Trailblazer THE FOURTH PILLAR OF SUSTAINABILITY: CULTURE'S ESSENTIAL ROLE IN PUBLIC PLANNING
Jon Hawkes (2001)
Hawkes concern is that current discussion of the idea of sustainable societies focuses on three pillars: social equity and justice, environmental responsibility, and economic viability. He sees these as essential, but insufficient to support the future survival and well-being of humankind: a fourth pillar is required, namely cultural development.
He describes culture as 'the bedrock of society' which involves:
• our values and aspirations;
• the processes and media through which we develop, receive and transmit these values and aspirations; and
• the tangible and intangible manifestations of these values and aspirations: the customs, faiths and conventions; codes of manners, dress, cuisine, language, arts, science, technology; religions and rituals; norms and regulations of behaviour; traditions; and institutions of groups of humans.
He tackles the meaning to be attributed to 'values' by starting from the premise that people endeavour to make sense of their lives. He writes:
I take it as self-evident that humans feel it necessary to make sense of their lives and to conduct themselves on the basis of that sense. This process and its results manifest themselves as a value system - a culture. The social dimensions of this activity constitute a society's culture.(p5)
Having defined his terms he then makes the reasonable assertion that all acts by government, at any level, which involve intervention in the public domain, are fundamentally informed by sets of values, which are sometimes expressed but often are simply assumed. This leads him to argue that government needs means of developing, expressing and applying the values of the society which it represents and serves.
In order to demonstrate what may be meant by society's values he lists some of the values to be found in planning documents. He sees these as values on which today's societies would express unanimity. This is his list:
• participation, engagement and democracy;• tolerance, compassion and inclusion;• freedom, justice and equality;• peace, safety and security;• health, wellbeing and vitality;• creativity, imagination and innovation;• love and respect for the environment.
Hawkes suggests that, in its simplest form, sustainability is about our desire for future generations to inherit a world at least as bountiful as ours. The problem is how to achieve the value system that this entails when the predominant one is of ever-increasing consumption - which we know is not sustainable.
This leads Hawkes to argue that a sustainable society depends upon the vitality of a sustainable culture and so cultural action is needed to prepare for it. In his terms cultural action arises in communities as a result of their wellbeing and this depends upon the shared sense of meaning and purpose of its members. While there should be some basic agreements among communities, cultural diversity is vital because we must have a pool of diverse perspectives in order to survive, to adapt to changing conditions, to embrace the future. (p14)
But how can this happen in many of the communities of today's world? Involvement in cultural action requires the belief that one's contribution can be effective. Yet with so many political decisions taken by experts many crucial issues are so far beyond the influence of citizens ‘that even thinking about them guarantees frustration'.
Hawkes is emphatic that communities have a right, as well as a responsibility, to engage with the values that determine the nature of their society. He puts it like this: In a vital society, the meaning we make of our lives is something we do together, not an activity to be left to others, no matter how skilled, or representative, they may claim to be. (p16)
He goes on to assert that finding ways of doing this should be a primary responsibility of government. And he speculates that local government may be the best locus for such cultural action because:
It is the tier of governance closest to the citizenry, and therefore (at least theoretically) the one most in touch with, and capable of being responsive to, its constituency. It is probably the best governance level at which to develop new methodologies of participatory democracy and cultural action. It is ideally placed to stimulate community debate on the values and aspirations that should inform our future, and to plan its actions in direct response to the visions of the community. (p16)
But he is well aware that it can go sour for he insists that the development of community culture depends upon the capacity of its members to understand, trust and respect one another. This is a basic cultural need of all communities if they are to cohere and develop.
Hawkes sees culture as the product of human interaction, ever changing and arising in daily public events in the streets, shops and cafes as much as in schools and the media. Cultural vitality is manifest in:robust diversity, tolerant cohesiveness, multi-dimensional egalitarianism, compassionate inclusivity, energetic creativity, open-minded curiosity, confidence independence, rude health. (p23)
How does this relate to 'the arts'? First, Hawkes sees the arts as the symbolic language of shifting meanings of culture. He rejects the idea of art as 'an industry manufacturing commodities', 'a band-aid to disguise social inequity', 'a badge of superiority' or 'a decorative embellishment'. He looks for active participation in the arts of all citizens and writes:
No longer can we be content to leave the creation of meaning to ‘the experts’. Yes, it is wonderful to live in a society in which those who choose to devote their entire lives to art are cherished and respected. But this should not diminish our own confidence in making meaning, it should not allow us to become lazy, embarrassed, passive witnesses, silent consumers, mere customers. The new rhetoric is 'engagement' - the first engagement we should have is with arts practice. ... [We should be] offering all citizens, and their offspring, the opportunity to actively participate in arts practice - to make their own culture. (p24)
His rationale for this view is powerful and again needs to be quoted comprehensively. Rhetorically he asks why should everyone engage in the arts?
Because the arts are the creative imagination at work (and play). Its techniques involve improvisation, intuition, spontaneity, lateral thought, imagination, co-operation, serendipity, trust, inclusion, openness, risk-taking, innovation, fortitude and an ability and willingness to delve beneath the surface, beyond the present, above the practical and the fixed. These are the aspects of human behaviour that social scientists have identified as being the source and manifestation of creativity and innovation - the essential elements for the survival of the species. An innovative society is open-minded, curious, compassionate and lively; it respects and embraces difference. In so being, it is able to meet every challenge and adapt to changing circumstances. But it can only become so if its citizens are comfortable with applying their creative imaginations to new and changing situations. (p24)
This is why he links culture with ecological, social and economic sustainability and argues that any planning process of government should pass through a framework of questions arising from all four of these 'pillars' and why it is local government in direct interaction with its communities that should take the lead in striving for a sustainable society.