facilitate further going exchange of experiences and even foster new commercial ties. It should not be forgotten that these emotionally based relationships have a large impact upon how relationships between cities shall be shaped as individuals and groups decide to travel to the other place or else to go even a step further by initiating exchange of students, expertise in urban administration etc.

16.2 Integrate images of other cities within the own urban space

The popular song contest Eurovision brings into its audiences the various images of those other cities voting as well when the song contest has been completed. Here an interplay of images and voices from that particular city is introduced with “welcome Helsinki” as if here one voice can speak for a multiplicity of people. It has a function in the way such a song contest is not merely contested due to its general level, but also cherished as everyone seems to enjoy this innocent fun especially when outsiders like the Monsters from Finland win suddenly and Helsinki is awarded the Right to hold the next song contest.

This serves only as an example on how images of other cities are transported and what it would take from a cultural planning viewpoint to integrate images of other cities within the own urban space.

In Berlin one specific street leading from West to East reminded everyone this road will eventually end in Koenigsberg. That reminder of such a linkage to a city outside the scope of the state had deep implications as Hitler used the existence of Koenigsberg to invade Poland and to integrate that city into the Reich. It is quite something else if cities like Gdansk or Danzig are treated in their own terms without any claim of ownership but with historical bondages there in order to relate to common experiences.

Cities have their own dynamics and city councilors are very particular as to what relationships they wish their city to enter into. But as far as the presence of other cities are concerned, this may also reflect reliance upon more New York than Paris or Frankfurt if a European city with interest in the banking sector while capital cities have certainly an interest to connect with other capital cities in order to know how they deal with the presence of many foreign embassies and their staff. But nowhere does this come close to small China Town in New York or Mexico City in Los Angeles brought about by the presence of migrants from those parts of the world. Ethnicity plays a big role in recreating a Polish or German town while it is not certain if this reflects the globalization trend of big cities in any case or else if the aptitude of any city depends upon facilitating the presence of other cities in its midst. Certainly this is not an easy observation to make nor to conclude something definitely out of the existence of such a need but it shows cities have to handle the images of other cities since they too are in search of attaining and retaining recognition as viable, open, dynamic and international cities. Insofar as it has to do with correspondence in so doing and handling urban issues a city stands to gain or to loose in image and prestige if this fluency between cities is interrupted. That means even how the buses and trains of the other cities are handled has an immediate spill back effect if done badly and without consideration for the other.

If a city is shunned by visitors and investors alike, then because its image in other cities has suffered in reputation. Likewise if a city is known for having an exciting atmosphere then the recommendations come easily and citizens of the one travel preferable to that other city for shopping and sight seeing as much as for seeking another kind of experience by visiting its galleries and cultural facilities. Given the way people can inform themselves by now about any city via the Internet with official and semi official websites being complemented by hobby photographers putting up a blog website to comment upon that specific city, it becomes crucial that a city takes into consideration what images other cities have of itself as it is of importance how the images of other cities are integrated into the urban fabric close to home.

16.3 Twinning and cooperation

There is the European funding of Twinning cities. It is an opportunity for citizens and experts of respective cities to organize exchange visits and thereby bring about citizens forums with the aim that a better information about city linked activities and policies reaches everyone. The program was started in 1989 by the European Parliament and has evolved today into a direct promotion of citizens’ forums. On the official website of the European Commission it states that:

“First, town twinning relies upon the voluntary commitment of citizens, in collaboration with their local authorities and local associations. It is therefore both a sign of, and an incentive to active participation. Second, it encourages exchanges of experiences on a variety of issues of common interest, thereby raising awareness on the advantages of finding concrete solutions at European level. Finally, it provides unique opportunities to learn about the daily lives of citizens in other European countries, to talk to them and very often to develop friendships with them. Thanks to the combination of those elements, town twinning has a real potential to enhance mutual understanding between citizens, fostering a sense of ownership of the European Union and finally developing a sense of European identity.” [1]

Whether or not this potential is really being realized that stands to be monitored and evaluated. The program has shifted away from emphasizing education in European matters and has now taken on more the official line of wishing to foster active citizenship. That is linked to the development of volunteer services as it is known throughout Europe to be ‘civil protection’ with organizations like the Red Cross very much involved when it comes to mustering rescue teams in case of industrial or natural disasters.

