Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Development Rhetoric's and the Notion of City Culture by P.M. Delladetsima


The purpose of this brief presentation is to investigate the notion of city culture within the context of developmental policy trends, and related to that, investment initiatives which strongly affect the diversity and complexity of European urban patterns. Then, it will be argued that there seems to be a highly important role to play by the European Union (EU) when it comes to introduce such policy changes that lead to an increased sensibility for the problems as experienced by inner cities and localities. Altogether this strongly associates to the need of determining a more concrete spatial (urban) European policy. In turn, such a policy must be shaped parallel to the already mentioned considerations by a broader perception of the notion of city-culture.

The Re-emergence of the City in the European Setting

Any historical view of the post-war European spatial development could easily be highlighted by a dialectically shaped evolution of new theoretical approaches and practises within economic, social and policy conditions characterising the various decades (Massey, 1979; Hadjimichalis, 1992). These approaches have incorporated at varying degrees spatial dimensions and have focused differently upon the regional and urban level.

It would seem as if nowadays the "urban" and "inner-city" topics are back again on the main agenda; and it is interesting to point out, that the city appears as a policy entity, although in a rather vague manner both at the national and supranational level, that is where EU policy is being shaped (as we will describe later on). The reasons for this emphasis are not obvious and hence not easy to trace here. However, it could be argued that this relates to two main features: on the one hand, there is the mere fact that it is in the city where the "new" post-Fordist problems are being expressed in the most acute form (new-poor, industrial firm closures, youth unemployment, concentration of minority and migrant groups, etc.); on the other, both the city and the inner city have succumbed to a perpetuated crisis situation and seem now to appear as "a free land" which attracts potential investment interests either in the form of gentrification and renewal programmes or else in the form of major investment projects generally promoting concentration on services for tourist and leisure activities or else for commercial, retail and banking capital (Delladetsima, 1994). All these are interests in investments having on the whole little to do with (or indirectly related to) the specific social and economic problems experienced by urban localities. When they speak about 'success', this does not refer primarily to actual local impact, but to a broader economic outcome for the city and the region as a whole.

Obviously the current emphasis on the inner-city should be welcomed as an expressed will to deal primarily with the newly emerging problems related to the first feature. However, this emphasis has been predominantly related to the second feature. For such a policy feature appears nearly everywhere in the European urban setting, but as a part of a rhetoric seeking to "promote an international, European etc. city role". The European cities appear as being actually in competition with one another, in order to gain a better position within the urban hierarchy and to attract more investment. In such a context the notion of 'city culture' has simply become a factor which could effectively contribute to the betterment of the city's position and to increase its potentialities as an investment area. This has also been confirmed by recent studies with findings, as pointed out by Luithlen (1992, p. 282), that "suggest the locational factors have shifted from cost to non-cost, subjective factors, e.g. environment, historical setting and cultural opportunities".

Despite the fact that the new development rhetoric's have "officially" embodied cultural components, nevertheless the subsequent outcomes of these policies have been accompanied by the dismantling of historical institutions and destruction of neighbourhoods, local organisational patterns, labour traditions etc.. This holds for nearly all policy initiatives irrespectively of their successes or failures.

It would seem, therefore, that cities irrespective of their importance in the hierarchy of the European urban system, are competing on the same grounds. The adverse effects of this competition are therefore identifiable in the core cities such as London or Paris, in intermediate level cities such as Lille, Birmingham, Bremen or Florence and even in more "peripheral" cities of the south such as Athens and Naples. Moreover, such effects are experienced by the different localities whether in actual forms or as a potential condition, are obviously critical, since they in general imply decisions to shift investment priorities away from the social to the entrepreneurial, competitive state.

The EU Urban Policy

Despite some weaknesses which still exist, the EU policy nowadays proves to be successful enough, insofar attempts are made to work more closely in partnership with policy institutions at various levels (central, regional, local or non-governmental) and thus rely much less on the allocative role of the central state (see Luithlen, 1992, p. 279). EU institutions and policies are now important for economic development agents and they interfere at various governmental and spatial levels within the national context.

The impact of the EU is, therefore, strongly felt both directly through the structural actions and the promotion of actual investment initiatives, and indirectly, through the introduction of new common regulations and policy principles at various levels (partnership, subsidiarity, etc.). The direct impact of Structural action can be seen in a great number of fields such as: infrastructural projects, improvement of the productive sectors, financing of local development strategies, social action, specific initiatives and programmes or even creation of new institutional settings such as the city networks (Dawson, 1992). All these are fields which to a large extend imply new organizational, bargaining and co-ordination capabilities and even more the development of new responsibilities on behalf of the local and regional institutions (Delladetsima, 1994).

The indirect impact of EU policy can be seen mostly through the introduction of new common regulatory norms and standards. There is, for instance, a move towards the harmonization of planning regulations. This tendency seems to be derived from the Single European Act, that is, the increased interest of the EU in environmental matters and reciprocally shaped European legislative measures affecting planning (The Planner, 1992, p. 13). Moreover, there appears also within this context a vague attempt to determine an overall European planning policy doctrine. This has been expressed primarily by the European Commission's Green Paper on the Environment in which is being advocated a general policy perspective such as a "compact city solution" (Breheny, 1992).

On the whole, however, it can be argued that there is still no clearly defined spatial and especially urban policy on behalf of the EU. If there is anything coming close to a policy, then it is shaped accordingly, that is within specific contexts, depending on the capability of the areas to utilise existing resources and institutions. In this respect, the research work for "Regional Studies" (DG XVI, CEC, 1992) concerning urbanization and the functions of cities within the European Union, stresses a number of concerns with respect to the current EU spatial policy. "These include concerns about the failure to integrate different Commission policies which have impact upon cities, its limited spatial targeting, its failure to address some crucial urban problems and the anomalies created by its eligibility criteria". There do appear, however, many indications which tend, as mentioned already above, to confirm a move towards the formulation of an overall spatial policy doctrine. Whatever the prospects are for this, there is yet a lot to achieve (as a pre-condition) in relation to organizational structures and existing formulation and implementation capabilities of a vast number of areas within the European setting.


The emphasis on the urban and inner city by policies expressed at national level has incorporated perceptions of a predominantly economic "utility" of cultural parameters, and this within the context of an overall rhetoric for the promotion of a broader international role for cities and regions. This partial perception in many respects has been influencing the effectiveness of policies which have been producing severe adverse effects in the actual implementation outcomes. There are many aspects of urban life, social groups or organizational patterns which are being left out in the search for a new role of the city. But recent lessons, as Catterall et al. (1994, p. 52) point out, suggest that "ultimately the economic pinnacles - financial, services, tourism, private health clinics, luxury shopping - can loose internationally, if social peace is not maintained."

Some "urban" emphasis is evident at the EU level; the EU, however, has not as of yet produced a coherent urban policy, although there are indications which tend to confirm a move towards that direction. Still, the EU policy which does exist, proves to be more sensible in many respects (than many national institutions). It tries to extend itself beyond a mere economic rationale, since it seeks to embody democratic control criteria and above all social cohesion objectives.

It would seem, therefore, that the search for a notion about city culture appears to be in a transitional period of policy making and institutional changes, while such a notion could actually act as a link in producing an effective outcome between developments at the national and the supranational level.

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