7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

The value of culture and creativity in urban development

The value of culture and creativity in urban development

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 18:00 to 19:30

Key points

  • The populations of cities in developing counties are exploding.
  • Culture and creativity must be considered in urban planning.
  • Public spaces and the arts create social cohesion.
  • Involving citizens and communities in creative urban planning helps avoid exclusion.



Approximately 80 % of the population in the developing world will live in cities by 2030. Most of these cities are ill equipped to cope with rapid growth. Urbanisation brings benefits, but it also brings problems and challenges, including slums, poverty, inequality, sprawl, overcrowding and increased greenhouse gas emissions.

How can creativity in its widest sense be used to make cities more sustainable and liveable?

People ‘cannot live on bread alone’. They also need ‘food for the soul’, which is provided by art in all its manifestations, including performing and visual arts, literature, architecture and music. Appreciation of art and culture should be fostered by education systems. Appreciation of the arts also creates more tolerant and cohesive societies.

Public spaces are extremely important – they can give shape and form to a city and help to define the quality of life for its citizens. Roads, parks, plazas, beaches, waterways and government buildings that are open to the public, such as public libraries, are considered public spaces and are important for social cohesion. Planners should ensure that cities are inclusionary, not exclusionary. There should be some public multi-use spaces and some collaboratively owned spaces that people can use in a variety of different ways and for different purposes.

Speakers presented two examples of creative thinking about public spaces and direct citizen engagement.

The GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi collaborated with a Swedish architectural firm on a project to influence the transformation of a large urban area around the godown (warehouse district) and central railway station. Through workshops with residents, businesses, artists, urban development professionals and city officials, the workshops sought to understand what people wished to see in this area.

One major theme from the workshops was the question of the relationship of residents to the city. Through a three-month project, Nai ni who? (Who is Nairobi?), neighbourhoods held concerts, parades, sports, charity events, walking tours, picnics, film screenings, churches, community clean-ups and tree planting. A number of these activities took place in privately-owned spaces – an indication of the shortage of public space. At the end of the project, residents came up with an answer to the question: Nai ni sis (Nairobi is us). Much goodwill came out of the project because everyone was able to participate and play a role. The community began to look at their city in a different way and to take ownership and pride in where they live.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Medellín, Colombia, was a city of corruption and gun and drug violence. In the mid-1990s, city officials held workshops with communities to identify their hopes for their city. Over the next decade the government worked to gain the public’s trust. It developed peace agreements with gang members, provided free water, kindergartens and food supplements for children, created new programmes to prevent teen pregnancy, built health centres and sports and cultural clubs, and implemented what is widely considered to be a world-class, innovative public transport systems. Direct citizen engagement helped make Medellín a less violent and much safer city.



Before the speakers began their presentations, the audience watched Nai no who? (Who is Nairobi), a short film showcasing Kenya’s capital city as a metropolis of diverse cultures. Watch the three-minute film and learn more about the project here: www.nainiwho.com