Not all urban issues can be solved with money

Not all urban issues can be solved with money

In many countries urban administrators prioritize transportation, housing and the fight against crime. As a matter of fact, a person might die of unhappiness, even in a city without any traffic. When you are unable to provide social development, how many roads, bridges and metros you have built is vain. Can you ever mention “growth” in a city where social and cultural tension is everywhere?  

We cannot solve urban problems only with money; we need cultural policies to make cities habitable. Culture not only covers art and literature, it also includes lifestyles, fundamental human rights, values, traditions and beliefs. 

In Turkey, in recent years, it is as if there are two separate cultures; whereas, there is nothing like “your culture versus our culture.” The joint heritage and accumulation of all the cultures in this geography are ours. 

Let us abandon perceiving culture as if it were a separator. When culture provides versatility in society, it becomes a unifying factor, an important tool. 

We should talk about the effect of culture on social harmony and its unifying power.

Recently, the Istanbul Culture and Arts Foundation (İKSV) issued a cultural planning report for local administrators focusing on this dimension of culture.

Culture has a significant role in development. 

İKSV Culture Policy Studies Director Özlem Ece said there should be mechanisms to sustain cultural dynamism in cities. For this we need cultural policies:

1 – Democratizing culture: This is about making culture accessible to the rest of the city, instead of it being only accessed by a select group of people in society.

2 - Making way for the cultural expressions of marginal communities: Through a show or a current activity, helping these expressions meet with the bigger society.

3 - Developing the public zone by discussing it with local people: For instance, how a cultural heritage such as the Narmanlı Han could be functional is an important debate. It should be conducted open to participation and the local population should be included in the process.

4 - Strengthening relations among different communities: For instance, Music for Peace, which opened a window for disadvantaged children.  

5 - Supporting projects which contribute to the identity of being a resident of the city and increasing the self-confidence of residents toward their city: For instance, southeastern Gaziantep being included in UNESCO’s gastronomy list or the biennial that gives people in the Black Sea province of Sinop pride; authentic values unique to each city, each district or each neighborhood should be the source.  

Local governments should keep the same distance from all disciplines. Plans should be made to diversify contemporary artistic productions. This is lacking in many municipalities regardless of their party affiliation.

Certain Justice and Development Party (AKP) municipalities prefer traditional and Islamic arts; certain Republican People’s Party (CHP) municipalities still continue the art perception of a generation and cannot update themselves. 

Institutions like the İKSV, on the other hand, support contemporary productions integrated with the world and at the same time protect cultural heritage. 

I call on all municipalities to read the İKSV report with the knowledge that culture cannot be brought down from the top; it can only bloom inside people, and make transformation possible.