In a conversation that some would call “the human face of urban development,” speakers from different backgrounds assembled at a special session on leveraging diversity to give interventions and exchange knowledge with an eager audience. Understanding that a cities culture can be useful in bringing people together, speakers emphasized the need for openness, respect, and resilience in approaching culture and incorporating diversity.

“Culture needs to be democratic,” said Merolla Virginio, Mayor of the city of Bologna, later adding that without the respect for the citizens or their participation, local governments and city planners would not be able to create resilient cities that reflected the needs of their constituents.

Culture, being both tangible and intangible remains the greatest resource of our planet. Whether formal or informal, new or old, traditional or modern, its impact on how we interact with each and with our cities is an integral part of our development. When thinking about the implementation of the New Urban Agenda, it then becomes important to acknowledge the role of which culture and diversity will play.

As more and more people move to cities, they will not only be bringing their physical selves to the table but also their diverse backgrounds, traditions, ideas, and rituals. First, they will create small, modest communities on the periphery before integrating into the larger scope of the city. According to Elizabeth Cardoza, the President of the Heritage Malaysia Trust and one of the speakers, it’s important for city planners and local government to acknowledge these communities.

“Small, modest communities can look to leverage their diversity, they can look to share their diversity with others,” she said.

Cardoza believes that by providing programs that allow new city dwellers to integrate into the larger format such as access to housing, access to education — culture is thus smoothly witnessed and shared.

Levering cultural diversity can also find its way in aiding a city after conflict and disaster.

“Without cultural diversity, we can’t recover from conflict,” said Emmanuel Kouela, Director of Cultural Affairs & Tourism for the city of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. For Kouela, it is believed that cultural diversity is the tool needed to rebuild cities, providing a unique salve to what was lost in conflict or natural disaster through the celebration of food, music, art, and conversations — in an essence culture is what aids resiliency.

The new Urban Agenda acknowledges the importance of culture and diversity as drivers of development. Without the contributions of different backgrounds and the emphasis of culture, cities cannot be inclusive—they cannot be cities for all. As Shain Shapiro, CEO of Sound Diplomacy put it during the session, “It’s important to build houses, but it’s also important to build everything else around it.” The session urged audience members to think about culture the way planners thought about cities—to utilize it in the earliest possible stage and factor it in when thinking about resilience.

Find out more on the Special Session here.

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