Urban Development and public space workshop: Culture as a Hinge for the EU-CELAC Relations

Brussels.- Representatives in the field of arts, cultural policy and urban planning from Europe, Latin-America and the Caribbean have called on the EU-CELAC's heads of the state to raise awareness on the role of culture and its importance for both region's relationship.

The appeal was the result of the “Urban Development and public space workshop: culture as the driver for cities”, an event in the run-up to the EU-CELAC summit organised by EU-LAC Foundation and the Centre for Fine Arts Brussels BOZAR, with the support of the European Commission (DEVCO), EUNIC and More Europe – external cultural relations.

“Future belongs to the city, but a city with content”, highlighted the director for Latin-America and the Caribbean at the European Commission (DEVCO), Jolita Butkeviciene in a short speech welcoming the experts, among them the Belgian culture philosopher Eric Corijn; the Romanian architect Teodor Frolu; the coordinator of the Agenda 21 of the world organization of United Cities and Local Governments, Jordi Pascual; the executive director of UWI and professor of the University of West Indies, Keith Nurse and the Argentinian artist Raul Lemesoff.

Butkeviciene mentioned that some states of the Persian Gulf are investing in works of arts and in building museums in order to give content to their cities. However she did not conceal her scepticism with regards to this measure as “content cannot be imposed or imported”, she said.

“Art must come from the people. And I believe that art abounds in the streets of Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean. The question is which models are advisable to foster here, in Latin America and the Caribbean”, highlighted Burkeviciene and reminded that the European Commission is open to funding projects to make our cities more sustainable and habitable.

According to data provided by the UN, 55 per cent of the world's population currently dwells in urban areas, a percentage that is expected to increase to 66 per cent by 2050. Europe represents 14 per cent of the world's urban population, and Latin America has reached 23 million inhabitants in three cities, 13 per cent. 

“Globalisation means urbanisation”, argued Corijn in one of the three round-table discussions, which were set up during the workshop to analyse the role of culture in urban space and its effect on easing social cohesion problems, to encourage a culture of coexistence and respect for diversity, to prevent crime or to create emotional ties among citizens who miss their village. 

From Corjin's point of view it is a multidimensional problem that requires many answers, because in addition to problems inherent to big cities and human concentration “there is a growing tension between urban dynamics and the State, between an urban culture that wants its own rules and a State that competes in the control of it and must ensure social cohesion within the national territory”.  

Experts observe that the tension between local and national governments is shaping up to be unstoppable as cities are becoming less and less within the State and more on the world. Cities interact between one another and the world.

In the case of Latin-America and the Caribbean, that network of cities continues to take shape on a common challenging basis: for instance, a strong demographic transition, lack of public infrastructure services and crime, one of the greatest problems of the big Latin-American cities, according to Elkin Velasquez, director of the Regional Office for the Caribbean and Latin America of UN-Habitat (ROLAC).

As for Jorge Valdez, director of the EU-LAC Foundation, he highlighted the importance of mobilising and fostering urban planning models from a common incipient cultural and artistic starting point, shared by the cities of the EU-CELAC. This would enable to create bi-regional networks, a recommendation proposed by the participants' conclusions.

Thus, and in addition to the appeal to the EU-CELAC leaders, experts requested to take into account cultural and creative sectors in EU-CELAC relationships and to encourage mutual cultural exchange between both regions so as to facilitate mobility and mutual knowledge and understanding, especially in urban contexts and public spaces.

They recommended support for partnerships, networks and birregional pilot projects that bear a relation with culture and they emphasized as well the benefits of social cohesion and social and economical development, which would derive from exchange of social values, experiences and an inclusive structured urban planning.

As a long term strategy, the 20 experts who participated in the workshop advocated an inclusive collaboration, taking into account specific and collective memories, identities and cultures, and, ensuring quality urban planning projects where creative and cultural sectors play an essential role.

This workshop concluded with a public debate moderated by Pascual and guests as renowned as Christian Leffler, EEAS Managing Director for the Americas, Elkin Velasquez, the arquitects and urbanists
 Riccardo A. Marini and
 Markus Appenzeller, and David Escobar, who as Private Secretary for Mayor Fajardo in Medellin (2004-2007) played a primary role in the urban transformation in Medellin.

Joint Declaration - Culture in EU-LAC Relations, Culture as a Driver for Cities

Picture courtesy of BOZAR