Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Monday, January 01, 2018

2018 "Capitals of the year" for the environment, culture, youth and design

-- The 2018 EU Green Capital is Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Every two years a large European city serves as Green Capital. In the odd numbered year, the EU Green Leaf program highlights the environmental forwardness of a smaller city.

-- The 2018 EU Capitals of Culture are Valletta, Malta and Leeuwarden/Friesland, The Netherlands.

-- The 2018 EU Youth Capital is Cascais, a suburb of Lisbon, in Portugal.

In past writings I've argued that the US should develop similar programs, to promote transformational best practice.  Not that the current administration would be into it, but such a program could be developed for all of North America (US, Canada, Mexico).

The UK has developed an intra-UK City of Culture program modeled after the EU program, held every four years ("Can Hull build on its UK City of Culture status beyond 2017?," Guardina), the next iteration won't be until 2021, to be held in Coventry.

In the interim, because of Brexit, UK cities were informed they can no longer participate in the program, although the country was slated to participate in 2023 ("EU rules British cities cannot be capitals of culture," Guardian).

Mayor Sadiq Khan of London has launched a similar program, designating a different borough each year as the London Borough of Culture, providing £1 million in funding for culture programming. In February, the city will pick the winning boroughs for 2019 and 2020.

-- The World Design Organization World Design Capital® program.  Every two years a city is designated the World Design Capital® by the WDO and the 2018 World Design Capital® is Mexico City.


At 9:25 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Going back to mental models, in Europe we are seeing a bad one:

Keep replicating/scaling success until it is meaningless.

I mean, a London bough of culture?

In fact this tendency has a real staying power in urban planning and government --like car design urban planing is highly derivative . By that I mean all cars of a certain era look alike. Or cell phone design.

Now if we can bring the "culture capital" to the US it would be a net gain which shows when this duplicative function works.

At 10:15 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

well, I see your point. But... in a bit of a pushback, London has the scale, and it really is more of a cultural activities push, not a large scale effort like the Capital of Culture program.

And if it is a way to push practice forward, it can be a useful initiative, but no, it's not the same as the other programs.

Also I see it work at the national scale, e.g., the UK program. Why shouldn't Germany or France have similar programs? Or the US of course.

Although I modified the typology by the end of the writing project, I laid out a framework for culture-based revitalization activities in Europe, and it subsumed cities under local-regional efforts.

Note the same post suggests that the US should create Capital of Culture and Green Capital programs.

And in other posts I suggested the "Garden Festival" concept is worth adopting in the US, as is the IBA "International Building Exposition" regeneration model in Germany.

Original framework:

1) Pan-European programs specifically the European Capital of Culture and European Green Capital programs sponsored by the European Union;

(2) national initiatives, by the state or nonprofit organizations, in particular the International Building Exposition (IBA) in Germany; and

(3) local-regional efforts focused on economic redevelopment, with a particular focus on arts-based (arts districts, cultural quarters, etc.) and waterfront revitalization efforts.

In the addition I added

(4) Global initiatives such as the World Design Capital and livability rankings

and I wanted to add

(5) smart city initiatives, but those aren't necessarily "cultural" although they can be as part of innovation-cultural districts which aren't just about technology e.g., "creative quarters," and the Helsinki Arabianranta district captures both technology and culture.

At 10:16 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

but your general point of urban planning being highly derivative is of course true.

Sometimes I don't think I am that creative at all, I just read a lot and suggest adapting-adopting other people's initiatives.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

well as usual your are twelve steps ahead of me...the reason being a best practices/"derivative" model is that it seems that 80% of planner don't bother to look around them.

(yes, I had to throw in the 80/20 model just for fun).

So when you're on the ground, yes, looking at best practices is VERY helpful.

And of course you've already been there (the bilbao thing) where the important thing isn't the shiny product but having a process and framework.

So in of DC, I'd say what is our cultural promotion framework? Or more broadly, in the US?

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

OMG... some of my earliest, better writing is on this topic, sparked originally by the failure of the City Museum.

although from 2007 it recaps writing that predates the blog.

This gets back to my joke that I might not be a very good planner but am great at gap analysis and since there are so many gaps in how we do planning (including cultural planning) in DC it makes me appear to be very good at planning analysis.

Note that for the Comp. Plan I advocated for the creation of a culture element and then disavowed myself from the final "product" 'cause it was just a grab bag o' stuff put together by the movers and shakers in the arts community.

They're creating a cultural plan now. I went to an early meeting last year. Not expecting very much from it. They probably didn't like this, which I referenced:

But my thinking has evolved over the years, to be more network oriented. I suppose that EU sum up piece cited above sums up the current state of my thinking.