In that sense the involvement of volunteers but in reality semi and full professional organizations takes on another level of recruitment and training which goes beyond that of ordinary citizens and their capacity to organize themselves in citizens’ forums. Although repeated efforts have been made to advance with the Information Society e.g. e-democracy, cities have been reluctant to open up to such discourse and practices as they feel the pressure to perform under unbelievable constraints and restrictions.  They are, however, experiencing modernizations when it comes to filling out tax forms and obtaining all kinds of legal documents from city hall.

16.4 Global discussion about urban based cultural policy

In a discussion with Kurt Eichler before the European conference “Culture empowers Europe”, he was asked the question

Once a city internationalises and/or globalises itself, what does that mean in terms of cultural offers?

and to which he replied:

“For one: the interests of the cultural audience have become much more diverse, independent and therefore more individual orientated. The cultural needs are no longer so easily canonizable. The willingness to discover something new has increased. And the national borders at least as far as Europe is concerned have become much more porous especially with regards to travelling and access to information. That promotes not only the international cultural tourism, but also the knowledge about the cultural scenes in the European Metropoles. The dealing with this cultural diversity belongs nowadays to the general repertoire of anyone interested in culture; folklore plays here by the way only a marginal role.”  [2]

Unfortunately there is another trend, insofar reactions to globalization have set in a long time. They tend to overemphasize local culture as if identical with typical cultural patterns in music, dance, song and other forms of expressions. Since they are all conveyed by tradition, they adhere to a specific form of organisation needed to uphold a certain identity. The weakness of these organisations is that they are not open for new ideas and as Paul Tillich would say, tradition is too often used to distort perception of the present. That pushes not only needed investments in culture aside, but also creates a negative atmosphere for experimentations and creative searching processes needed if new ideas are to be found in this dialectic tension between doing something incomplete and the need to be just to social and human reality. Otherwise distortions of culture will impact upon the politics of a city and affect negatively all participants insofar as they will avoid public spaces and the work on public truth which can articulate values, aims and variety of means people have potentially in order to live and to work together with the others. The disposition towards an open and lively community is itself an expression of local culture open to changes while ensuring a continuity of identity.

In German the term ‘Heimat’ plays here as much a role in distorting cultural needs as what politicians tend to claim they are doing while making decisions in favour of large scale investments wiping out a differentiated, small sized entrepreneurial activity at local level and still protect local identity by upholding traditional forms of expressions e.g. in Baveria the brass band and women dressed in ‘Dirndls’ (a special dress with apron and cut out blouses).

Annex 1: Barack Obama’s urban policy (www.change.gov)

Plan to Stimulate Urban Prosperity

“Americans work harder than the people of any other wealthy nation. We are willing to tolerate more economic instability and are willing to take more personal risks to get ahead. But we can only compete if our government makes the investments that give us a fighting chance – and if we know our families have some net beneath which they cannot fall.”

— Barack Obama, "The Audacity of Hope"

The Problem

Failing Commitment to America's Economic Centers: Today, government programs aimed at strengthening metropolitan areas are spread across the federal government with insufficient coordination or strategy. Worse, many federal programs inadvertently undermine cities and regions by encouraging inefficient and costly patterns of development and local competition.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden's Plan

Strengthen Federal Commitment to our Cities

Stimulate Economic Prosperity in our Metropolitan Regions











[1] http://ec.europa.eu/citizenship/action1/measure1_en.html

[2] Kurt Eichler is manager of the cultural branches of Dortmund and Director of the Cultural Office of the City of Dortmund.  He is a member of the Curatorium of the Fond Social Culture and belongs since 1986 to the Executive Committee of the Cultural Political Society.


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