European city governments are using “matchmaking” to boost their cultural life

Some culture, in a city. Image: Getty.

At a time when most public administrations are making do with fewer resources, city administrations are increasingly providing non-financial support to local actors and assuming new roles. One of these is match making local partners. In the field of culture, local administrations are well-placed to use their connections to help broker new partnerships and develop and support local networks of cultural and creative actors.

Yet many city administrations profess a need to learn more about improving such connections. As the network of big European cities, EUROCITIES is working to address this key demand. On the other side of the aisle, networks of cultural and creative stakeholders are keen to develop new approaches in their ongoing work with local administrations. By working together, we hope to boost local cultural offers and strengthen local cultural ecosystems.

Increasing the local cultural offer

Local cultural networks provide unique opportunities for local cultural actors to connect, to get to know each other and to share what they are working on. They also act as platforms where cultural actors can make their voices heard and where city administrations can better understand the specificities and needs of cultural actors (e.g. cultural centres, youth centres, libraries, creative hubs, co-working spaces, incubators and maker-spaces). They can be developed by city administrations, or by cultural actors themselves, and financed in various ways. However they are formed, crucially, they allow city administrations to develop more targeted support services, be they financial or non-financial.

When managed successfully these local networks of cultural stakeholders can be a boon for local economic development, by coming up with innovative ways to deliver public services and by supporting joined up programmes for the local cultural sectors, saving time and money.

There are many practical examples from cities across Europe that show how networks of local cultural stakeholders have positive impacts on policy development, on public support to the cultural sector and on the creation of new cultural offers.


Chemnitz, in Saxony, which recently hosted EUROCITIES Culture Forum to share learning with more than 50 fellow cities, developed a culture strategy in collaboration with local cultural organisations. The city has continued this process of constant engagement ever since, which involves existing and newly created structures and stakeholders from a wide range of sectors as well as representatives from culture, politics, science and administration.

In Espoo, a city in the suburbs of Helsinki, all big cultural investments are first discussed between the city administration and the big local cultural organisations. They meet twice a year to develop future cooperation and current implementation of the local cultural strategy.

In Belfast, a Festivals Forum, and later a Visual Arts Forum, were created by the city council as many local festivals wanted to collaborate, to avoid diary-clashes, and had similar training and marketing needs. Key outcomes include the purchase of resources that can be shared across organisations and the creation of a “Late Night Art” event every first Thursday of each month. when 20 galleries across the city welcome visitors for an evening celebration of visual art.

A vision for future success

Although there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to building successful long-term local networks, there are key success factors to keep in mind.

Sharing a joint vision, based on open discussion between all actors will allow local cultural networks to flourish, giving different actors the opportunity to join forces on shared projects, and providing quality cultural services to citizens.

Once cultural networks are developed by city administrations, or other cultural stakeholders, it is important to give the various local actors’ the freedom to work in the way they prefer. City administrations can steer and provide spaces for meetings, but the group should be empowered to make local decisions – for example, through a steering group.

Europe’s large cities are demonstrating a clear willingness to develop and sustain local networks of cultural organisations and stakeholders. Through networks like EUROCITIES, cities can learn together and adapt successful cooperation models to their local context, always considering the DNA of their diverse cultural and creative ecosystem. We know there is a route forward for better cultural policies in cities, despite difficult times. So, let’s get collaborative.

Julie Hervé is a senior policy advisor at EUROCITIES, the political platform for major European cities.

 
 
 
 

Barcelona’s car-free “superblocks” could extend lives. So will they catch on elsewhere?

Barcelona. Image: Getty.

The world’s biggest cities have larger populations and higher economic outputs than some countries. But as they grow in size and complexity, cities are also facing thorny challenges that threaten the health and happiness of residents. Congestion, pollution and a lack of community spaces have become major drags on people’s aspirations and experiences of urban living.

In response, cities must manage their resources and priorities to create sustainable places for visitors and residents, and foster innovation and growth. Enter Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain – where a bold stroke of urban planning first introduced “superblocks” in 2016.

Image: ISGlobal/FAL.

