The Intercultural City, initiated by Charles Landry from the English “Think Tank” Comedia, involves case study projects in England, Norway, USA, Australia and New Zealand. Projects in the City of Logan in Queensland, Auckland City Council, NZ and the London Borough of Lewisham were undertaken by the Australian cultural planning consultancy, Brecknock Consulting.
The aim of the first case studies focused on questions such as: what does Interculturalism mean to cities in terms of urban planning and design; what are the economic benefits from ‘productive diversity’ strategies; are we creating democratic spaces that address the needs and values of our multicultural community; and how might our cities look if they truly expressed the diversity of our communities?
Building city culture
The study team believes that planners and urban designers play a critical role in building city culture. Their decisions can have a profound impact on the way we lead our lives and express our collective and individual cultural values. This also applies to the basic city form that allows for public interaction and about the provision of public space, civic facilities and equitable transportation to allow individuals to partake of city culture. The task is also to help build new city cultures that draw from the past but are living expressions of contemporary life.
What we need to recognise is that we must also be culturally literate in our own cities. Ideally a built environment professional should be deeply engaged with his or her local culture as their professional practice is having a dramatic and lasting impact on our cities and way of life. A culturally literate planning or design professional needs to develop the tools that assist in developing the knowledge and awareness of cultural influences and to be able to tap into the shared knowledge associated with the place they are to work with. To this end the study team are working with Lewisham Council urban designers on new and innovative ways to engage with their culturally diverse community to better understand their needs and aspirations.
The Intercultural City project includes a publishing program of books relating to culture and the city and includes a new book by Richard Brecknock, “More than Just a Bridge: Planning and Designing Culturally”. The book argues that culture is in fact the very basic building block of a city and that even infrastructure projects such as highways and bridges have a cultural impact and need to be considered in new ways.
The book lays out a theoretical yet practical framework for “thinking”, “planning” and “acting” culturally. At the heart of this framework is the notion of Cultural Literacy. If we accept that culture is the way of life of a people, then it is critical to be literate. There has perhaps never been a time when a need for Cultural Literacy has been greater than now, with greatly increased mobility, migration and the growth of the intercultural city.