The Role of Culture in Sustainable Cities: Comparing Sustainable City Projects in the EU and China
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Throughout the world the idea of sustainable cities (SCs) is gaining momentum in both academia and practice. Sustainable cities can be defined as urban areas that balance social, ecological and economic goals in such a way that they may, in principle, be continued into the foreseeable future. While worded as universal truths, theories about how to create such cities appear to have a Western bias. However, as Hofstede (2001) shows, it is highly questionable whether such Western-based theories are applicable across cultures. This thesis addresses the universality of the SC debate by comparing the way SCs are created in the EU and China. China - which shows large cultural differences with the EU - has grown into a critical player in global affairs and has also embarked on the development of SCs. This raises questions about the applicability of SC theory in this very different context: Will an autocratic government allow its citizens to dictate policy, or team up with non-governmental organizations? Will the power of the Chinese government lead to more mandatory policies? And could a focus on the individual lead to slower, more incremental developments in the EU? Such questions show how culture may be expected to influence the way SC projects are given shape. Thus an answer to the following research question was sought: To what extent do differences in culture account for any perceived differences in the process and content of sustainable city projects in the EU and China? In this thesis, UNEP’s Melbourne Principles for Sustainable Cities (MPs) are used as a summery of the most important aspects of SCs, focusing on both process and content. Hofstede’s (2001, and Hofstede and Hofstede, 2005) distinction between five aspects of culture – power distance, individuality vs. collectivism, masculinity vs. femininity, uncertainty avoidance and long-term vs. short-term orientation – is used as a model of culture. By linking relevant cultural characteristics pertaining to these five indexes to the MPs, the following five hypotheses were deducted. The relevant cultural indexes are named in parentheses. H1: While the EU will seek collaboration with a broad array of stakeholders (including NGOs and citizens); China will seek active participation only of consultants and powerful (government and business) interests (because of differences in power distance, individuality and masculinity). H2: While the EU will have broad, vague measures of progress; China will use narrower and quantitative assessment criteria (because of differences in masculinity). H3: While the EU aims for incremental technological- and land-use changes; China will create mega-projects and large transformations of space (because of differences in long-term orientation). H4: While the EU aims to create incentives for voluntary behavioral change through communication and mobilization strategies, China is more forceful, utilizing bans and penalties (because of differences in power distance and long-term orientation). H5: While the EU devotes much of its resources to welfare provisions (education, employment, aid, recreation, etc.); China invests only in prestigious physical projects and business interests (because of differences in masculinity) In this exploratory, qualitative study these hypotheses were tested for six cases; three in the EU - Almere, Leicester and Hammarby Sjöstad-Stockholm - and three in China - Dongtan, Tianjin and Rizhao. In addition to analyzing the influence of culture, the type of development – new city or area or retrofit of an existing city - was controlled for. The qualitative nature of the study also allowed for the finding of additional important variables. Both culture and the type of development were found to have an influence on the way SCs are given shape. Cultural differences appear to lead to differences concerning the use of mandatory measures (H4). The large power distance and collective nature of Chinese culture may then lead to more forceful policies than in the EU, where only voluntary approaches were found. The relationship between culture and assessment criteria (H2) and the choice of an incremental versus a rapid, large-scale approach (H3) is less clear. While there were some interesting differences between the EU and China, qualitative assessment and a large-scale approach appear to be the norm in both contexts. The type of SC project was shown to be related to the level of inclusion of stakeholders (1) as well as the importance of welfare provisions (H5), with both being more pronounced in retrofit cases. Additionally, this study showed the importance of economic variables and the amount of discretionary space of municipalities.