Memo August 2007

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A memo sent to correspondents, friends and acquaintances of the Budapest Observatory (BO) in August 2007

BO worked on festivals, identities, books and translation in August, but reviewing other reports has overwhelmed this memo.  

The competitiveness race
Some time ago BO was amazed by the European Urban Audit, a huge survey covering 258 cities, which was re-analysed now by Ecotec and published in the State of European Cities Report. Wishing to add value to the original survey, says the subtitle.

One of the aims was to identify the factors that explain competitiveness, the greatest virtue of any European city since the strategic goals were set in Lisbon in 2000. The authors created a "Lisbon benchmark" of their own from seven indicators ranging from GDP per inhabitant of the city to youth unemployment.

They found that many of Europe's high performers at economic competitiveness are located in the north and the centre of the Union. As to the east, Estonia ranks highly, while several capitals such as Prague and Budapest also perform well. The weakest cities on the Lisbon benchmark can be found in Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

The competitiveness types
The 258 cities were grouped into the following 13 types:

             International Hubs

  1. Knowledge hubs
  2. Established capitals
  3. Re-invented capitals
  4. Specialised Poles
  5. National service hubs
  6. Transformation poles
  7. Gateways
  8. Modern industrial centres
  9. Research centres
  10. Visitor centres
  11. Regional Poles
  12. De-industrialised cities
  13. Regional market centres
  14. Regional public service centres
  15. Satellite towns

The list gives little clue as to where you encounter culture at the greatest extent. At the transformation poles: "Examples include the renovation of the former Fiat plant in Turin into an impressive design and exhibition space, the city centre upgrade of Glasgow including turning the river banks into a ‘hip' artistic zone and the new Bullring shopping centre in Birmingham which is attracting many visitors from far afield. Manchester is emerging as a well-connected and fashionable city in the UK, well-positioned to be a viable alternative to London in areas of services, culture and arts."

Besides these western metropolis, the 33 transformation poles include the following eastern cities: Kaunas, Maribor, Pleven, Plzen, Rzeszów and Targu Mures.

Happy cities
The previous report is based on hard statistics. Eurobarometer, on the other hand, measures opinions and feelings. This time they surveyed perceptions of quality of life in 75 European cities.

Believe or not, 91% of the people they met were satisfied to live in their city. Even more startling is that only 60% said that it will be more pleasant to live in that city in the next five years. How to explain the first high, and the next sharp decline?

East or west makes little difference about actual happiness. On the other hand, people in eastern cities appeared hugely more optimistic about the five year prospects than in the west: 70% against 60%.

The happiest cities on the two counts were Leipzig 98-78 and Newcastle 97-75 in the west, and Piatra Neamţ 97- 86 and Burgas 96-81 in the east. (Which means: 96% feel alright living in Burgas, and 81% hopes the same for 2012.)

Sad Budapest was way below the average on both counts 86-58, Warsaw 89-61 just a little better - but even in these two capital cities positive answers were above 50%.

Cultural cities
Besides overall satisfaction, Eurobarometer asked about specific contentment with cultural facilities, such as concert halls, theatres, museums and libraries. This question produced the reverse to the one about the future: no eastern city was voted into the top 20 by its inhabitants: the 45% of Burgas meant the very bottom of the list of 75 cities.

Top 20   Eastern Europe
Helsinki 95% Hamburg 90%   Tallinn 85% Warsaw 76%
Munich 94% Groningen 90%   Prague 83% Riga 75%
Copenhagen 94% Graz 90%   Ljubljana 81% Kosice 72%
Leipzig 93% Stockholm 89%   Miskolc 80% Cluj-Napoca 71%
Oulu 93% Paris 89%   Zagreb 79% Bratislava 69%
Vienna 93% Berlin 89%   Budapest 78% Piatra Neamţ 69%
Glasgow 92% Rotterdam 88%   Gdańsk 77% Bucharest 62%
Newcastle 91% Dortmund 87%   Vilnius 77% Białystok 57%
Amsterdam 91% Aalborg 87%   Kraków 77% Sofia 46%
Cardiff 91% Dublin 86%   Ostrava 76% Burgas 45%

Two further questions relate to culture: satisfaction with cinema as well as access to public internet. The inhabitants of Copenhagen, Oulu and Cardiff declared high satisfaction about all three (cultural facilities, cinema and internet); in the east only Ljubljana and Kraków were above the average of 75 cities in all three factors. Residents in Burgas feel miserable about all three services (remember happy Burgas?); Athens and Marseille also remained below the average in these areas.

Culture and urban development
One common feature of these surveys was the low prominence given to culture. It was not mentioned in the general presentation of the Eurobarometer survey, BO had to dig for culture in the annex.

We were lately lulled by academic and political statements that emphasised the role of culture in urban and regional development ("creative city"). This made BO unprepared for the almost total absence of culture from the Ecotec study (although this organisation is familiar with our sector). They managed to describe knowledge hubs or visitor centres without quoting cultural aspects of these types of cities. The original sin must have been committed by the Urban Audit team, who put very little of culture into the 333 variables applied to the 2004-2005 survey on 258 cities.

What to do? Grab the following opportunity!

Culture and competitiveness
The team that promises to best prove that creativity is the driving force of economic growth, might earn over € 300 000. The call for this study tender is favourably biased, quoting the American economist who notoriously links creativity to certain cultural phenomena. 

Neighbours
Eurobarometer created an editorial traffic jam for BO memo by also releasing findings on neighbourhood policy in August. Early this summer 54% of EU citizens were not interested in what is happening in countries neighbouring the Union. Strangely (symptomatically?) the five most indifferent member countries are in the east, only in Bulgaria do people show slightly higher commitment than the EU average. The greatest interest was manifested in Cyprus and Greece.

30% of EU citizens judge that our neighbours share most of the values of the Union. All ten eastern countries produced higher than average figures, led by Lithuania and Latvia with 53-52%. However, only 15 and 16% of people in Malta and Luxembourg believe in common values with EU neighbours. 

Dragan's book
Mobility of Imagination by Dragan Klaic is available. BO can assist you in bulk purchase for courses, conferences, and the like.