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Culture for peace and understanding in cities of the new Millennium

Barcelona, 15 September 2004 - Culture has many meanings. This was the focus of the Dialogue on urban cultures called Cities as Crossroads of Cultures: Globalization and Culture in an Urbanizing World.

Professor Michael Cohen, Director of the Graduate Program in International Affairs at the New School University, New York chaired a Partners’ Dialogue that acknowledged that little work has been done in the past on culture as it relates to city planning, management and governance.

But as a result of increasing diversities in the cities of today, the relative issues of culture are becoming ever more important.

In a statement read on her behalf, Mrs. Anna K. Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-HABITAT, emphasized the importance of the impact of international migration on cities, and the issue of planning multicultural cities in the present era of globalization.

“International migration is one of the major dimensions of globalization and most international migrants move into cities rather than rural areas because this is where the jobs are,” she said. “The latest United Nations statistics indicate that in 2000, there was a total of 175 million international migrants in the world representing about 3 per cent of the world’s population.”

The number of international migrants, she added, had been increasing steadily over the last 25 years, most of them to North America and Europe.

Other speakers agreed with her that the real significance of international migration was in the way in which it brought new cultures and languages into cities.

Professor Jordi Borja of the University of Barcelona, Spain, said local and regional governments had been given more responsibilities and citizens should be afforded more participatory opportunities in the development process.

Mr. Yves Dauge, Senator of Indre-et-Loire and Mayor of Chinon, France added that training and education are integral to the development of professionals who are capable of identifying and incorporating cultural themes into urban projects. Such training is also an important part of the planning and development process of the cities.

Ms. Sheela Patel of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) in Mumbai, India, said urban development and poverty reduction are a direct result of citizen participation. Learning from the people is the key. Real life situations can produce useful knowledge leading to the cultural promotion of peace.

In concluding remarks, Prof. Cohen cited values as a strong indicator for urban planning. “Unless we have a clear idea of who we are, it is difficult to figure out where we are going. It is important to make the journey from the virtual city back to the city of virtue. When we ask the question as a city ‘what do we mean by virtue?’ the answers help guide us in the planning and development process.”