Putting creativity to work for sustainable cities: UNESCO and the Creative Cities Network share knowledge at the World Urban Forum


“Ready, Steady, Go!” by Elisabetch Koller & Sandra Janser
© Stefan Sobotka
22 February 2018

Culture and creativity are gaining ground in cities. Their key contribution to social inclusion, economic development and enhanced resilience is now recognized by a diversity of local actors, who want to push culture and creativity forward into action. On 12 February 2018, at the 9th World Urban Forum, UNESCO gathered decision makers, cultural professionals and urban stakeholders to pool expertise at its Training Event on how to make the most of “Creativity for Sustainable Cities”. The 120 participants together reflected on methodologies and approaches to place culture at the heart of urban policies and strategies, as part of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda.

Culture is now recognized as a key driver of urban sustainability. The role of culture is reflected in SDG11 related to sustainable cities but also across many of the SDGs and targets related to social cohesion, inclusive economic growth, environmental sustainability, integrated territorial planning and participatory governance” highlighted Jyoti Hosagrahar, Director of the Division for Creativity in UNESCO. She also recalled UNESCO’s efforts to integrate culture in the international agendas, and the Organization’s commitment to support cities and civil society stakeholders in implementing this vision on the ground through its normative instruments and programmes such as the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN).

The Training Event was an opportunity to learn first-hand from city experiences and good practices illustrating how culture-based local initiatives contribute to sustainable urban development. “As a mayor, I think it is essential to find time to learn. This is particularly true when the city of tomorrow can only be built by joining forces, by sharing innovative and creative ideas, by being together engaged. Today, culture and creativity represent new urban centralities that enable social cohesion, vitality and diversity” highlighted Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna, Italy.  

The session drew on the UCCN’s expertise both as a laboratory of innovative practices towards sustainable cities and as a cooperation platform gathering 180 member cities from 72 countries. As part of the training, three Creative Cities presented innovative initiatives initiated to leverage culture in their urban development strategies. Bologna (Italy), Bandung (Indonesia) and Santos (Brazil), presented flagship projects that gave a comprehensive overview on how culture can help formulate solutions to urban challenges, as well as lay the ground for cultural diversity, community participation and social inclusion.

We want to make things happen. We know that a community effort is more powerful and sustainable” underlined Dwinita Lasarati, Chairman of Bandung Creative Economy Committee. Based on design methodologies, DesignAction.bdg unites young, creative people, cultu­ral professionals, international urban experts, public authorities and NGOs in active discussions to propose design-driven solutions to improve quality of life in Bandung.

Bologna’s IncrediBol! project is part of the City Council’s agenda and regional strategy, serving as a springboard for young, creative entrepreneurs to launch their start-ups. Based on a public-private network, it fosters knowledge sharing between young professionals and public authorities, enterprises, and academia through advice and trainings. The programme helped establish 96 creativity-led start-ups.

Santos’ Creative Economy Observatory is a pilot project based on UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Benefitting from a trickle-down-effect, the city has created its own set of indicators for evaluating the impact of the local creative economy and to identify its future priority areas of action. Niedja Santos, Director of Economic Innovation Office of Santos City Hall, highlighted that the Observatory will significantly help strengthen Santos’ creative economy through evidenced-based policy.

The training also focused on effectively building on cultural resources to align with the 2030 Agenda. A framework encompassing six objectives related to economic development, social inclusion and participation, environmental sustainability and resilience, safeguarding of heritage and culture, education and urban spaces was presented as a way to prioritize actions in the urban domain as well as monitor culture’s contribution to it. This draws on UNESCO’s ongoing work to develop a set of qualitative and quantitative indicators, building on the successful experience of the Culture for Development Indicators Suite (CDIS).