But it has gone further still, with pieces like this:

I'm proud of this, although it came too late for the Corcoran...

brief followup,

2. WRT the US, there has always been that tension in US policy between "the elite" and "the people" or knowledge and expertise AND the arts as criticism vs. democracy and national myth.

Also in policy the tension between support artists vs. programs. Too, this tension comes out in local artist communities vis a vis the EU Capital of Culture program and opposition, are you emasculated by default if you take govt. money, participation vs. production, etc.

Besides the various NEA and NEH programs, the cultural facilities funding program of the Kresge Foundation, I wonder if the biggest program is the "heritage areas" program of NPS, where local areas have heritage, cultural, tourism programs organized at the scale of the "cultural landscape."

The "Handmade in America" program in North Carolina is a great example.

3. but wrt this at the national scale, by developing a Capital of Culture program with a couple different levels, so that small cities and rural places also participate, it would be a way to reboot.

4. e.g. on the problem of national myth getting in the way of learning, see

At 8:10 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

On your 2008 "national myth" post I'd say that is the key difference between the EU and US -- and why the "Cultural Capital" might not work.

The EU is a new experiment in federalism; the US is an old one. To be progressive in the EU is to be pro-federalism; I'm not sure that is the case here as being progressive means central government.

The EU program is a celebration of EU style federalism -- just as we've had celebrations before (state fairs, columbian expo) -- but in all honestly most of us are pretty sick of the federalism question.

The EU would call is subsidiarity, not federalism but in all honestly it is the same set of questions. It is why for an American reading ECB decisions is easy because they are struggling with the same issues we face in the Supreme Court.

Going local, of course our poverty as a city is we don't have the critical mass to see our lives in art; or when we do it is either the West Wing or House of Cards or maybe some street graffiti.

(For instance, I've though of taking the various mummified rats on the streets, gilding them in gold, and then doing an installation either named after DC council members or Presidents. But even there the national myth ruins the art.)

But then we just have to stop being so angsty and realize the city is our canvas, which is why we need design review!

At 11:52 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the rats, at a hearing in 2002 on single sales, I attempted to bring into the Wilson building a box of empties that I picked up within a block or so of my home, maybe 70 bottles and cans.

Security got involved, my councilmember's chief of staff came down, etc., they wouldn't let me bring it in because the bottles could be used as weapons.

I merely wanted to use them as "eye candy" or "props" alongside my testimony, something I learned from working at Center for Science in the Public Interest, the need to stoke presentations.

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

ok, subsidiarity. That's an element of my yet unwritten post about the tax changes and how they f* progressive cities, and how the Republicans are full of s* when they talk about federalism, state rights, subsidiarity. It's only for when they oppose federalism.

but anyway, where I think there is opportunity within federalism and the states and the theoretical idea of "laboratories of democracy" is the promotion of best practice.

Back in the Blair days, I used to look at a lot of UK regeneration work, and the national agency dealing with planning and communities used to publish "Planning Policy Guidance" memos. They have a different system there, but it was similar to the model zoning ordinance documents produced by the Dept. of Commerce back in the 1920s, and stuff that occasionally comes out of HUD. But it was way more systematic.

The EU initiatives on developing communities of practice and sharing best practice with the aims of intra-state improvement doesn't have to be unique to them.

I don't see why the US couldn't do that in more systematic ways, excepting how it gets all f.u. in terms of "big vs. small govt." arguments, the Rousseauian like hagiography around the individual over the collective, etc.

So a Green Capital program would promote leading edge best practices for sustainability.

A Cultural Capital program would promote the arts and humanities.

each with the idea that the laboratories of democracy are pushing practice forward better than if it were merely a top down efforts led by the national government (or the EU).

and that's how those programs work there. It's not like Hamburg or Essen became Green Capitals because the EU made their programs, they developed various initiatives out of local issues and concerns and action.

wrt design review, you help focus the thought. It's our canvas and important to us, not just out of the fact that architecture, design, and history are fundamental to the ethos of the capital city, but that we are shaped with it and need to embrace it and shape it ourselves, but with an eye to aesthetics rather than vernacular-outsider art equivalent architecture that is execrable.


At 1:32 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

"A Cultural Capital program would promote the arts and humanities.

each with the idea that the laboratories of democracy are pushing practice forward better than if it were merely a top down efforts led by the national government"

Well as I said the problem with federalism is it weighed down by baggage; State rights are great until you elect a Republican then it is all down the tube.

