Culture is an integral part of human development and active participation of citizens in local cultural activities enhances quality of one’s life and increases opportunities and choices. Local culture can be the way to address various challenges and it can also find various solutions to issues that concern citizens. It is important for us to learn about the past of our city, so that we can understand it and apply this local knowledge in the future. The knowledge of one’s own culture gives citizens a feel of belonging to one’s city and a feeling of ownership of their cities. It is vital to adopt policies which promote cultural diversity, the protection of heritage, including intangible heritage, and the development of creative pursuits. These are key ways to contribute to social cohesion, capitalize on diversity, provide livelihoods, and empower local communities.
The New Urban Agenda calls for greater respect for culture and diversity. It’s essential to promote equality as a key element to ensure humanization of our cities. The UN Habitat declaration at Quito says “culture and cultural diversity are sources of enrichment for humankind and provide an important contribution to the sustainable development of cities, human settlements and citizens, empowering them to play an active and unique role in development initiatives. The New Urban Agenda further acknowledges that ensuring equal rights and opportunities, socioeconomic and cultural diversity, and integration in the urban space are important conditions to guarantee that no one will be left behind”.
The World Urban Forum held at Kuala Lumpur had a special session on ‘Leveraging Diversity & Culture, Shaping Cities for all’, which saw participation by many eminent personalities from all over the world. While addressing the session, Merola Virginio, Mayor of the city of Bologna said, “culture needs to be democratic and without the respect for the citizens or their participation, local governments and city planners would not be able to create resilient cities that reflected the needs of their constituents.” As people are continuously moving to cities for better job opportunities or for a high quality life, they are not only bringing their physical selves to the new environment but also their diverse backgrounds, traditions, ideas, and rituals. As they come to the city, initially they create small communities on the periphery and later integrate into the larger scope of the city. Cultural diversity can help in aiding a city in a situation of conflict and disaster. For implementation of the New Urban Agenda, it is necessary to acknowledge the role of culture and diversity in our cities and their habitants.
As we rise to meet the new challenges of our times and recover from the conflict, we need to celebrate our diversity. We must recover the lost ground and rebuild a culture that can sustain our new generation. Celebration of our lives, culture, food and art will bring that back. The new Urban Agenda acknowledges the importance of culture and diversity as drivers of development. Without the contributions of different backgrounds and the emphasis of culture, cities cannot be inclusive – they cannot be cities for all. There are no criteria to measure and monitor the culture like other areas of sustainability, as it has non-assessable and invisible dimensions. But cultural policies are like other public policies and are subject to transparency and effectiveness. There need to be some essential measurement or assessment criteria for cultural policies too, so that the value and effectiveness of cultural policies can be understood.