Culture is at the core of making sustainable cities

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2019-11-29 Susanna Tommila, Cultural Director, City of Espoo

Cities worldwide are facing groundbreaking changes. Urbanization, the technological revolution, climate issues, demographic changes and shifting global value chains challenge cities. As 70 % of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, it is our obligation as cities to answer to these challenges with visionary determination. As cities of Europe, it is our responsibility to do so in line with the values of the European Union. The city has a significant role in creating platforms for collaboration and innovation, to bring citizens and communities together to solve challenges jointly.

In Espoo, we answer to the societal transformation with a strong focus on sustainable development. Espoo has been acknowledged for its approach to sustainability on national and international fora. A key to our accomplishments has been a strong focus on co-creation, co-learning and collaboration locally, nationally and beyond. We find it ever more important that cities engage in a European dialogue for a sustainable future.

Culture has an imperative role in sustainability. Culture enables and drives sustainable development on all fronts. At the same time, sociocultural sustainability is a goal in itself.

Culture is a safeguarder of humanist values. Culture is a uniting force, a changemaker and an empowerer. More than ever, we must bring the cross-cutting power of culture to the front and treasure its intrinsic value. Cultural policies are a key instrument in building sustainable cities. Culture plays a key role in creating a sustainable economy, in promoting wellbeing, in environmental protection and in providing high-quality education. Culture is needed for building bridges in an increasingly diverse Europe, in creating inclusive cities.

The world is currently creating technologies that will have more power than we even can imagine today. As transhuman technologies challenge our understanding for ‘the other’, fostering empathy will be of crucial value. Safeguarding humanist values and enabling lifelong learning for everyone are essential when robots and technologies challenge our values and require new skills from us. Culture and arts have a crucial role in dealing with the consequences and preparing for the change: Cultural experiences, arts and storytelling are central instruments for creating empathy and fostering dialogue.

In a time when societal transformations call for joint efforts over boarders, we need platforms for collaboration on European and international level. A key European platform for us in Espoo is the Eurocities, a network for over 140 of Europe's major cities from 39 countries. In the network, we influence and work with the EU institutions to respond to common issues that affect the day-to-day lives of Europeans. Representatives from the cultural sector of the member cities collaborate, influence and learn from each other in the Eurocities Culture Forum.

For us the Eurocities Culture Forum has been a possibility and a platform to discuss and learn together about our mutual future challenges and about the role of culture in cities. Espoo is the Chair for the Eurocities Culture Forum in 2019-2020. This has given us a unique opportunity to voice the need of strong cross-sectoral cultural policies in cities to the benefit of citizens and Europe as a whole.

The role of culture is increasingly better recognized on global and European arenas. The decision of the EU Commission to establish a partnership for Culture and cultural heritage in the EU Urban Agenda demonstrates the increasing recognition for the role of culture in urban development. Espoo is a member of this new partnership. This means that we work together with the EU Commission, EU member states, Eurocities and cities to develop better regulation, better funding and better knowledge regarding the role of culture in cities.  We find it important to use this forum to deepen the recognition and emphasize the significance of culture in building sustainable cities. It is not only the privilege of European cities, but a duty, to act as pioneers in building a sustainable Europe.


Susanna Tommila, Cultural Director, City of Espoo