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Urban networks and cultural diversity

This step looks at networks that gather cities across different countries to promote heritage, cultural diversity, and inclusion.
So far, we have been talking about heritage labels in which you have a central organisation that attributes labels to different cities. Now we are going to talk about urban networks. With city networks, you have on the other hand cities coming together to promote common values and to shape common modes of actions. So, networks are not new. Back in the 19th century, in the context of urban growth, you have the rise of cooperation between cities in order to face new problems, such as collective transportations, hygiene, housing. Afterwards, in early 20th century, you have the formalisation of networks with the creation, for example, of the union of local authorities.
After World War II, you have the creation of bilateral partnerships of cities across borders, which are called town twinning. These kinds of partnerships were aimed at promoting peace, at promoting trade, and also a solidarity between North and South. You had a great success of these kinds of partnerships, which reached almost 600 in the ’90s. But in recent years, you also have the rise of a more multilateral approach, which is that of networks. Now, we have almost 50 networks which are international around the world. And they deal with a wide variety of topics. So, for example, we can think about the example of the C40 network, which gathers great world cities around the issue of fighting climate change.
But we also can think about UCLG, United Cities Local Governments, which presents itself as the United Nations for cities. And that promotes a larger role of cities in local governance. So, now, let’s speak about the subject that interests us the most here, which is networks that are used to promote cultural diversity and heritage. Why do cities create such networks? First, it is to advocate common values and have a stronger voice. So, for example, European cities have come together in the context of the refugee crisis in 2015 in order to advocate for welcoming and integrating migrants and refugees in the context of this crisis.
So you have examples such as arrival cities or cities of migrations that are taking positions in the context, also, of the insufficiencies of national and EU policies in this sector. Second, cities form these kinds of networks in order to share good practises. They create reports. They launch forums. They also organise city to city mentoring. So, for example, we can think of the Agenda 21 for Culture that UCLG has created, bringing together 500 cities in order to share knowledge and know-hows about local cultural policies, cultural rights, and promoting culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable development. And finally, cities create such networks to send a message.
For example, in the ’80s, cities in Europe have created partnerships with townships in South Africa in order to take a position against apartheid. Other examples exist of partnerships and cooperation among cities in order to promote peace and understanding across disputed borders and difficult heritage. So, in this activity, we’re going to be going into details into these different types of networks and trying to understand how they can enable cities to promote cultural diversity and heritage.

The notion of network refers to another horizontal form of organisation. When cities engage in networks with other cities, they actively participate in shaping the values and modes of action of the organisation. This differs from labels, for which there is a central organisation defining criteria.

What can such cooperation between cities bring to the promotion of heritage and cultural diversity?

The first reason why cities form such networks is to have a stronger voice in advocating common values. For instance, in Europe, a number of such networks have been formed to represent welcoming and integrating migrants and refugees because of the lack of policies at the national and EU levels. This includes URBACT’s Arrival Cities Network or Cities of Migration. Another example is Intercultural Cities, a network launched by the Council of Europe and gathering cities all around Europe to identify successful initiatives to prevent prejudice, foster intercultural encounters, and make cities more welcoming for migrants and refugees.

Secondly, networks are also important for sharing good practices and establishing collective standards. They publish reports, guidelines for actions, charters. They set up forums, workshops, trainings, city-to city mentoring, as well as innovative tools like the ‘good idea index’ launched by Cities of Migration. For instance, United Cities and Local Government’s committee on culture gathers 500 cities throughout the world and has published an Agenda 21 for culture. It promotes culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable urban development and shares good practices related to local cultural policies, cultural rights, or culture-led urban development.

Finally, by establishing networks, cities can show an intent to send a message. A clear example is the numerous Western cities that developed city-twinning partnerships with South African townships in the 1980s to show solidarity with the fight against Apartheid. Such cooperation does not only involve city authorities, but civil society organisations as well. These networks can manifest solidarity, promote peace and mutual understanding across disputed borders, and strive to construct collective memories on difficult pasts such as war, colonisation, or slavery.

In the next steps, we will cover a wide variety of examples to illustrate this notion of urban networks.

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Cultural Diversity and the City

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