The role of culture in shaping a better Europe

18 January 2024

Cities are actively supporting the European Green Deal and have often proven more ambitious on the ground. Ahead of the EU elections, in the ‘A better Europe starts in cities’ Eurocities manifesto, local governments are asking the EU to increase targets set for the Green Deal: “at least a 90% net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040”. Cities also understand that the fight against climate change needs an integrated approach and that all sectors can contribute to creating a positive ripple effect.

Greening (with) culture

Culture can be often overlooked, yet it has a significant impact on our environment and sustainable initiatives can make a difference. Findings from the ‘Greening the Creative Europe Programme’ report published by the European Commission suggest several opportunities for the Creative Europe Programme to enhance its contribution to climate, biodiversity mainstreaming, and behavioural change. For example, creative and cultural content can drive change towards a more environmentally responsible society.

“Every cultural initiative has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change,” says Dejan Crnek, Deputy Mayor in Ljubljana and Chair of the Culture Forum. “At the core of Eurocities’ mission is a dedication to greener and more inclusive local cultural policies and activities. By fostering a sustainable culture, cities lay the groundwork for resilient and thriving communities.”

Cities’ efforts for sustainable culture

In particular, the 46 signatory cities of the Eurocities Lille Call to Action are incorporating ecological measures in their cultural policies and activities. From offering guidance and training on how to make cultural organisations and events more sustainable and inclusive, to developing free carbon calculators for the sector, to staging environmentally responsible exhibitions throughout the entire production chain, to reusing and sharing materials for performances and events, to encouraging the use of public transport to attend the local cultural offer, there is no small action.

Every cultural initiative has the potential to be a catalyst for positive change
— Dejan Crnek

However, resources in the sector are limited and there is a need for specific skills and knowledge building. So, as part of Eurocities’ future work on greening culture, the network will collaborate with ENCATC, the European network on cultural management and policy, to develop a training programme based on local government’s need to acquire new competencies and skills on how to make local culture more sustainable.

Cultural heritage can be tricky to innovate and make more sustainable and cities have much to learn from each other in terms of policies, partnerships, ways of working and good practices. Eurocities will also design and implement a training and capacity-building programme as part of the European Heritage Hub pilot project for city representatives and heritage professionals to tackle environmental, digital, and social challenges specifically related to heritage in their local contexts. The European Heritage Hub project will respond to this need by making heritage content, policies, initiatives, and news easily accessible to all; providing research and policy papers to fully seize the potential of cultural heritage for our economy, society, and the environment.

Culture by all and for all

The Eurocities Lille Call to Action also insists on an inclusive culture. “From addressing physical accessibility to creating opportunities for engagement, Eurocities envisions a cultural landscape where everyone feels a sense of belonging,” says Nicole Yardeni, Deputy Mayor in Toulouse and Vice-Chair of the Culture Forum.

Cities, like Glasgow and Amsterdam, which have signed the Call to Action promote cultural accessibility to the widest possible range of people such as the disabled, elderly, homeless and immigrants. Opening culture to everyone means creating affordable options, considering physical and social barriers, and making sure the information reaches different audiences.

Eurocities envisions a cultural landscape where everyone feels a sense of belonging
— Nicole Yardeni

The active involvement of city residents in cultural life is a foundation for a high-quality, healthy and fulfilled life for each individual, but also the prosperity of the community as a whole. Ecorys’ study ‘Culture and democracy, the evidence’ found that individuals who regularly participate in cultural activities show an increased likelihood to vote, volunteer and participate in community activities, projects and organisations.

This is why the next Eurocities Culture Forum taking place alongside Belfast Year of Culture in September 2024 is particularly relevant and topical. The event will be a chance for cities to see how the opportunities for inclusion and participation can be maximised through cultural investment and opportunities for civic democracy.

Architecture for better living

Another aspect that has a fundamental impact on people’s quality of life is the design of buildings and urban spaces that are inclusive and considerate of everyone’s needs. “At the same time, these designs should not harm the environment or use up more resources than the Earth can handle,” says Clémentine Daubeuf, Living Spaces Project Coordinator at Eurocities. “ This is crucial for the happiness and health of contemporary society and the well-being of future generations.”

The Living Spaces project has already collected 30 good practices from cities and regions across the European Union and will continue to foster knowledge exchange between cities on how to plan and maintain high-quality architecture projects. A series of onsite peer-learning visits are already planned throughout the year connecting to Eurocities’ work on the New European Bauhaus, on urban planning and regeneration, governance, inclusion and sustainability.

it is important that the next EU mandate recognises cities’ role in shaping European policies
— Julie Hervé

Cities’ partnership with the EU

“Eurocities’ work on cultural policies is a collective effort to redefine the cultural landscape. To continue doing so it is important that the next EU mandate recognises cities’ role in shaping European policies,” says Julie Hervé, Head of Culture at Eurocities.

Eurocities will continue its work to bring cities’ expertise and needs to the forefront of the European debate. For example, through its work with the European Institute of Technology (EIT) Culture & Creativity or through its role in the European Commission’s expert group on cultural heritage, passing on key messages on cities’ needs.

Eurocities Manifesto‘s commitment to a socially inclusive and environmentally responsible Europe exemplifies how cities have ambitious goals for all Europeans. A better Europe starts in cities and the EU must see local governments as partners in the achievement of it.

Main photo credits: (c) Yves Calomme