AIVP participation in the launch seminar of the "Rivers of Opportunities" project - Gdansk (Poland)
Text by Denis Davoult Strategic Advisor Urban Affairs AIVP - The worldwide network of port cities
This project, supported by the European Commission, brings together 10 partner organisations of the "River//Cities" network. The main point for debate: how to make culture a tool for redynamising public spaces on waterfronts, and what strategies to use to attract the public.
The City of Gdansk was one of the members of the European project "Making the City with the Port", for which the scientific coordination was provided by AIVP. A visit to the old naval dockyards and a debate on "Young City Gdansk" programmed on this site also formed part of the seminar agenda. So it was also a chance to have new discussions with them and to discover on the ground how the port city interface projects have evolved. We will report on this in a second article.
From public to audience: move from being a passive consumer to an active participant
The members of the "Rivers of Opportunities" project take part in the organisation of cultural presentations in public spaces, particularly waterfronts. These events may be on different scales, from a single spectacle to the organisation of a big festival, such as the Vienna festival which has run for 30 years and involves multiple presentations over 7 km, or the Thames Festival which attracted some 800,000 spectators to London over a single weekend in 2013.
But whatever the scale, the organisers all agree that the main question is how to attract and hold the public in a world saturated with the production of images and with huge numbers of offers, a world where people often don't have the time or don't know how to fit things in. For them, the question therefore is not to increase the number of visitors, but rather the quality of the relationship achieved with the public: transforming the passive spectator, the passer-by who merely consumes by visiting an exhibition, a concert, etc., into an active participant!
Creating a new relationship with the waterfront
Organising such cultural activities in public spaces, particularly waterfront sectors, is also a way of creating new relationships between the public and these sites. Among the examples given, let us quote two from Gdansk: exhibitions under bridges or in certain parts of the river banks have allowed these very specific sites to be discovered – or rediscovered; and the "new port city wanderings" initiative, which has made certain urban sectors in the north of the city more familiar to the city's inhabitants and their children.
In more global terms, the cultural event appears as a strong action to enable visitors and citizens to re-appropriate spaces charged with history, such as old industrial or port-industrial sites, spaces sometimes with a very sensitive past.
Here we come across a dimension which has often been addressed within AIVP in our debates on the redevelopment of port city interfaces: culture as a means for re-appropriating waterfronts. It may allow re-appropriation once a conversion has been completed, but it may also be a strategic tool during the often long drawn-out transformation of such sites: creating cultural events becomes a means of getting the public used to coming to sites under transformation, and also of responding to a certain impatience among citizens with a project which does not seem to be progressing, or at any rate not fast enough. Culture again appears as an essential strength for redynamising the port city and for improving the quality of life of its inhabitants.