The Changing Culture of Cities

When I go to a conference these days I want to take away one new idea, thought or piece of learning and one new valuable contact. I know that doesn’t sound very ambitious but the longer you work in an industry the harder it becomes to hear something different and meet new people. Of course, it is always great to see old professional friends and to chew over familiar subject matters. However, when I booked to go on the Academy of Urbanism Annual Congress this year, I had great expectations. And they were met, and then some. In fact, I cannot remember attending a conference this good in a very long time.

The conference was two and a half days in Aarhus, Denmark’s second city, and European Capital of Culture 2017. The Congress sub-title was A New Culture of Urbanism. The conference had multiple venues, which meant we got to spend time having great conversations in some of the city’s most impressive cultural buildings. We walked the city on study tours and between venues. I did over 18,000 steps a day. I explored the stunning modern harbour, and the old town filled with bicycles and tenement housing. I walked the rainbow panorama on the top of the ARoS Museum and climbed the sloping grass roof of the MOMU Moesgaard Museum. I also learned a lot, have been given plenty food for thought and come away fired up with insight to apply to the day job. Three weeks on and I’m still fizzing.

When I came to write this blog, I couldn’t decide how to bottle some of the fizz and share some of the food for thought. Perhaps I can’t. Looking through my notes, a series of bite size phrases jumped out. Here they are.

On culture, with a focus on the process and outcome from European Capitals of Culture …………….
Culture needs to move on from being about glamorous photogenic buildings for branding

Culture is about showing people living in a city new ways. It’s about changing perspectives.

What if a European City of Culture was all pop-ups, would it have any depth?

Culture is more than a puppet show.

On cities, with a focus on the future and the big issues facing our cities …………………………..
Be aware of smart, it may be a gimmick

How do we make places safer without being defensive?

Motorists and modernists have screwed things up in cities

Are we prepared to take a car out to put a tree in?

In some cities, GVA is growing faster than the population. Technology and the finance sectors are driving growth, but they don’t generate many jobs. How are growing city populations going to earn a living?

We are moving into an era of community led change, but bottom up is messy and it can be wasteful.

My biggest takeaway is the fundamental shift in thinking happening in so many different arena right now. We are on the edge of a new era that is putting people at its heart – their skills, creativity and the strength of social connectivity – but we’re all still learning how to make that work.