A community is like a shattered mirror. Each person possesses a piece that is large enough to see his or her own reflection. However, no one has a piece that is large enough to provide a reflection of the community as a whole.
A culturescape is a tool that enables people everywhere to participate in putting the shattered mirror of the community back together again.
Communities are fascinating places. Ranging in size all the way from small towns to sprawling cities, they are filled with endless panoramas of sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes, shapes, structures, mysteries, and intrigues. As such, they provide residents and visitors alike with infinite possibilities for experience and delight. Yet, communities everywhere are in deep trouble. Due to the rapid population expansion, the shift from rural to urban areas, uncontrolled pollution, traffic congestion, overcrowding, the nature of contemporary technology, and the excesses of economic systems, there is the mounting danger that many of the more pleasurable and rewarding aspects of community life will disappear. In fact, if the proper precautions are not taken, and taken soon, community living could quickly and easily become a nightmare.
If local life is to prove pleasant rather than painful, two developments are imperative. First, we must begin to treat our communities as total rather than partial environments, since this is the only way we will be able to make effective calculations of the various costs and benefits involved in change. Second, we must create toolswhich allow citizens to articulate their needs and participate fully in shaping all aspects of local life. We must adopt a cultural approach to community development. Fortunately, the culturescape process satisfies these two imperatives for future living most admirably.
In historical terms, the approach to community development has almost always been partial rather than total. As such, community life has usually been dominated by a single, specialized activity, thereby limiting the perspective from which community development was viewed.
In the Middle Ages, the approach was primarily religious. As a result, the church became the focal point and dominant institution in the community. Not only did all roads lead to and from the church, but also, in sheer physical terms, the church towered over the community, thereby creating a sense of psychic dependence among the resident population. Even the sonorous ring of the church bells played its part. It defined the outer limits of the community. To live within reach of the sound of the bells was to live within the community; to live beyond its reach was to live outside the community.
During the Renaissance, the approach was predominantly social. In a purely physical sense, the square replaced the church at the core of community life. Whereas the church was sacred, the square was secular. Whereas the church was designed to serve religious functions, the square was meant to serve social functions. Not only was the square an important place to meet friends and pass away the time of day, but, like the church, it was designed to uplift and inspire people. Through its use as a place to enact rituals and celebrate communal occasions, it brought people into close contact, thereby strengthening the social bonds between them.
In our own time, communities have been designed to serve economic functions. Their primary object is to satisfy the needs of industry, trade, and commerce. Even the terms we use – terms such as industrial zone, residential district, ghetto, worker’s tenement, middle-class or bourgeois neighbourhood – betray the economic shadow which hovers over contemporary perspectives of the community.
Unfortunately, the negative effects of this exclusive economic orientation are mounting daily and are threatening everywhere to run out of control. People are swarming to large and small communities looking for work, particularly as economic opportunities disappear from the hinterland due to the onslaught of technological change. The result is a great deal of overcrowding, and its attendant problems of sanitation and health. In order to reduce transportation costs and profit from locations in close proximity to expanding urban markets, more and more companies are locating in urban environments, thereby creating major zoning problems and tightening an industrial knot around the centre of most communities. More industries mean more traffic, since more trucks and vans are needed to haul produce. The result is an astronomical increase in traffic on city streets, causing maintenance costs to soar, traffic congestion and major transportation and communications problems to appear. Due to the tremendous expansion of all types of vehicular traffic and the urban location of industries, severe pollution problems arise. A layer of film is added to buildings and a solid band of smog settles over community skies, thereby permitting less and less sunlight. At the same time, pollution affects the aesthetic appearance of the community and causes it to deteriorate. Nor is this all. Increasingly, the community becomes segregated, as one economic class attempts to protect itself from the effects of industrialization or the steady encroachment of other economic classes whose fortunes have been less favourable. The effect? The community becomes compartmentalized and fragmented, which leads to a serious deterioration in its emotional make-up and moral fabric. Alienation reaches alarming proportions, as an increasing number of people lose touch with their environment and become faceless people in a lonely crowd. And what replaces the church or the square at the physical core of community life? In all probability, it is a factory, a smokestack, or the head office of a bank, an insurance company, or a multinational corporation, towering over the community and stretching halfway to the heavens.
