Culture: Urban Future
Culture: Urban Future was launched at the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito, Ecuador, in 2016. It is central to an ambitious vision, ascribed selectively to certain of the 2030 United Nations sustainable development goals (www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainabledevelopment-goals/ notably goal 11), that positions the role of culture, from cultural heritage to cultural and creative industries, as both an enabler and driver of the environmental, social and economic dimensions of sustainable development.
In her foreword, Irina Bokova, director-general of Unesco, writes: ‘We must strengthen the cultural assets of cities, the heritage that provides a sense of meaning and identity to their inhabitants, and the creative opportunities that enhance... [their] vitality, liveability and prosperity’. The main text champions cultural expressions as giving ‘people the opportunity to identify themselves collectively, to read the traces of history, to understand the importance of traditions for their daily life, or to enjoy beauty, harmony and artistic endeavour’; affirms that ‘these are fundamental social and human needs that must be addressed in the context of urban development processes, not as optional extras’; and poses the core question: ‘How do we translate these realities into effective policies in sustainable urban planning?’
Part I of the report is divided into eight regional study areas, from Africa through territories of the former USSR, to Asia-Pacific and South America. Critiques include centralised planning and national policies where these inhibit local authorities from implementing context-specific strategies; and the absence of operational management plans for historic urban areas, effective development control systems, and land and building use definitions.
Plaudits are accorded to democratisation processes, emerging forms of governance and citizen participation, and integrated approaches to urban conservation and regeneration (cited with reference to Europe); and the instrumental role of culture and heritage in reversing post-industrial decline and the recovery or reuse of industrial heritage, particularly for ‘creative activities’ (with reference to North America).
- People: human-centred cities; inclusive cities; peaceful and tolerant societies; and creative and innovative cities.
- Environment: human-scale and compact cities; sustainable, resilient and green cities; inclusive public spaces; and safeguarding urban identities.
- Policies: sustainable local development; enhanced rural-urban linkages; improved urban governance; and financing sustainable urban development.
These sections all say the expected things using today’s fashionable words and are illustrated with numerous highly condensed case studies. They are carried forward to a summary of conclusions and recommendations that home in on concepts such as liveability, social cohesion, inclusion and urban resilience, all of which are represented as requiring a foundation based on culture and creativity.
Missing, however, are inclusive definitions of either culture or creativity, both of which, implicitly throughout the text, reflect the elitist perceptions of academia, related professions and kindred interests. To define culture in terms of ‘beauty’, as the architect Renzo Piano does, is – to this reviewer at least – trite. At best, this positions culture at the periphery of the main thrust of the 17 United Nations sustainable development goals.
In the heritage field, whereas the typologies of ‘heritage assets’ in the UK are continuously expanding, the quantification remains small and the outcomes lack inclusivity; much-publicised campaigns by SAVE Britain’s Heritage to counter ‘Pathfinder’, whether in the Whitefield district of Nelson or the Welsh Streets in Liverpool, confirm this. And the delimited definitions of creative occupations and industries upheld by the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – which mirror those adopted elsewhere – focused as they are on marketing, architecture, crafts, design, media, IT, publishing, museums and the performing arts, are significant for what they omit.
Such definitions would exclude the vast majority of the inventors and entrepreneurs of history, on whom our industrial cities – at least – depend for their existence as well as their heritage; and they barely touch the surface of the manifold challenges that face humanity and our planet today. To communicate beyond a restricted audience and to have mainstream impact, inclusive definitions are essential. We can not ‘promote creativity and innovation in urban development through culture’ if we do not innovate in the use of the baseline terminology.
Missing also, in the emphasis on the improvement of policies, is the critical human factor. What are the cross-disciplinary and specialist skills that are required for mediation and implementation? Brilliantly formulated policies will achieve nothing if the right people are missing and the spectrum and level of their skills is not developed. Urban heritage, for example, is a key component of a complex and dynamic system that engages with a multiplicity of actors beyond the heritage community. If this were formally recognised, locally, nationally and internationally, the status and effectiveness of conservation professionals would be much increased. We need to look to Unesco and others to spearhead this.
This article originally appeared in IHBC’s Context 156, published in September 2018. It was written by Dennis Rodwell, an architect-planner and consultant in cultural heritage and sustainable urban development.
Related articles on Designing Buildings Wiki
- Development of sustainable rural housing in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
- Helping achieve the UN's Sustainable Development Goals
- IHBC articles.
- QSAND and the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Reconciling conservation and sustainable development.
- Sustainable construction and development online course.
- Sustainable development.
- Sustainable Development Goals and civil engineering
- Sustainable Development Goals and the triple bottom line.
- Sustainable development: energy challenge
- The Institute of Historic Building Conservation.
A new paper from the Adam Smith Institute argues that the problem with the High Street has been totally misunderstood, saying that we need to reform restrictive planning rules and reject a policy of managed decline to reinvigorate our town centres.
The Whole Life Cost of Energy (WLCoE) calculator – issued by government in BETA form – is intended to help building owners and operators to understand the full financial cost of the energy their buildings use, and welcomes feedback
New research published by Historic England (HE) shows the value of heritage to England’s economy as it contributes to economic prosperity and growth through jobs in the heritage and construction sectors and from tourism.
Investigations have begun into what caused part of Chester’s Roman city wall to collapse during construction work.
Though conservation professionals' skills in understanding, defining and explaining local character and architecture can help inform new residential design.
Over 500 historic places have been added to the National Heritage List for England (NHLE) in 2019 and Historic England (HE) has showcased 21 highlights.
The K2 prototype telephone box situated outside the Royal Academy in London – built as part of the 1924 competition that gave rise to the iconic design and first listed at Grade II in 1986 – has had its listing upgraded to Grade II*.
The second in a series focusses on developing the Asset Information Model (AIM).
Reflecting issues that will be encountered across the IHBC’s June 2020 Brighton School, think tank Centre for Cities argues for High Street success.
City A.M took a tour of the first apartment to be completed within the original grade II*-listed power station with designer Tim Boyd of Michaelis Boyd – which also designed the interiors for Soho House and the Groucho Club – and Battersea Power Station’s UK sales director Georgia Siri.
A conversion of a locomotive hangar into a public library is the first retrofit to win the top prize at the World Architecture Festival (WAF).
New guidance and research includes: Lightning Protection, Church Roof Replacement using Terne-coated SS, the conservation of Fibrous Plaster, and more.