Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

17. City and region


Human Matrix

Mapping of Cultural resources

Cultural planning



17. City and Region

17.1 Regional to global context

17.2 Spatial planning

17.3 Land use

17.4 Culture, environment and physical planning have to be taken into consideration


While Essen – Ruhr 2010 uses culture to bring together 52 cities within one region undergoing the transformation from a heavy industrialized area into a new economy, other cities follow suit or have already made this link to the region surrounding them. In the case of Ruhr 2010, it is an attempt to utilize the arts and culture to create new enterprises. A model for such development is Silicon Valley, the US hub for the computer industry.

In earlier studies as to what makes a region more competitive compared to others, Phil Cooke established the thesis of regions being more successful, economically speaking, when they share similar values, including the pride in doing excellent work. Regions like Baden Württenberg or Baveria in Germany show this characteristic. It allows according to Phil Cooke a greater share of work i.e. decentralization thereof. Large companies like BMW are more advanced in this sense than Mercedes Benz. Such dezentralization enhances a diversity of small companies all highly innovative and thus capable of complementing the large company through their work. It all depends if that common value becomes a culture of excellance shared by all in the region. This novelty of culture ensuring a certain standard of work is upheld can be taken into consideration by methods designed to shape cultural plans accordingly.

However, Kurt Eichler in an interview about cities and cultural policy in a globalized world expresses the opinion that this might not be such a viable option. While culture can be used to develop a common perspective in order to balance particular interests, at the regional level there is rarely such a decision making body with competences to deal with cultural and economic policy in a way that makes sense in terms of both diversity and need for internationalization. [1]

For evaluating a cultural planning strategy it might be helpful to consider some of the reasons given by Kurt Eichler for his position. He advises not to use culture to integrate the city into a regional context. Rather he thinks it is much better to go right away if not in a completely internatonal, then at least in a European direction. That is a less complicated way since already the common practice of many communes:

17.1 Regional to global context

Again it is a matter of scale when comparing a city to others within a regional and more so a global context. After what has just been said in reference to the reasons given by Kurt Eichler, there is naturally a differentiated opinion possible on this matter especially if specific regional characteristics do play a role in how cities are identified and appraised by both travelers and inhabitants. The Baltic cities may differ from a Mediterranean or the Northern cities can be distinguished into four categories: port cities, capitals, university towns and newly thriving economy towns. Especially in Finland, Norway, Sweden all these four types can be found. They have different profiles while all of them are more pronounced in the ability to go international rather than stick to regional characteristics. That should be taken into consideration if Greek cities want, for example, expand along such regional differentiations and integrate into their concepts some traditional or historic routes like that of the Argonauts in order to renew cultural cooperation as a way to promote cultural tourism. It has been found by the tourism industry that much more in demand are religious tours or agricultural tourism than what would be tours linked strictly to cultural heritage and historical meanings. Always has to be kept in mind the shifting grounds of the global context with terrorism and war increasing much more the demand for safe destinations and thereby providing a country like Greece with an unexpected windfall in tourism as people consider this country to be safer than many others in terms of violence and risk of social conflicts spilling over into the streets e.g. in Turkey the tensions between followers of secularism and Islamic religion. That means a city stands to gain a lot by doing much for the environment while providing a novel atmosphere for internationally mobile people with a high level of creativity to take root in the local setting.

17.2 Spatial planning

As said already, spatial planning is weak in any ‘soft state’ when it comes to safeguarding the cultural landscape and with it a different use of land.

Jacek Purchla thinks on the basis of a constitution granting public authorities at various levels of governance the rights to protect cultural assets in terms of sustainable development, it becomes all the more important that ‘spatial planning’

He concludes that “the introduction of a system of effective conservation instruments into the area of town planning is vital.” [2]

Obstacles in this direction is that spatial planning is in a poor state of affairs due to a ‘soft state’ on this matter. It means a weak control of public space and even the consent of the state to downgrade such public spaces if it suits private interests. Little or nothing is done against illegal encroachments upon the land for private purposes. The entire matter becomes even more vital but also complicated when it is not merely a matter of conservation of monuments and public spaces / buildings, but a need to include culture in all spatial planning procedures and considerations.

Within Greece spatial planning linked to Master Plans for cities like Volos has been commented upon by Anna Arvanitaki within the following framework of references:

17.3 Land use

Land use for private purposes e.g. night clubs and hotels, runs into opposition as the case in Athens, Greece where a mayor protests against the loss of beaches accessible to everyone. How to organize the tourist industry without loosing sight of a need for such a cultural profile that natural beauties dominate and not ugly hotel buildings blocking the view of the temple at Cap Sounion. It is a matter of how regulations can be softened to give way to creeping illegal activities e.g. residents of the Plaka in Athens are protesting against possible new regulation wishing to remove restrictions for businesses to operate e.g. only at ground level and in only certain streets so as to have a balance between business and residents’ needs. As the traditional centre of Chania has been transformed into a sole tourist centre, residents have been driven out and thereby depriving that area of its characteristics. In the absence of such shops and services that residents but not tourists need, there is, for instance, hardly any bakery left in the old town. Once night bars and hotels over dominate, then there will be also the irregular rhythm of peak months with stretches of emptiness when the tourist season is at its lowest point.

If describing land according to cultural needs, then the island of Spetses has implemented something which upgrades public land by allowing local artists to install a sculpture park near the light house and thereby safeguards that on this land no private villas can be constructed. Here both forest and access to the sea for everyone has been safeguarded against further encroachment attempts by private owners and land speculators.

17.4 Culture, environment and physical planning have to be taken into consideration

Definitely the encroachment upon the land has to be dealt with. In Germany the expansion of cities consumes so much more space that special conferences are initiated in order to deal with this question but how can the management of land use be improved so as to reduce this consumption. It is as important as world wide efforts to reduce emissions of gases which contribute to climate change. As a matter of fact these two are linked since ecological and cultural needs coincide when overuse of land for monofunctional purposes is to be curtailed and channeled into better ways of living with nature and culture. Clearly this will have to mean in future a much greater identification of culture with a physical environment conducive to learning from nature.

Spyros Mercouris has initiated with others on the island of Kos a garden in which are planted all the seeds of herbs and special flowers Hippocratous described as belonging to the practice of medicine. There are other areas in cities which have become sheer ecological niches due to long neglect e.g. Gleisdreieck area in Berlin West as long as the wall was standing and this former freight train terminal was transformed into a botanical wonder due to the many seeds which the trains had brought with them from far away blossoming at that unknown location. The poetess Paula Meehan at the conference “Myth of the City” held in Crete 1995 articulated this point vis a vis city planners most vehemently when she argued in favor of ‘wild’ or ‘untamed’ places in comparison to tamed and constructed spaces. People and cities are needed of these untouched places since then it is possible to recognize the difference between man’s constructed world and what happens in nature if left alone i.e. without any interference. A clear synthesis of this exists in Homer’s Odyssey who is washed ashore and finds finally a resting place underneath a roof of branches and leaves made up by both a tamed and a wild olive tree. To find shelter under such conditions is surely a measure to consider for future developments.

[1] Interview with Kurt Eichler, Cultural News in preparation of the Conference ‘Culture empowers Europe’, June 7 and 8th 2007 in Berlin

[2] Jacek Purchla, (2005), Heritage and Transformation, Krakow, International Cultural Centre, p. 29

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