The Cultural Turn in Municipal Planning
Kovacs, Jason F.
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Urban theorists and policy makers have begun to re-evaluate the importance of culture in urban development models. Culture is now widely viewed as a critical factor in the economic and social health of cities. Notions of creativity and the growing recognition of the role that culture-rich environments can play in attracting the “creative class,” are being partly expressed in the widespread adoption of urban cultural planning strategies. Cultural planning is commonly defined as the identification (mapping) and leveraging of cultural assets to support local community and economic development. It is also often explained as a “cultural approach” to municipal planning, an approach that entails effective cross-departmental and cross-sectoral collaboration in the implementation of strategic goals outlined within the cultural plan. A literature has been written on the potential of cultural planning by leading experts in the cultural policy field, especially from Australia and Britain. However, there has been a noticeable lack of critical research on this cultural development approach by scholars in Canada, where cultural planning is a relatively new and emerging municipal activity. This dissertation examines the policy and planning scope of the increasingly popular yet under-explored “municipal cultural planning” movement in Ontario, Canada. Research began with a thorough review of the cultural planning literature. Cultural planning deficiencies and research gaps identified in the international literature were subsequently addressed through an analysis of all ten existing cultural plans in Ontario’s mid-size cities. The analysis of plans was complemented by thirteen in-depth interviews with municipal staff responsible for overseeing the development and implementation of cultural plans. Aside from addressing the interpretations of and rationales for municipal cultural planning, the information derived from document analysis and interviews was used to address four important issues that have been either ignored or only addressed in a cursory way in the literature: the nature and actual extent of community consultation and cultural mapping in the cultural plan development stage; the accuracy of the growing arts policy labelling of cultural planning abroad as it applies to municipal cultural planning; the relationship between cultural planning and its conceptual roots in urban planning; and the outcomes of the cultural planning strategy. It was found that the development of cultural plans involved substantial community input, albeit not through the participatory “cultural mapping” process that is often claimed to be the preliminary step of cultural planning. In addition, it was observed that the increasingly common charge, particularly from Australia, that cultural plans are overly focussed on traditional arts sector concerns was not found to be the case with most cultural planning initiatives in Ontario. Further, while a strong urban development and planning-oriented basis has been used to differentiate cultural planning from traditional arts policy, the scope of cultural planning concerns in the sphere of urban planning practice was observed to be, with some noticeable exceptions, fairly superficial. However, this research also found that the strategic objectives outlined within cultural plans, which address a broad range of policy and planning activities related to cultural and community development, were generally being implemented and were effecting change.