Culture: Urban Future, the first global report by UNESCO on culture for sustainable urban development, was launched on 18 October in Quito (Ecuador) in the framework of the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III).
Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO for Culture, and Oumar Cissé, Executive Secretary, Institut Africain de Gestion Urbaine (Senegal) co-chaired the session ‘Dialogue on Socio-Cultural Urban Frameworks’ during which the Report was launched. Roland Ries, Mayor of Strasbourg (France), Saskia Sassen, Professor of Sociology at Columbia University (USA), Araceli Sánchez Garrido, Director of Heritage at the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID), Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Ambassador of Peru to the United Nations and President of the Group of Friends of Culture and Development at the United Nations, and Bogdan Wenta, Member of the European Parliament, spoke during two panels.
In the current context of rapid urbanization and metropolisation, ensuring the human dimension of cities is a key challenge. Due to increased migration, cultural diversity has become a fundamental component of the majority of cities, producing both opportunities for creativity and challenges for living together: ‘In our cities, which are increasingly cosmopolitan, the role of a mayor is to ensure that this cultural diversity becomes an asset and not a handicap’, said Roland Ries, in introducing the debate.
The panellists underlined the importance of culture in urban governance. The importance of reclaiming public spaces was also emphasized as a means of promoting debate, social interaction and civic participation. Regeneration programmes of public spaces in Medellín (Colombia) and the thematic forums organized by Strasbourg (France) were some of the examples mentioned.
The living dimension of cities and the need to avoid creating fixed urban spaces - a problem that can pose challenges in historic urban centres - was also the focus of the debate: ‘Heritage is a social construct that must deal with modernity’, said Francesco Bandarin. The importance of the dynamic and evolving nature of culture was reiterated by Saskia Sassen: ‘Culture is not just an object. Culture is an active participant.’
Cities have long been centres of cultural exchange and vibrant creative hubs. Creative expressions, including emerging urban cultures such as graffiti, were noted as particular ways to enhance citizenship and foster a sense of belonging in cities. In commenting on the role of creativity in the digital age, Charles Landry, urban advisor and founder of Comedia, highlighted the power of the creative industries to connect, empower and generate new ideas in urban areas.
Araceli Sanchez Garrido reviewed AECID projects implemented in Latin America that target degraded historical centres formerly abandoned by the local population and that are plagued by violence and insecurity. The projects have focused on the inclusive participation of local populations in the regeneration of housing and public spaces. ‘We want a city that is inclusive, accessible, safe, connected and human scale’, she said.
In bringing these issues to the attention of the United Nations, the role of the Group of Friends of Culture and Development to the UN has been fundamental. Its President, the Ambassador of Peru to the UN, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, intervened in the debate to point out: ‘We managed to include culture in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Culture enriches humanity, and the New Urban Agenda to be adopted at the end of Habitat III will also allow us to implement this innovative programme in cities.’
The presentation of the Report was also the occasion of a special event celebrated at the Convent of San Francisco in Quito's historic centre, the first city listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1978.
The Report Culture: Urban Future demonstrates that culture should be fully integrated into urban strategies to ensure sustainability and improved quality of life for people. The Report has benefited from the financial support of AECID and the municipality of Hangzhou (China).