Of course, the problem here is that there are numerous side-effects to economic growth which are seldom taken into account in planning community change. Too often, the calculations are exclusively economic in nature. If economic benefits are expected to outweigh economic costs, change takes place regardless of sensory, aesthetic, social, or human consequences. What is too often overlooked is the fact that the relationship between people and their environment is interactive and reciprocal. People’s actions have a profound effect on the environment; at the same time, the environment affects people. In effect, actions invite retaliation. If people treat their environment with disrespect or fail to take the environmental effects of change into account, the environment will strike back by affecting people in some adverse way, as polluted environments do by destroying the mood and morale of people and the aesthetic quality of community life. Obviously, what is required here are cost-benefit calculations which stretch across all dimensions of community life. These are not the traditional calculations of cost-benefit analysis; on the contrary, they are new calculations which treat communities as total environments. Fortunately, the culturescape process provides a basis for such calculations since it treats communities as total entities constituent of many diverse social, political, economic, aesthetic, religious, and human components.
If communities are to achieve desirable states of development, it is critical to evolve integrative and participatory methods which can be used by citizens and professionals for the collective betterment of society. However, those interested in the practical, methodological side of community development will be struck by two principal considerations: first, by the lack of effective methods which can be used by citizens at large for participatory purposes – to this extent, the average citizen is presently locked out of community development; and second, they will be struck by the comparative wealth of scientific methods which can be applied to community development compared with the paucity of methods available in the artistic domain which can be used for similar purposes.
The lack of effective methods which can be used by citizens at large to promote community development is understandable – community development is a comparatively new field of interest. In more established fields of activity, such as in economic, social, educational, or political development, methodological techniques tend to be in far greater supply as well as substantially more developed. Here, the challenge is often to apply existing techniques to specific situations in order to learn from the results. In contrast, the challenge in community development at the moment is to fashion a set of innovative methods capable of integrating the many diverse elements of local life as well as stimulating active citizen participation in the process. The adverse imbalance that exists between the availability of scientific as opposed to artistic methods poses an equally serious problem.
In general, techniques which have been shaped in the scientific domain – such as observational analysis, experimentation, sampling, directive and non-directive interviewing, time-budget and expenditure studies, attitudinal surveys, and opinion polls – are already in a high state of sophistication. Unfortunately, however, they are largely descriptive in nature and are far better suited to describing problems than providing solutions. In consequence, they contribute little that is of sustained value in coming to grips with community needs. A huge gap still remains between knowing what the problem is and dealing with it. In addition, they are largely designed for professional use; they preclude all but a very limited number of researchers, experts, and specialists from participation in the process.
In broad comparison, techniques which have been shaped in the artistic domain are still in their infancy. In an historical sense, it is true that many artists have been highly sensitive to the aesthetic quality of communities and have devoted important segments of their works to depicting different aspects of this life in detail. In this connection, Brueghel with his scenes of lively Dutch social celebrations and peasant life, Canaletto and Guardi with their colourful presentations of Venice, Zola with his portrayal of the vivid colours and pungent aromas of Paris, Turgenev with his incredible descriptions of Russian life, and Renoir and Whistler with their captivating street scenes and cityscapes come quickly to mind. Why, the English composer Coates even used a musical composition to immortalize three English communities – Covent Garden, Westminster, and Knightsbridge! Nevertheless, while artists generally have been successful in capturing the aesthetic character of different communities for posterity, they have failed to fashion the artistic methods which are urgently needed to evaluate the aesthetic state of communitiesThe Culturescape: Self-Awareness of Communities methods which might also be used by citizens to improve the aesthetic quality of their surrounding environments. In short, artists have not extended the arts sufficiently into the environment so that they can begin to affect the attitudes of people and the decisions of politicians. The arts remain imprisoned behind the institutional walls of galleries, museums, theatres, concert halls, and cultural centres, thereby failing to become an integral ingredient in the planning process as they should be. As a result, the aesthetic state of most communities is nothing short of abysmal and the prospects for the future are not good. This tragedy is compounded by the artistic experiences of most citizens. Although many citizens have their artistic sensibilities destroyed in school, all citizens have artistic tastes and are constantly making aesthetic judgments throughout their lives. The problem here is that these tastes and judgments are bottled up and remain hidden from view. What is required is the development of methods which can provide an outlet for these tastes and judgments, especially for people who have little intention of becoming involved in the institutional side of the arts. Why is this so essential? Precisely because the aesthetic character of our communities will not change until it becomes every citizen’s business, and this will not happen until ways and means are created which permit the large majority of people to participate in the aesthetic transformation of community life.
