Elena Bird a colleague and contributing author to the book read an early draft and said: ‘this is great but where is Greg in all this?’ This chapter is a response to Elena’s challenge and an effort to make sense of how the ideas in the book have been shaped by my own work and career.
In one way or another I have been working in the cultural field for more than 30 (how is this possible?) years. I’ve sometimes said that the history of cultural development in Canada could be described as the ‘two solitudes’ of the arts and heritage; people working in the field have tended to come from one or the other with little – until recently – crossing over.
In this context, my original work in the field was very much on the heritage side of things. This began in the museums field with a first job as a 19th century footman and historical interpreter at a historic house in Toronto (replete with silk stockings, cravats, etc.). This was followed by a Masters in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto and 6 years as the Executive Director of the Ontario Museum Association.
I was then recruited by the Ontario Ministry of Culture to lead a team that oversaw the Ontario Heritage Policy Review, a cross-government review of heritage policy. When I look back on it now I am struck by how far head of its time was the Government of Ontario’s vision for the Review. The underlying goal was to establish a consistent ‘horizontal’ policy that provided guidance for all ministries in assessing the impact of decisions on heritage across the province – adopting a ‘heritage lens’ – for planning and decision-making. Municipal cultural planning is based on the same premise – applying a cultural lens to planning across municipal departments.
Completing the Review brought me up to the early 1990s. By that time it had become clear to me that, as visionary as the Ontario Heritage Policy Review had been, the next wave of leadership in cultural development would not come from senior levels of government but from municipalities and the integration of culture in urban planning and decision-making. This led me to a doctorate at the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Waterloo.
It’s a privilege to go back to school after having been working and gaining both personal and professional experience; you go back with a much clearer perspective on why you’re there and what you want to learn. What I found was a rich literature on culture as integral to urban planning – dating back to early 20th century visionaries like Patrick Geddes and Lewis Mumford. I also found a substantial body of contemporary work in cultural planning emerging since the mid- late-1980s in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, various countries in Western Europe, and Australia.
One of the most influential books for me was Colin Mercer and his colleagues’ 1995 Cultural Planning Handbook. There are moments when you read something that you know will fundamentally change the way we look at issues. The notions of ‘cultural resources’ and cultural mapping (though widely used today) were at that time revolutionary in broadening and democratizing our thinking about cultural development in communities.
These ideas were gaining currency in Canada in no small part due to the influence of the Creative City Network of Canada (CCNC). CCNC was founded as a community-of-practice supporting municipal staff working in culture across the country. By 2004 in Ontario a small group came together under the leadership of the Ontario Ministry of Culture to form the Municipal Cultural Planning Partnership (now Municipal Cultural Planning Incorporated). The group brought together seven provincial ministries, the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, cultural service organizations and the University of Waterloo working to promote municipal cultural planning across the province.
In Chapter 2 Colin Mercer states Canada is providing international leadership in pushing thinking and practice in cultural planning. It’s hard to have perspective on your work but I see loads of evidence of this leadership in municipalities and among practitioners of municipal cultural planning today.
Elena asked me about ‘next generation’ challenges and opportunities in municipal cultural planning. I identified two: first, moving to build and codify an integrated body of theory and practice through which municipal cultural planning can claim legitimacy similar to other forms of planning – land use, social planning, economic planning and development, etc; second, developing and sharing a body of experience and case studies about concrete ways in which cultural planning has been effectively integrated in existing municipal plans – in particular within Official Plans and land use planning.
Lastly, I want to pay tribute to my colleague Kat Runnalls who has worked with me for almost 3 years on a series of municipal cultural plans and cultural mapping projects. The book does not adequately recognize her enormous contribution to building the knowledge base and body of experience that has informed this book. Thanks Kat!
 Grogan, David; Mercer, Colin; Engwicht, David. (1995). The Cultural Planning Handbook: An Essential Australian Guide. Allen & Unwin..