Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Sustainable Development


Already in the Cultural Innovation and Economic Development (CIED) project, Maurizio Carta spoke about the need to diversify the concept of sustainability. He included besides the environmental criterion as well economic, political, social and in particular cultural sustainability. To date the notion of cultural sustainability is not well understood. It was, however, touched upon by the ECCM Symposium 'Productivity of Culture' held in Athens 2007, and by which Spyros Mercouris meant the capacity of culture to renew itself. That was extended further by the argumentation of Michael D. Higgins who said 'culture is greater than the economy'.

Consequently if technology destroys social structures and the economy upsets and undermines the entire cultural framework, then references thereof shall no longer be of much use. That becomes evident when different terms in use confuse the situation and the epistemological clarfication cannot keep up with the changes in meanings when terms like energy, nature, society etc. are used. Insofar this holds, it means that cultural sustainability is about making sure that the reflective framework is in place. It touches upon a conscious self-understanding but not only. Primarily it is the task of both poetry and philosophy to maintain and develop further the reflective capacities. The very lack thereof shows itself in a society unable to keep up with all the changes. In turn, the lack thereof makes itself felt in a lack of anticipation of what is still to come. Moreover in reference to Ancient Greece the knowledge maintained especially by poets it is about knowing the measures in need to be taken in view of what tasks lie ahead. These measures are derived from such notions as to what a just society entails and what is the struggle for democracy all about. It is of such importance to keep this democratic vision alive that it can be reflected upon in practical terms although it is a 'normative goal'. That leads to the setting of certain value premises in need to be discussed over and again so as to be able to uphold the vision.

Any vision is articulated in due respect of the spirit of mankind. Democracy entails the freedom to follow the ethical vision of mankind as expressed by such terms as justice, freedom, respect for the opinion of the others etc.. As these are never self understood, their very renewal has to be able to bring together ideas resulting out of practical experiences while not leaving out the theoretical dimension as a way to become consistent in this reflective knowledge. Other conditions to uphold the vision can be named. For instance, the philosopher Bart Verschaffel maintains that only a cultural development aware of the interlinkage between 'public space and public truth' can avoid the pitfalls of 'mendacity' as analysed by Martin Jay.


What kind of impact studies to gauge reality?

The simple formula for cultural impact studies was not to accept such investments which do not take culture, in particular the local culture, into consideration even though for many investors that meant something too complicated to be taken into account and thus would opt not to make any investment proposal. But it turned out in practice that those investments which would, that they came up with better solutions i.e. higher quality. They included measures which would take really into consideration local factors e.g. building a tunnel for the main road underneath a village rather than have the main transport route go through that village. Thus the simple solution was in reality quite a complex demand that only such projects would be realized which people could support and therefore sustain on their own. That meant something like 'hands on' or what could be carried with own hands: a measure of human proportions and would exclude the mega projects which big construction companies and large planning bureaus would prefer.


Models for the Future

This outdistancing the human measure, or when applied to cities what would stay within walking distance, was something the Athens Charter of 1933 wished to promote and which led to the creation of an entire new city, namely Brazilia. That city was practically constructed in the seventies in just under three years. Something stomped out of the ground is always artificial. Today the evaluation of that city differs from what nowadays dominates the discussion, namely Dubai and its artificial environment constructed to feature the only new but with labour forced to work under slave like conditions. That ruins not only the reputation of Dubai but marks something often architects feel responsible for, but who often are misled, namely what is the social question in need to be resolved when designing not only buildings but entire cities. The sins of architecture are well documented in a city like Berlin especially when it was rapidly build up and left the legacy of what Ernst Bloch called 'Staub Hoch Vier' - dust up four floors. This was the result of an an administrative planning rule to which all buildings had to conform and thus there were constructed apartment blocs which had space on the one hand but missed out the importance of how people depend upon light for orientation. Also it dictated the tension fields in such a way that people felt isolated and without a chance to meet and to mingle with the others except when business hours brought people into the streets.

The city and sustainable development

Concepts like quality of life and planning for the future are crucial just as in reality strategic plans for cities are often sidelined due to interests calling for only environmental impact assessments while planning is rejected altogether most often out of ideological reasons, but not only. Politics is determined by short term interests and the need to have quick results to prove that the policy works when facing the next elections.


Ten Figures - Research orientation, Point 2: Urban Sustainable Development and Quality of Life: Planning for the Future

World wide efforts to attain sustainable development


After CIED the discussion focused on preparations for the WSSD in Johannesburg in 2002. Its subsequent failure has many ramifications till today. The energy put into the preparations could not be matched by the outcomes. The agenda was simply coopted by business interests and ever since those arguing for sustainable development have not been able to convince the others of the need to take care of nature. And this despite climate change having become an overarching world topic whose relevance is made evident by the melting of the Nordic icecap and not only.

Sustainability as a matter of handling complexity

Of interest is here the activities of Cultura 21 which links the arts to the question of sustainable development and does so by using the arts to articulate other approaches and further going questions which can take care of complexities without necessarily understanding everything going on in nature and in society. Poems can entail both a simple message and yet use such a language which allows for this complexity to become if not evident, then at least felt.

The open question of development

Given the action on Rhodes 2011 there is naturally a new discussion starting. For there is not only a difference between economic growth and sustainable development as main focus on how to get out of the recession and economic crisis, but also there is becoming apparent that development cannot be understood in proper terms if not kept open for future potentials. And this is not the same as what is meant by sustainable development, namely to retain resources for future use.

Hatto Fischer



Annex: Pier Luigi Sacco about cultural participation and sustainability

In a presentation at the Cultural Forum, Oct. 20/21, 2011 Pier Luigi Sacco explained that there exists just as much a link between physical and emotional well being and cultural participation as there exists a similar correlation between cultural participation and doing things to help improve sustainability.He mentioned in particular two points during his power point presentation:


To clarify this furhter, he cites the example of waste disposal systems spread around the city and in the neighborhood. Insofar as most special containers are not directly located in front of one's own house door, it takes an extra effort to take care not to throw a mixed bag of waste into one general container. This he would call 'cultural participation' if an extra effort is made to take all papers and cartoons to that special container and the glass to another one.

In Greece, many do not undertake this special effort and rationalise it by saying afterwards the Municipality will anyhow dump everything together so why bother. That means as well public perception of what is being done in the final end with different kinds of waste does matter. Also initiative groups to have a more refined system of waste collection need to come into dialogue with City officials and only a political change at that level can make them become more receptive to the requests by citizens. It takes a lot of campaigning and organizing before they are really heard.

However, it does not stop there. One group of women decided to visit a recycling factory on the outskirts of Athens. The manager was very proud to show them around. Once the visit of the main hall was over he announced that now they shall see something special. He took them to the room next door where the recycled paper was used to make cartages for bullets and all kinds of even more dangerous munitions to be used in future conflict zones. Here environmental concerns hit a wall as this was not thought of before when advocating collection of waste paper as is done by a NGO on the island of Rhodes shipping tons of waste paper in trucks which would go otherwise empty back from the island to Athens, in order to have it processed there.

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