After writing this, I was involved in a lot more projects and pieces of work. Plus the context has changed, and although this doesn't alter the validity of the tool, it probably does mean that we should express it slightly differently. So I will update it in due course
An essential guide to cultural planning
This is a draft document that is a combination of a Learning Point leaflet produced by Liz Gardiner MA European Cultural Planning for the Scottish Centre for Regeneration and work by Marion Catlin PG(Dip) European Cultural Planning and is work in progress.
A broad definition of ‘Cultural Planning’ starts with the idea of ‘culture’ as ‘the way we live’. It is a way of working which recognises that culture is about people and what contributes to and shapes their identities and the way that they choose to live. Cultures have common behaviours, beliefs and values eg youth culture, football culture etc
Cultural planning is, therefore, ‘planning how we want to live, as a group or culture’.
Of course, it is really much more than that. It is the ‘people’ element of any kind of planning process and puts people centre-stage. For example, whilst a traffic planner can plan for efficient movement of cars, it is the behaviour of drivers that will really determine how successful a traffic plan is. Another example is the idea of tower blocks – theoretically an ‘efficient’ use of land but often didn’t suit the way that people wanted to live and were therefore not generally successful. Cultural planning puts people and the way they want to live and work in the central frame and builds other plans around them.
Quote Colin Mercer ‘Culture…is fundamentally about the basic human right of citizenship and the human objective of sustainable development.’
Characteristics of cultural planning
The cultural planning approach is holistic and creative. This means digging below the surface to look at the cause of a problem rather than simply treating the surface symptoms. Think of it as the difference between taking an aspirin for a headache or finding out what is causing the headache and treating the cause instead which will prevent future headaches.
Being holistic also means working across sectors to come up with a sustainable solution. It is not always the easiest way of working. It is much easier and normally quicker to work in ‘silos’. This is particularly appealing when there is a time-pressure to get a job done, spend a budget and so on but that is a short-term effective way of doing things. Even though it is harder and more complicated, adopting a more creative and lateral approach is an investment for the future. Successful communities are worth the extra effort.
Cultural planning is also about valuing what is essential and distinctive to an area or group ie its ‘culture’. It includes the arts and heritage, local assets such as traditions, dialects, festivals and rituals. These also embrace the diversity and quality of leisure and entertainment facilities and the cultures of youth, resident minority ethnic and other communities of interest. Cultural planning also values a mix of local products and skills in the crafts, manufacturing and service sectors.
Cultural planning approaches can empower communities to use some or all of these to contribute to the integrated regeneration of a place at neighbourhood, city and regional levels.
‘Cultures’ can be small communities, age groups or whole belief systems or countries but an essential element of cultural planning is listening to people and understanding and appreciating their distinctive characteristics. Culture isn’t fixed in time, and community planners need to be aware of all aspects of culture and the way changes occur, for example, trends in contemporary urban youth culture, or the effects of a sudden influx of immigrants or refugees.
Cultural planning is not about ‘the arts’. Although the arts can be used within communities to address problems and improve community involvement, it is really a creative approach that is vital. For example, it may be an environmental problem that is addressed by using the knowledge and efforts of a local community. It involves a critical analysis of the problem and then a creative solution which is why artists are often asked to be involved, but there are many creative thinkers in all walks of life who often should be given more free rein to come up with ideas and solutions. Creativity is not the sole preserve of the artistic community, although artists often have developed creative skills and a lateral view on situations.
Creativity is at the heart of cultural planning but this can be unpredictable and therefore hard to plan for. To be effective it needs a more open and less risk-averse attitude from policy-makers and public bodies and more trust, flexibility and patience.
How can we use cultural planning?
Culture viewed in a cultural planning way can be a core part of planning, regeneration and development. It can form the basis for engaging communities, act as a stimulus for community activity and can be a creative force for developing new social and economic opportunities and benefits as well as the purpose and development of infrastructure.
In order to do this, we need to develop ways of working creatively but also efficiently. We need to encourage experimentation and different ways of looking at issues, be critical and approach each issue afresh and not just slip into traditional ways of working because it is easier, but at the same time have a clear direction and effective ways of working, including a focused objective and a decision-making framework otherwise no progress will be made.
Recent years have put a high value on systems-based approaches. These can be effective in closed-result services such as processing Council Tax payments or Benefits applications but step-by-step systems are not appropriate for issues based around people. It is necessary to be pragmatic about resources but more often it involves a different and innovative way of looking at a problem rather than more resources. In other words, it requires a change in the ‘culture’ of thinking about issues and how to solve them.
