Culture As an Enabler of Sustainable Urbanization
Culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization? Perhaps, it should be entitled more properly: “Culture as an indispensable prerequisite for sustainable urbanization”.
Strategies which are concentrating exclusively on efficient technical or financial aspects will have difficulties sooner or later. It is very likely to go astray on the way towards sustainable urban development if too technocratic solution approaches were chosen. If the three pillars of sustainability – social issues, economy and environment – aren’t well balanced, the sustainable urban project will likely go off the rails and merely be a dream. In this context, which role actually plays culture?
UNESCO interprets culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization
Cultural issues can definitely be assigned to the social pillar of sustainability. One stakeholder who has always been proactive about focusing on the need to preserve culturally important assets and heritage zones worldwide is UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). The endeavor called Culture for Sustainable Urban Development is aimed at showcasing relations between sustainable urban development and UNESCO Culture Convention deployments. UNESCO interprets culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization. It is the theme of the entity’s exhaustive 300-page report which was published recently.
The thematic approach of the study is divided into three parts:
- People: Building on the power of culture to promote human and inclusive cities
- Environment: Improving the quality of the built and natural environment through culture
- Policies: Integrating culture in urban policies to foster sustainable urban development
As long as the urban population continues to grow, complexities related with it are growing too. Governments and entities aiming at sustainable urban growth need to focus on preserving heritage and culture. Why? Directly on the first pages, UNESCO’s report gets right to the point: “Without culture, cities as vibrant life-spaces do not exist; they are merely concrete and steel constructions, prone to social degradation and fracture.”
Urban governance is pivotal for promoting cultural nuances
The truth is, to use culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization, urban authorities need to take a proactive role along with governments. Urban governance is pivotal for promoting cultural nuances while urban authorities can step up efforts for finance management for such activities. To improve cities’ quality of life, transformation of physical and social infrastructure must go hand in hand with cultural needs. Local development initiatives should focus on people and their well-being. And that requires a lot more than just material satisfaction.
Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, states: “Creativity and cultural diversity have been the key drivers of urban success. Cultural activities can foster social inclusion and dialogue among diverse communities. Tangible and intangible heritage are integral parts of a city’s identity, creating a sense of belonging and cohesion.”
It is essential that local authorities, stakeholders and decision makers possess the required intercultural competencies
Inhabitants with a pronounced sense of belonging and identity are more intrinsically motivated and interested to participate actively. Promoting cultural diversity of city residents by supporting cultural heritage and activities is an essential key to strengthen these senses.
UNESCO is convinced of the relevance of culture and has even “enhanced its efforts to promote the role of culture in urban development processes related to poverty reduction, gender equality, social justice, disaster risk reduction and quality of life.”
It is essential that local authorities, stakeholders and decision makers possess the required intercultural competencies. They have to understand and apply these competencies in their everyday working life.
City policies and programmes shall not endanger cultural equity and recognition. In order to ensure this, attention must be paid to fair and collaborative decision-making processes among culturally diverse groups, local government, civil society and the private sector.
Utilization of local resources is vital for this. The UNESCO report has highlighted how culture could be promoted in diverse ways and why it requires efforts from various segments. While ravages of time, warfare, social changes and natural calamities lead to decay of such heritage and art forms, revival is certainly possible.
Without involving regional artisans, promotion of culture and art would remain incomplete. It is very helpful to encourage regional artists to create local crafts and restoration of worn out or damaged heritage monuments and citadels etc. The authorities should step up efforts to locate such local talents and provide them with resources. Their visible contributions and other results are also considerable means of communication in order to promote the above mentioned cultural identity and a sense of belonging. Furthermore, they support social relations and encourage social togetherness. These are the viable ways to deploy culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization.
The diversity of culture and heritage of many such cities require well planned and elaborated approaches for proper restoration and preservation. The growth of rampant urbanization often emerges as threat to heritage places in many historic cities. To use culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization, authorities need to adopt flexible and apt strategies. The cultural nuances and history of a city play a pivotal role in choosing the right approach to restore heritage zones and revive dying traditional crafts. All these factors should be analyzed in detail before efforts to preserve culture and heritage for sustainable urbanization are taken up.
Particular socio-economic factors and developments often compel artisans to lose interest in age–old crafts. Based on scenarios, thorough restoration of heritage zones and fusion of modern culture with ancient ones can be adopted.
Along with focus on revival of cultural aspects and restoration of heritage zones, it is important to stress on creating greener surroundings for sustainable urbanization, feels UNESCO. This helps in bringing down carbon footprint and creating a better atmosphere for sustenance of man and nature. Stress needs to be given on urban biodiversity conservation and restoration of damaged ecosystem in city environments. Environmental stability also helps in preservation of heritage areas better. This once again depicts culture as an enabler of sustainable urbanization.
Using available human resources and analyzing aspects like social trends, activities, community development are important for preserving cultural nuances of cities. These are the tools, which, with proper planning, can be utilized to revive dying cultural norms and heritage of a place.
The report also provides about 100 case studies about cities and countries from all over the world.