Likewise the core of D politics is empowering the central government more and redistribution and efforts to push decision making down usually aren't taken seriously.

Maybe that is changing. "Progressive" people realizing a strong central government has problems (ie. Jerry Brown). But of course then you're just doing it at a state level (his proposal to gut zoning laws) rather than the EU approach of letting the level of government which is most competent own the issue.

Making federalism cool for the 21st century.

At 3:35 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Jerry Brown also wiped out the local community development corporations, because they were TIF funded, and he wanted access to those revenues. Many did get out of hand (the idea of perpetuity) but given how local governments have been totally f*ed by Proposition 13's destruction of the ability to raise local tax revenues in a substantive way through residential property taxes, what were local governments to do.

but yes, there is a middle ground. I like to think of central government as enabling better practice, and that all of it doesn't have to derive top-down. But that is theoretical, maybe a pipe dream.

At the same time, it's hard for subsidiarity to work when party ideology supersedes "community" and "American-ness". E.g., I think of myself as an American citizen first and a progressive Democrat second.

In any case, subsidiarity doesn't work when the Rs don't believe in any government. Like how rural interests supersede cities in places like Virginia, etc.

At 5:57 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

" Like how rural interests supersede cities in places like Virginia, etc."

I've made the point before that our federal system of urban funding works very well for small to midsize cities (say under 250,000) where highway money works, transit doesn't, and we don't have more than 10% urban poor. Thank grand rapids.

(really not that different from Germany where the federal funding seems to favor smaller cities as well).

So maybe the real from is changing that mentality to be more "dense' or "transit friendly" in a Republican complex.

I'm not sure the D treating cities as urban poverty solutions (Deblasio) is any better. AS you noted, direct poverty spending and then the indirect effect is 65-70 of the DC budget.

And god back to federalism. I'm trying to think of any big city mayor who doesn't think the Governor is out to screw him.

Again Germany model of "independent cities" is a good one but not everyone that can that Holy Roman Empire level of complexity.

Also part of brexit. subsidiarity is deeply unsettling to the anglo-taxon mind. Regions have power? Councils? The advantage of the UK it is a highly centralized state. If the PM wants to abolish a city he issues a decree. Just a reminder how radical federalism was as well.

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

in our system, states have the equivalent authority over cities that the central government in the UK does, they can dissolve a city (depending on the nature of specific state laws for execution but legally they have the authority).

Independent cities have to be of a certain size to be able to function. E.g., technically as you know cities in Virginia are independent from counties albeit under the thumb of the state legislature.

But you need to be able to share between a city and county and the Virginia system prevents that.

E.g., I always think of Petersburg, Colonial Heights, and the county they're in. Colonial Heights is next to Petersburg but has the shopping mall. So they get all the sales tax revenues Petersburg has the old original downtown/town core (although it was partially wiped out by a tornado in the 1990s). There's not much help available, the ability to harmonize tax revenues. And this was before the city had all its recent financial problems.

Anyway, that's why I'd rather DC keep its current status than retrocede to Maryland. Yes we can't tax commuters, but otherwise we have it pretty good compared to all other cities in the US.

2. Cities and Rs, I guess ultimately it's about the poor and people of color. There are some Republican mayors out there that do great things. Oklahoma City's current and previous mayor are perhaps the leading example of a decent size city. Jim Brainard of Carmel, IN of a small, in-metro city is another -- although maybe in another place he'd be a Democrat.

OK City is a little smaller than DC, but the metro is 20% the size of ours. So they are the big city in a small pond.

3. The thing about the Governor is that they are always afraid I guess they'll have to face competition. The competition in New York State is sad because it wastes opportunities and resources (although it's not clear to me that DeBlasio is as great as he or other progressives think).

4. Regions/etc. Well in a globalized economy and world, the size of our states thing isn't working. Brookings argues that metropolitan areas need a lot more authority vis a vis states. France keeps consolidating its departments into larger units. Spain! There are regional autonomy movements in Italy too (like how it was set up with the Basque Country, there is a way to do it gracefully in Italy).

E.g., one of the reasons the Obamacare insurance program doesn't work super well is that for many states, they are "too small" in terms of population and participants to have enough scale.

Of course these kinds of changes will never happen.

DK if you watch PBS, but watching the Victoria show last year, she became queen at such a young age, her husband equally young. At such a time of fervent. DK if the vignette on Albert's interest in railroads and new technology was absolutely true, but it made me think while watching about the difference it must have made to England to have a young, forward-looking queen in such a time of change. (Then again, Elizabeth, but by then the role of the monarch was significantly different.)


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