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“Europe” by flickr user Charles Clegg

Title: Culture, Cities, and Identity in Europe

Author(s): from Culture Action Europe: Katherine Heid, Mehdi Arfaoiu, Luca Bergamo, Natalie Giorgadze; from Agenda 21 for Culture – UCLG: Carina Lopes, Jordi Balta Portoles, Jordi Pascual; Simon Mundy

Publisher: European Economic and Social Committee

Year: 2016

URL: http://www.eesc.europa.eu/resources/docs/qe-01-16-463-en-n.pdf

Topics: urban planning, creative placemaking, cities, Europe, economic development, community revitalization, social cohesion, community identity

Methods: narrative literature review, case studies

What it says: The report aims to assess what is known about the relationship between culture (defined as “cultural industries, visual and performing arts, heritage and the creative industries”) and cities along four dimensions, as follows:

  • Culture as a vehicle for economic growth: exploring traditional economic impact and value-added studies on the cultural and creative industries, heritage, cultural events, communications technologies, and “cultural routes,” the study concludes that “the benefits of culture for the economy follow a multidimensional path, having first a direct impact by creating jobs to support cultural production, then attracting tourists and amateurs as culture is being exhibited and promoted, and lastly sustaining regional investments and growth as the cultural value and knowledge of the region is recognised and exploited.”
  • Culture as an instrument for reconverting cities: exploring literature on culture and urban regeneration, spillover effects of cultural activities, and the European Capitals of Culture program, the study stresses the importance of citizen participation in planning initiatives and an integrated approach, and recommends the adoption of culture/heritage impact studies.
  • Culture as a tool for integration and inclusiveness: exploring literature on intercultural dialogue and migration, gender, and special needs (i.e, disability), the report emphasizes the importance of diversifying organizational management, programming, and audience development strategies.
  • Culture as a pillar of European identity within Europe and beyond: examining the literature on the contribution of cities and regions to European identity, the role of non-European cities in maintaining cultural relations with Europe, cross-border cooperation and mobility, city networks, and cultural rights, the study discusses at length the notion of “global cultural citizenship.”

Within each section, the authors offer several case studies of “good practices” representing on-the-ground approaches toward achieving the goals in question.

This main part of the report is preceded by a brief review of data on cultural participation in Europe, the role that culture plays in society as perceived by citizens, and economic data on the creative industries. The report concludes with a set of 17 recommendations to the European Economic and Social Committee for its future work in cultural policy. These recommendations encompass five themes:

  1. Recognize cultural rights as fundamental to human development: Envision culture as an enabler of dialogue and exchange, promote cultural diversity in the framework of human rights, and deepen exploration of the relationship between culture and human rights.
  2. Acknowledge culture as necessary for sustainable development: Make culture a separate category of concern in sustainable development conversations, recognize the impact of culture on public and private initiatives, and incorporate culture into social cohesion strategies.
  3. Include new players in the democratic governance of culture: Bring civil society organizations into dialogue around policymaking, and recognize the importance of grassroots cultural initiatives.
  4. Support exchange between cultures to foster social and economic development: Emphasize cross-border cooperation and mobility, encourage collaboration among cities in and beyond Europe, allow migration to be part of the solution, and support the role of cities in international sustainable development.
  5. Empower cities’ decisions on culture to shape our future: Use cultural spaces to shape participation, engage communities on the periphery of cities, use culture to active public spaces for increased security, fund cultural processes, and reinvest cultural benefits in cultural ecosystems.

What I think about it: Despite the relevance and importance of its subject matter, “Culture, Cities, and Identity in Europe” is a prime example of the limitations of narrative-style literature review. Because it makes little effort to distinguish between the studies it cites or synthesize across them, the central portion of the report reads mainly as a series of disconnected (and lengthy) quotes from other authors. To its credit, the report does attempt to offer takeaways in the set of policy recommendations advanced at the end of the document. Some of the ideas offered are worth exploring – in particular, the idea of integrating dialogue and communities of practice around culture and human rights – and the holistic/integrationist stance of the authors very much matches Createquity’s. However, the language of the recommendations is often so vague and general as to significantly undermine their usefulness.

What it all means: Though it doesn’t offer much in the way of striking insights on its subject matter, “Culture, Cities, and Identity in Europe” will be useful to someone looking for a bibliography on the topics covered, particularly from a European perspective. It’s also worthwhile to compare this pan-European take on culture and urban policy to American approaches; of particular interest from a US perspective is the bid to redefine European identity as tied to an inclusive, globally conscious notion of cultural citizenship rather than any particular set of ethnicities or national origins.