Is it just a theory or can it work in practice?
Examples of Cultural Planning in practice already exist, not just in the UK but across Europe and the rest of the world. Many partnerships already bring together key statutory, voluntary and community agencies to promote social inclusion and tackle social justice issues through their cultural activities.
The British Government has been pushing councils towards partnership working and ‘joined-up thinking’ for some years. Cultural planning is the practice of doing just that. In Scotland, the Scottish Executive has incorporated a cultural planning approach into its policy systems and is providing match funding for Cultural Pathfinder projects. These explore processes for consulting local communities and developing cultural planning and extended access to activities that local authorities and their partners can deliver.
There are countless examples of creative approaches to solving community problems. Look at www.scr.communitiesscotland.gov.uk > Find out what works > profiles for some examples of what they have been doing in Scotland.
So who is cultural planning for?
Cultural planning is for everybody who deals with people and the environment in which they live and work. It is central to housing policies, urban regeneration, new developments, traffic planning, architects, health professions, the arts community, economic development, sport and leisure, tourism, heritage, community development, generational (ie youth and elderly) workers, environment, psychologists, social services and education to name a few. If you think of places as eco-systems it makes sense to take an holistic view.
How is it done?
Creativity is difficult to teach but there are some methodologies that can be learnt to analyse the issues and start the process of thinking about them laterally. Like most things, it requires some guidance and some examples of what has happened elsewhere. There is a straight-forward methodology which is described in detail in a further document.
Fundamentally, it is important to look at the assets of a place – ie what it has – rather than its deficits – ie what it is lacking. What exists that can be utilized to improve the situation? These are cultural resources and can be people, landmarks, industries, heritage, traditions, stories, public art – many things that exist in that situation. Take a positive look at the assets or resources of an area, talk to the community and get to know it and then ideas will start to flow. Include support from fund-holders and decision-makers and then real improvements can be made that will be inclusive and sustainable, and right for the community in which they happen.
What has been learnt about cultural planning so far?
In relation to community engagement:
● Culture can be a force for building stronger communities. It has a positive role to play in developing a sense of place that Community Planning Partnerships can use to respond to local aspirations.
● Cultural planning can benefit regeneration activity considerably by making the most of local cultural resources in communities.
● A cultural planning approach, if linked to community engagement and development processes, offers a way of working with communities that values local culture. This is essential in providing a sense of cultural pride and ownership.
● Cultural Planning approaches can bring fun, real participation, and all the excitement of creativity in empowering communities engaged in regeneration activities.
In relation to policy and practice:
● Policy reports increasingly recognise culture as an integral part of local development, but practical implementation needs to be encouraged and supported, particularly by local authorities who need to be more prepared to take risks and be innovative.
● Cultural planning approaches need to be designed and adopted locally, in ways that can meet identified local needs. They should inform and be part of local Community Planning processes.
In relation to local development:
● Professionals need to be engaged, working with communities in more open and creative ways about how they tackle issues. This includes issues about the built environment, how regeneration programmes are best delivered and sustained and how the delivery of local services can improve the quality of life for residents.
● Cultural planning can be helpful in improving the citizen-focus of all services. It should also include planning for the ways in which culture can achieve better policy outcomes for local authorities across a range of functions and services.
What are the important issues?
● How can the experience of Cultural Planning in other countries help us develop practical tools for effective community engagement in Community Planning?
● Can Cultural Planning contribute to an overarching vision for community regeneration?
● Can Cultural Planning, as defined above, add value to cultural planning approaches amongst mainstream funders and decision makers?
Why is it particularly relevant in Norwich at the moment?
● With the Growth Agenda, we will all, in some way, be involved in planning for the development of new and extended communities. If we can get a creative and people-centred approach embedded from the start, we will be more successful in creating communities which are good to live in, sustainable and free of negative social issues
● Norwich has some of the worst deprivation figures in the country. A cultural planning approach would be a more effective way of addressing some of these issues
● Like many places in the UK, Norwich is facing an influx of incomers. By understanding cultures, cultural identity and the needs of people we can make this process very positive.
Much of this text has drawn on the findings of the Scottish Centre for Regeneration, Fablevison and The National Cultural Planning Steering Group. Please see below for contact details.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Scottish Centre for Regeneration
Festival Business Centre
150 Brand Street, Glasgow G51 1DH
telephone 0141 419 1690
For more about the work of the National Cultural
Planning Steering Group:
National Cultural Planning Group
c /o Fablevision
Level 3, 7 Water Row, Glasgow G51 3UW
telephone 0141 425 2020