Superblocks are neighbourhoods of nine blocks, where traffic is restricted to major roads around the outside, opening up entire groups of streets to pedestrians and cyclists. The aim is to reduce pollution from vehicles, and give residents much-needed relief from noise pollution. They are designed to create more open space for citizens to meet, talk and do activities.


Health and well-being boost

There are currently only six superblocks in operation, including the first, most prominent one in Eixample. Reports suggest that – despite some early push back – the change has been broadly welcomed by residents, and the long-term benefits could be considerable.

A recent study carried out by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health estimates that if, as planned, 503 potential superblocks are realised across the city, journeys by private vehicle would fall by 230,000 a week, as people switch to public transport, walking or cycling.

The research suggests this would significantly improve air quality and noise levels on the car-free streets: ambient levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO₂) would be reduced by a quarter, bringing levels in line with recommendations from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The plan is also expected to generate significant health benefits for residents. The study estimates that as many as 667 premature deaths from air pollution, noise and heat could be prevented each year. More green spaces will encourage people to get outdoors and lead a more active lifestyle.

This, in turn, helps to reduce obesity and diabetes and ease pressure on health services. The researchers claim that residents of Barcelona could expect to live an extra 200 days thanks to the cumulative health benefits, if the idea is rolled out across the city.

Space to play. Imag: Mosa Moseneke/Unsplash.

There are expected to be benefits to mental health, as well as physical health. Having access to such spaces can stave off loneliness and isolation – especially among elderly residents – as communities form stronger bonds and become more resilient.

Stumbling blocks

It was Salvador Rueda, director of the Urban Ecology Agency of Barcelona, who first championed the introduction of superblocks – and he argues that the idea could be used in any city. Even so, authorities looking to expand the concept in Barcelona or beyond will need to be mindful of some concerns.

Changes like these require capital investment. Even as the car-free streets are transformed with urban furniture and greenery, the remaining major roads will likely have to accommodate heavier traffic.

Nothing comes for free. Image: Zvileve/Flickr/creative commons.

Further investments in local infrastructure – such as improving surrounding roads to deal with more traffic, or installing smart traffic management system – could be required to prevent serious congestion. Then the question remains, how to finance such investments – a higher tax rate is unlikely to be popular.


What’s more, whenever a location becomes more desirable, it leads to an increase in property demand. Higher prices and rent could create pockets of unaffordable neighbourhoods. This may lead to use of properties for investment purposes and possibly, displacement of local residents.

It’s also worth noting that Barcelona is an old and relatively well-planned European city. Different challenges exist in emerging global cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America – and in younger cities in the US and Australia. There is a great deal of variation in scale, population density, urban shape and form, development patterns and institutional frameworks across the cities. Several large cities in the developing world are heavily congested with uncontrolled, unregulated developments and weak regulatory frameworks.

Replicating what’s been done in Barcelona may prove difficult in such places, and will require much greater transformations. But it’s true that the basic principles of superblocks – that value pedestrians, cyclists and high quality public spaces over motor vehicles – can be applied in any city, with some adjustments.

Leading the way

Over the history of human civilisation, great cities have been at the forefront of innovation and social progress. But cities need a robust structure of governance, which is transparent and accountable, to ensure a fair and efficient use of resources. Imposing innovation from the top down, without consultations and buy-in, can go squarely against the idea of free market capitalism, which has been a predominant force for modern economies and can lead push-back from citizens and local businesses.

Citizens must also be willing to change their perspectives and behaviour, to make such initiatives work. This means that “solutions” to urban living like superblocks need to have buy-in from citizens, through continuous engagement with local government officials.

A man speaks at a public consultation on the Eixample superblock in Barcelona. Image: Ajuntament Barcelona/Flickr/creative commons.

Successful urban planning also needs strong leadership with a clear and consistent vision of the future, and a roadmap of how that vision can be delivered. The vision should be co-developed with the citizens and all other stakeholders such as local businesses, private and public organisations. This can ensure that everybody shares ownership and takes responsibility for the success of local initiatives.

There is little doubt that the principles and objectives of superblocks are sound. The idea has the potential to catch on around the world – though it will likely take a unique and specific form in every city.

The Conversation

Anupam Nanda, Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate, University of Reading.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.