Culture in Public Spaces – Key for Shaping A New Urban Agenda

The benefits of having culture in Public Spaces in cities are twofold: not only does it bring communities together, but it also contributes towards strengthening a nation’s economy. That’s why promoting creativity and heritage in Public Spaces is key in creating sustainable societies, as outlined by Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture at the Habitat III thematic meeting on Public Spaces (Barcelona, 3 to 5 April 2016), where delegates gathered to feed their knowledge and expertise into shaping a New Urban Agenda to be adopted at the UN Habitat III Conference in Ecuador in October 2016.

Key players in the field of urban development agreed on a Declaration at the Barcelona meeting which - among other issues - called for placing culture on the roadmap when planning public spaces.

The Barcelona Declaration states that Public Spaces are essential for cultural and political expression: "Public spaces can create the environment to dispel the myths and destructive stereotypes associated with migration by fostering public debate about the varied and overwhelmingly positive contributions of migrants to the local communities."

Underscoring the importance of cultural heritage, the Declaration states: "There is a need to preserve the character and quality of existing historical public areas, in order to promote local identity and to transmit heritage to the future generations; improve existing public areas in central and peripheral parts of the city, in order to upgrade their quality and foster the sense of belonging of the communities; design new public spaces in built areas and in new urban expansions, to increase the quality of life of the inhabitants and strengthen social stability”.

Public Spaces are defined as publicly owned places, or privately owned but designated for public use – they are accessible and enjoyed by all citizens for free.

‘’Public Spaces serve as the basic framework for urban landscape and reflect the history and cultural diversity of urban societies while allowing for a greater level of social diversity. They also have an economic dimension and promote development in communities and societies,’’ Francesco Bandarin, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Culture, said.

Over 500 participants from local, regional, and national governments, civil society, intergovernmental organizations, and academics from five continents took part in the discussions.

Delegates agreed that culture is intrinsically linked to Public Spaces and investing in them allows for better access to markets, jobs, information and public services, particularly in developing countries.

The importance of Public Spaces in relation to Culture will also be outlined in a new Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Urban Development, being produced by UNESCO in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Report will be released at the Habitat III Conference this October – providing a global outline of the main trends and challenges surrounding the inclusion of culture in sustainable urban development. Based on research and data from partner institutions in cultural heritage and the cultural and creative industries, the Global Report will analyse related policies and measures and provide concrete recommendations to help build the New Urban Agenda.