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Dialogue 1

Urbanization, Culture and Innovation


With the continuous flow of contemporary global populations including migrants and refugees, cities all over the world have become much more heterogeneous and multicultural. People from different cultural, ethnic and religious backgrounds now live together. Cities such as San Francisco, Toronto, Abu Dhabi and Brussels are among the most culturally, linguistically and ethnically diverse with 35 to 58 percent of their populations being foreign born.

While cities have always been melting pots of cultural diversity, certain features of contemporary cultural diversity are novel. First, cultural diversity in cities is both wider and deeper than ever before. Second, it is far more affirmative as minorities and immigrant groups demand equal rights, access to urban opportunities, and the right to participate in decisions that affect their collective life. Third, the forces of globalization, which drive new international migratory patterns entail sustained flows of ideas, symbols and meanings which permanently link places of origin of culturally diverse urban populations and their current places of residence. Fourth, innovation and culture are two sides of the same coin. Cultural heritage — both tangible and intangible — and innovation can be both drivers and enablers of achieving the SDGs.

In an increasingly urbanizing world, innovation plays a critical role as a channel for safeguarding and promoting culture.

Culture plays a crucial role in making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. SDG Target 11.4 calls for strengthening of efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.


This dialogue explores links between urbanization, culture and innovation and how urbanization affects and is in turn affected by culture and innovation.

Drawing on perspectives from different parts of the world, it will focus on the projection that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities, and the impact of that trend on the socio-economic dynamics of urban areas which are rapidly becoming more heterogeneous and multicultural.

Guiding Questions
  1. How does urbanization affect culture; does urbanization strengthen, modify, erode or produce ‘new’ forms of culture and cultural identities?
  2. What are the manifestations of culture and cultural diversity in different contexts within urban areas?
  3. How does cultural diversity contribute to the vibrancy, prosperity, innovation, inclusiveness, competitiveness, attractiveness, positive perception and overall development of cities?
  4. How do cultural elements enhance the image and attractiveness of the city?
  5. How can culture be leveraged to inform innovation as well as the planning and development of multicultural, inclusive and diverse cities?
  6. How can cultural diversity mediate between conflicting lifestyles and cultural expression in urban areas?

Session Speakers

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