Making It Real: Measures of Culture in Local Sustainability Planning and Implementation

Nancy Duxbury and M. Sharon Jeannotte

On 15 May 2014, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the Global City Indicators Facility (GCIF) launched the first official international standards on city metrics - ISO 37120 Sustainable Development of Communities: Indicators for City Services and Quality of Life. Cited as 'an international standard for cities created by cities' (Ng 2014, 2), ISO 37120 is a series of standard indicators for 'a holistic approach to sustainable development in cities and communities' (GCIF 2014, 18). It includes 100 indicators, of which 46 are compulsory core indicators and 54 are supporting indicators. They are structured around 20 themes, organised by City Services and Quality of Life. 'Culture' is one of seven themes within the latter category. However, no core cultural indicator is identified and only one supporting cultural indicator is listed: the percentage of jobs in the cultural sector (GCIF 2011).

This example is one of the latest efforts to develop cultural indicators to use in local planning and benchmarking processes, a journey that has been peppered with initiatives internationally for more than a decade. While culture is gradually becoming recognised as an element within integrated sustainable development planning frameworks (see Duxbury 2014) and 'community wellbeing' indicator projects (see Warner and Kern 2013), the challenge to 'capture' culture in a meaningful way remains. Many attempts to include culture in community quality of life or wellbeing indicator projects have highlighted the difficulties of developing appropriate measures for culture at a local level (see Hemphill et al. 2004; Boston Foundation 2012; University of Oxford and the Open University 2014). These concerns have also been expressed with regard to both national and international initiatives (see Madden 2005; Smale et al. 2010; Blomkamp 2013; Grincheva 2014).

A key driver of local cultural indicator development has been the integration of (or desire to integrate) culture within broader planning and development processes and city-wide initiatives (Duxbury 2005). In these initiatives, efforts to quantify are closely related to needs to qualify the inclusion of culture in these broader frameworks and processes. The widespread, cross-sectoral pressure for indicators often comes with an underlying implication that culture cannot be included (and valued) in these processes if it cannot be quantified and counted, putting a spotlight on the perennial debates about the non-qualitative values of culture.

The development of urban sustainability indicators is not simply a matter of data and methodology, although research into indicator development is largely advanced from this perspective (e.g. Hemphill et al. 2004; Shen et al. 2011). Indicators must also be linked to the value that culture brings to a community and to the way that it fits within the community's vision of its overall, holistic sustainability; citizens' values; and the socio-political context. This view of sustainability is intrinsically multifaceted and encompasses the goals or endpoints of development, as well as the iterative processes, discussions and collective decisions necessary to reach this more 'balanced' state. In our research, we recognise that local sustainability is a contested and pluralistic concept centred on socio-cultural processes of negotiation and dialogue. Citizens engage in such dialogue to imagine and reach collective decisions on future paths and objectives, and to catalyse actions, circumscribed by environmental limits and social dynamics.

It is with these issues in mind that this chapter critically examines attempts to develop indicators for culture within a context of local sustainability in a cross-section of communities across Canada. We investigate the quality of local sustainability indicator efforts, the extent to which cultural indicators are included, and the approaches and pathways that are being forged to do so.

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