Chen Bo: how does culture change our city?

The 404th Luojia Lecture, titled “How does culture change our city?”, was given by Associate Professor Chen Bo from the National Institute of Cultural Development of WHU.


Chen Bo is giving the lecture

The lecture focused on the cultural industry and urbanization, which is a grounded topic closely related to the daily life of citizens. This topic of common concern attracted not only students from different colleges, but also citizens from nearby communities. A.P. Chen gave his speech in three parts: the history and development of urbanization, the influence of culture upon a city and the 2049 Wuhan revival foresight plan.

The rapidly developing urbanization has standardized cities, demolishing their unique culture and style. Without its own distinctive features, one city would become just a replica of another. “A city provides not only a shelter for people, but also serves as a place that appeals to their values. The most important function of a city is to gather human resource, technology, information and capital so that a region can be centralized. A city is a man-made environment, thus it ought to be updated according to its social and economic development. Therefore, the sustainable development concept deserves to be emphasized.”

A.P. Chen then listed three aspects of culture’s influence upon a city. First and foremost, city provides people with a “scene”. This scene is the accumulation of city development, and in turn the foundation of development, such as the Eiffel Tower to Paris, the Times Square to New York, and the skyline to Chicago. Secondly, culture provides people with a “public space” both physically and mentally. The physical space is a place people live in, and the mental space is the recognition or the sense of pride each individual holds toward his or her city. The third one is that culture acts as an impetus for a city’s development. The proportion of the cultural industry in a city’s economic structure determines the city’s class and future development opportunity.

“The development of the cultural industry contributes to the economic growth and builds up a city’s reputation. The internal mechanism of culture’s influence upon a city is that the domination over a city’s culture means the control of city disease.” According to Chen, because of the accumulated mobility and diversity of citizens, it leads to greater demands for people to create a city image and cultural identity. Social class and political spectrums are no longer the main influences that shape identity. Citizens are willing to show their collective identities through the images they create.

The last session of this lecture is related with the 2049 Wuhan revival foresight plan, which aims to revive this city back to its former glory as the “Grand Wuhan” before the 100th National Day in 2049. “The cultural thinking of this foresight plan is that we can tap the potential of the Yangtze River culture, create and inject this unique culture back into Wuhan both in industry layout and city planning,” Said Chen. There is a paradox of cultural regions rediscovery and development in most cities. Take the Tianzi Fang district in Shanghai and Hubu Xiang in Wuhan for instance, these regions were once developed into idyllic blocks which attracted lot of tourists. Nowadays, however, these blocks were nearly all captured by property tycoons as capital, which turned the former poetic blocks into expensive commercial real estates.

“We can find inspiration from the SOHO district in New York City. Due to the government’s control on rent and land prices, SOHO provides a comfortable and affordable place for painters, poets, musicians and other artists. It has become an incessant driving force for New York tourism, and the city benefits a lot from it.”

In the end, Prof. Chen said that “Culture is a city’s soul, and a mental space for citizens to harbor their spirit. As a materialized culture, the cultural industry contributes both spiritually and economically to a city. It is now a main motivation of city development. Culture characterizes a city; meanwhile, it also completes a city.”

A.P. Chen Bo is the vice-director of the National Institute of Cultural Development and the deputy dean of the National Cultural Innovation Research Center. His research mainly focuses on the theory and policy of the cultural industry.

(Edited by Tang Yedan, Wusiying, Edmund Wai Man Lai & Hu Sijia)

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