What’s trending? On the cultural challenges facing cities

The 2015 Madrid carnival. No idea. Image: Getty.

Cultural and creative industries are increasingly central to cities’ strategic agendas. They positively impact local economic development and can help generate greater social cohesion. As such, city administrations will have to consider the challenges these industries are likely to face in the coming years, and how cities themselves might need to adapt in order to meet them.

That is precisely the process EUROCITIES recently underwent with our members. By focussing on the horizon 2030, and talking to members, we identified five areas that will need the attention of city administrations. Through this dialogue, and thanks to our ongoing involvement in the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative, financed by Creative Europe, we have started to map and share ideas about the on-the-ground changes this will entail.

Horizon 2030: Creative thoughts for cultural planning

First, changing demographics will mean that cities’ populations have different needs. Many cities will focus on developing intercultural dialogue to welcome newcomers; others will offer services to a growing number of pensioners, or young families.

In many cases, culture is a perfect tool to help engage otherwise vulnerable societal groups. Birmingham’s Arts Champion scheme ensures it brings quality cultural activities to more remote neighbourhoods by pairing them with large city-funded arts organisations based in the city centre. Each organisation is then challenged to work with local adults and families to reduce social isolation and boost cohesion.

Second, audience empowerment means making better connections with citizens by reflecting their ideas in the everyday work of cultural organisations. Local cultural institutions will need to adapt by working more closely with local citizens. Co-creation can help build ownership of culture-led development among citizens.

From the city perspective, this can also mean making sure public spaces are accessible to different users. To take the example of public libraries, Aarhus provides rooms for mothers to feed their babies, and Antwerp offers knitting groups in one community library to help migrants socialise while learning Flemish.

Third, given that city budgets are increasingly stretched, we can expect to see a new approach to governance and networking. Cultural organisations will have to look for alternative and innovative forms of income generation, and work on more cross-sectoral projects. Sofia has already launched its Fund for Innovations in Culture, which earmarks funding for more risky and innovative cultural and creative projects. The city has doubled the amount of private funding raised for these projects, with a view to making them more sustainable in the long term.

Fourth, new technologies will heavily impact the way people access cultural services. From the city point of view it will be important to make sure all citizens have adequate digital skills, across social and generational divides, to deal with the trend. New technologies will affect the way cities communicate with citizens and work with local stakeholders.

By 2030 we expect this to be mainstreamed into arts and cultural programming. However, we all still have a lot to learn about how to make the most of these new cultural opportunities. What will be the impact of new technologies on cultural organisations?

Fifth, city administrations will take on new roles as brokers or advisors as cultural organisations start changing their business models. Rather than offering financial support, cities will be well-placed to use their connections to help broker new partnerships, or offer public spaces to be used by artists and cultural organisations.

They could also help out by assisting local cultural organisations with EU-funding applications or promoting local activities through their communications channels. In northern Portugal, ADDICT (the country’s creative industries agency) is bringing together a diverse range of local stakeholders – such as companies, artists and universities - with no history of cooperation in order to boost the performance of the regions’ creative industries.

Cooperating for better policy

By sharing their experiences, cities can learn from one another and develop the policies needed to face these challenges with confidence. Networks like EUROCITIES and the Culture for Cities and Regions initiative provide such spaces to foster cooperation among cities.

These challenges need to be approached strategically, with a clear political will and vision. The more evidenced-based learning that we share, the bolder new initiatives will become.

Julie Hervé is senior policy advisor at EUROCITIES, the network of major European cities. 


As EU funding is lost, “levelling up” needs investment, not just rhetoric

Oh, well. Image: Getty.

Regional inequality was the foundation of Boris Johnson’s election victory and has since become one of the main focuses of his government. However, the enthusiasm of ministers championing the “levelling up” agenda rings hollow when compared with their inertia in preparing a UK replacement for European structural funding. 

Local government, already bearing the brunt of severe funding cuts, relies on European funding to support projects that boost growth in struggling local economies and help people build skills and find secure work. Now that the UK has withdrawn its EU membership, councils’ concerns over how EU funds will be replaced from 2021 are becoming more pronounced.

Johnson’s government has committed to create a domestic structural funding programme, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), to replace the European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF). However, other than pledging that UKSPF will “reduce inequalities between communities”, it has offered few details on how funds will be allocated. A public consultation on UKSPF promised by May’s government in 2018 has yet to materialise.

The government’s continued silence on UKSPF is generating a growing sense of unease among councils, especially after the failure of successive governments to prioritise investment in regional development. Indeed, inequalities within the UK have been allowed to grow so much that the UK’s poorest region by EU standards (West Wales & the Valleys) has a GDP of 68 per cent of the average EU GDP, while the UK’s richest region (Inner London) has a GDP of 614 per cent of the EU average – an intra-national disparity that is unique in Europe. If the UK had remained a member of the EU, its number of ‘less developed’ regions in need of most structural funding support would have increased from two to five in 2021-27: South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham and Lincolnshire joining Cornwall & Isles of Scilly and West Wales & the Valley. Ministers have not given guarantees that any region, whether ‘less developed’ or otherwise, will obtain the same amount of funding under UKSPF to which they would have been entitled under ESIF.

The government is reportedly contemplating changing the Treasury’s fiscal rules so public spending favours programmes that reduce regional inequalities as well as provide value for money, but this alone will not rebalance the economy. A shared prosperity fund like UKSPF has the potential to be the master key that unlocks inclusive growth throughout the country, particularly if it involves less bureaucracy than ESIF and aligns funding more effectively with the priorities of local people. 

In NLGN’s Community Commissioning report, we recommended that this funding should be devolved to communities directly to decide local priorities for the investment. By enabling community ownership of design and administration, the UK government would create an innovative domestic structural funding scheme that promotes inclusion in its process as well as its outcomes.

NLGN’s latest report, Cultivating Local Inclusive Growth: In Practice, highlights the range of policy levers and resources that councils can use to promote inclusive growth in their area. It demonstrates that, through collaboration with communities and cross-sector partners, councils are already doing sterling work to enhance economic and social inclusion. Their efforts could be further enhanced with a fund that learns lessons from ESIF’s successes and flaws: a UKSPF that is easier to access, designed and delivered by local communities, properly funded, and specifically targeted at promoting social and economic inclusion in regions that need it most. “Getting Brexit done” was meant to free up the government’s time to focus once more on pressing domestic priorities. “Getting inclusive growth done” should be at the top of any new to-do list.

Charlotte Morgan is senior researcher at the New Local Government Network.