Connect culture, creativity and citizens in cities

Mega infrastructure projects have been at the center of development strategies for most of the world’s big cities. However, the culture of cities evolved organically without much intervention of policy makers, local leaders, and administrators. At present, the sustenance of urban culture needs attention for bringing cultural renaissance in the cities which are losing their identities while trying to absorb similar models of development in their improvement schemes

Cities have always been the centers of economic activity, power, and culture. They are the places where cultures meet and evolve with gains in both social effectiveness and significance. Our cities are transforming themselves faster than ever. This is not just related to their expansion and fast-paced development in terms of establishing large-scale infrastructure and provision of efficient services but is also related to the change in their outlook and longstanding perceptions about them. Take the example of Jaipur and Bhubaneswar. Jaipur is not just about forts, Hawa Mahal, Chaar Darwaja and other monuments in the walled city; at present, it boasts of modern architectures like World Trade Park that is a business center cum shopping mall. The other city, Bhubaneswar is not merely a City of Temples; it has evolved itself as an education hub in Eastern India. The transformation in these cities is commendable as both these cities have not altered their basic characteristics or features to remain relevant in changing times. Physical development in cities shaped their culture. Catherine Belsey, a British literary critic and academic, defines culture: “Culture constitutes the vocabulary within which we do what we do; it specifies the meanings we set out to inhabit and repudiate, the values we make efforts to live by or protest against, and the protest is also cultural. Culture resides primarily in the representations of the world exchanged, negotiated

and, indeed, contested in a society.” Culture consists of a lot of things that include food habits, music, clothing, and festivals. All these things change fast in a city and are linked closely with infrastructure development. If a city gets a new transport system such as Metro, it becomes a part of the city’s culture. Likewise, local trains in Mumbai are very much part of its culture. It is undoubtedly true that every development project comes with a price. It is not just the financial cost but also its impact on environment and culture. For instance, if traditional markets are razed by municipal corporations to build swanky malls or shopping centers, it will have an impact on the livelihoods of the local population. When the government has tried to take any such initiative, people have protested. We have seen such protests in Indian cities when the government wanted to raze slums to build multistoried apartments for the poor. This is because the slums are not just about housing but their existing form is also linked with strong community engagement that is not seen generally in high-rise apartments. People do want modern infrastructure but they are still very much for sustaining of their culture, traditions, and lifestyle. This is why it becomes pertinent to take care of community concerns before implementing any infrastructure project.

Transformation of urban public spaces

Lisa Bornstein of School of Urban Planning, McGill University underpinned, in one of her articles in a journal ‘City, Culture and Society’, how mega projects for city building can benefit communities without affecting local culture. She has given case studies of many projects taken up in Canada and United States of America (USA) to depict how community benefits were ensured in megaprojects. She cites the examples of Old Port of Montreal, “The Old Port is considered a success in many respects. It is a public space accessible to all, with a variety of events available at little or no cost. Cultural festivals, a science center, and a skating rink co-exist with historical museums and festivals, the Clock Tower, a grain silo and the Old Montreal streets and churches that reaffirm the past. Local residents are given permit parking and efforts are made to maintain cleanliness, important where many restaurants and bars cater to tourists. The public’s participation – and the guiding vision, principles, and plans for development – are considered key to the success of the project.” United Nations also released a detailed report ‘Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Urban Future’ that says, “Culture has the power to make cities more prosperous places safe and sustainable.” The report shows that the implementation of development policies that take into account the protection and promotion of culture and heritage, as advocated by the UNESCO conventions, benefits the cities. It defends the full integration of culture in urban policies to ensure sustainable and better quality of life for its residents.

Recommendations of Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Urban Future

 People

♦ Enhance the livability of cities and safeguard their identities

♦ Ensure social inclusion in cities through culture

♦ Promote creativity and innovation in urban development through culture

♦ Build on culture for dialogue and peacebuilding initiatives in local community

Environment

♦ Foster human scale and mixed-use cities by drawing on lessons learned from urban conservation practices

♦ Promote a livable built and natural environment

♦ Enhance the quality of public spaces through culture

♦ Improve urban resilience through culture-based solutions

Policies

♦ Regenerate cities and rural-urban linkages by integrating culture at the core of urban planning

♦ Build on culture as a sustainable resource for inclusive development

♦ Promote participation through culture & enhance community’s role

♦ Develop innovative and sustainable financial models for culture

 

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