City state

As arts organisations look around the world for new kinds of partnership and we enter the next uncertain phase of globalisation, Paul Owens, managing director of BOP Consulting, reports from the recent World Cities Culture forum, this year held in Moscow, and finds that it’s time for smaller cities to invest in culture

Global cities are where it’s at. And now, whether in Europe, Asia or the Americas, they are all putting culture at the centre of their thinking.

Twenty years ago, culture was typically a fringe concern for big cities, with very little political apparatus to support it. Now every self-respecting city has a cultural department with a strategic as a well as a delivery function, political status, and even ministers of culture.

Someone said cities are where the future happens first. This is especially true of the world’s largest most globally connected cities, known as world cities, which experience both challenges and opportunities more acutely because of their size and their speed of development. As globalisation continues, the dilemmas that world cities
face will increasingly apply to smaller
cities, putting their sustainability, liveability and governability under threat. Developing and nurturing
culture in cities will become so much more complex – and so much more necessary.

The World Cities Culture Forum was established to start a global conversation about the importance of culture. We are a network of world cities sharing the knowledge, experience and best practice necessary to make culture a leading force in our cities. We do this through our reports and policy briefings, and through our yearly summit – which this year was held in Moscow in early October. What have we learned so far?

It is clear that the strategic role of city governments is becoming increasingly important. They have a huge role to play as facilitators and convenors, whether creating policy frameworks or catalysing partnerships. No other actors in cities have the same ability to bring everyone to the table, and yet this is necessary if cities are to address the challenges they face.

Cultural policymakers in city government are now working across the urban policy agenda, from economic development to social inclusion to sanitation. Culture has come out of the opera house and the museum to become an integral part of city governance. Brussels has created an inter- cultural dialogue fund to fight terror- ism; New York’s IDNYC card serves as identification for undocumented residents, but it’s the cultural benefits that have driven take-up across the city.

Two urgent questions keep coming up in conversations at the World Cities Culture Forum:

How can we make space for culture?

Cities must be planned and developed with culture in mind, but the flood of international investment in (mostly) private property means that it is too often squeezed out. And global capital is no respecter of the particularities of place. A recent report from the Greater London Assembly,

for example, estimates that London is in danger of losing 30% of its artists studios in the next few years because escalating property prices.

And it’s not just culture. Now, even big business is worried about attracting talent into world cities. Research commissioned recently by the Global Cities Business Alliance (www.busi- nessincities.com) found that on average workers in London spend just over half of their net income on housing costs. There is a world city – not named in the report – where average housing costs per year are 120% aver- age income.

City governments sometimes seem powerless to manage and direct develop for the common good, given the amount of money involved. BOP’s upcoming Making space for culture report will look at the ways world cities are now seeking to deal with this affordability crisis – and to safeguard their culture, their communities and their uniqueness.

Who pays for culture?

It is clear that culture costs, and as cities grow culture requires more, rather than less, investment. But the City of Moscow’s extraordinary network of over 500 public cultural institutions and over 44,000 city employees may not be possible elsewhere. Cities are experimenting with new approaches, including public-private partnerships or negotiating funding streams from non-culture departments. Getting the right mix in place is crucial. But having a core of public investment is absolutely essential if city leaders are to have sufficient influence over development – a lesson that should be heeded by UK cities of all shapes and sizes. The World Cities Culture Forum is soon to publish the first comparative statistical study on how culture is financed in world cities, which will help policymakers understand the full “toolkit” of options that can be used to help support culture.

There is one further fundamental area where culture, with the support of city policy, can take the lead. That is climate change – the greatest danger facing cities in the 21st century. With four years remaining to meet the target set by the Paris Agreement, the time to act is running out. The World Cities Culture Forum is now working with C40 (the co-operative network of the world’s major cities) to understand how cities can harness the power of the cultural movement against climate change, and we are producing a report that will sum up lessons learned by our member cities. It is early days, but we must work quickly if we’re not to be too late.

Above all what we have learned in the World Cities Culture Forum is that collaboration – within cities, between neighbouring cities of all sizes, and across the globe – is an essential ingredient in building the future. While Brexit threatens to close off avenues for UK/Europe collaboration, and international tensions remain high, our

Moscow summit has demonstrated the power of culture to build bridges. City-to-city relationships can open up channels of communication that remain stubbornly closed between national governments.

In the 21st century globalisation is driving both new prosperity and new challenges for cities. Problems which have become urgent for world cities will soon be facing smaller cities, in the UK and elsewhere. Culture can – and must – be a key part of the solution, but knowledge and investment are both necessary if it is to make a difference.

Image shows Paul Owens at the Moscow World Cities Culture Summit

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