If new methodological techniques are to be created which can be used effectively by citizens, civic authorities, planners, and professionals to raise community consciousness to new and loftier heights, it is as essential to fuse the scientific and artistic components to form a methodological whole as it is to promote active citizen participation in the process. Here again we encounter the advantage of the culturescape. It acts as both a catalyst and synthesizer. As a catalyst, it prompts people everywhere to get involved in the design and development of their environmental habitats. As a synthesizer, it provides the common ground for science and art to unite for the cultural enrichment of community life. The reason for this is that the culturescape process possesses three properties – the properties of exploration, education, and discovery – which are fundamental to all artistic and scientific activity.
There is nothing mysterious about the idea of a landscape. In effect, a landscape is a visual exposition of the natural and man-made sights of an environment. It exposes the way in which the eye surveys an environment, sometimes stopping to focus on distinctive features, often roving rapidly over features it takes for granted, but always snapping mental pictures and making selections as it moves.
Nor is there anything mysterious about the idea of a soundscape. A soundscape is the ear’s answer to the eye. It is an aural exposition of the different sounds of an environment. It reveals the way in which the human ear samples natural, mechanical, and human sounds, opening wide to sounds which are soothing and closing off sounds that are unsettling.
It follows from this that a culturescape is an exposition of all the different cultural features—natural, historical, sensorial, social, economic, political, aesthetic, and human—of an environment. It is an environment assaulted by all the human faculties—an explorer’s curiosity set loose on the incredible panorama of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures, institutions, activities, and events encountered in daily life.
Landscapes and soundscapes cut down into environments. They are discrete notions, designed to look at environments through the vertical lenses of specialization. As such, they are structured to explore similar facets of life. In contrast, culturescapes cut across environments. They are integrative, horizontal notions, designed to reveal the infinite and inter-related nature of many diverse facets of life. They are structured to bring things together, not set things apart.
One of the most fascinating characteristics of landscapes and soundscapes is the way in which they can vary so much from individual to individual. What may be significant for one person may be quite insignificant for another. Two artists can paint the same landscape and the attention given to layout, detail, colour, shading, and overall composition can be so varied that an observer would swear that two different landscapes have been portrayed. Two composers can listen to the same sequence of sounds and hear entirely different compositions. In much the same way, two people selected at random can be exposed to the same landscape and their eyes will settle on entirely different natural and architectural features. Or they can be exposed to exactly the same sound series –vehicular traffic, human voices, different languages, or orchestral music – and react very differently to these sounds.
Like landscapes and soundscapes, culturescapes can be highly personal affairs. They can be simple or complex, conscious or intuitive, depending on the amount of detail that people’s sensory and intellectual faculties have chosen to record. Two people can spend three days exploring Paris, London, Mexico City, New York, Marrakech, Istanbul, Calcutta, or Beijing and their experiences will be totally different. Whereas one person will be highly sensitive to sights and sounds, the other will be highly responsive to smells and tastes. Whereas one may be extremely curious about the history of the city being explored but rather indifferent to its natural features, the other might be wildly enthusiastic about its parks, conservation areas, and topographical features but completely bored by its historical accomplishments.
Such experiences reveal much about the different phases which comprise the culturescape process. First, there is the absorptive phase in which people soak up many details about the surrounding environment. Next, there is the evaluative phase where people imprint their likes, dislikes, and habits on the environment. This is the highly subjective part of the process. Finally, there is the responsive phase where individuals respond to the mental blueprints they tuck away in their minds. These three phases usually happen so instinctively that they form a continuous process. But how does the process get started? How does it gather momentum? More importantly, how does it become an integral part of local life, a tool for community improvement?
Building a Sensory Profile of the Community
Respecting citizens for the important contributions they can make is the key to successful initiation of the culturescape process. Through respect for each citizen’s contribution, more and more people will be anxious to participate in the process. When this happens, every community becomes a hidden treasure with all sorts of fascinating gems sunken just below the surface. But, as citizens, how often do we take the time to dig into our communities to become acquainted with their treasures? How often do we take our communities for granted, assuming that we know what services they provide as well as what programs are available to enrich local life? How much do we really care about the aesthetic state of our communities –their captivating or disturbing sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes? Perhaps we assume too much and explore too little.
Given the strong visual orientation of contemporary life, as soon as we commit ourselves to in-depth exploration of our communities, we will probably find that the visual aspects will predominate. Every community contains an endless array of visual images – flowers and trees, parks, homes, gardens, factories, stores, office buildings, billboards, halls, malls, and shopping centres. Our eyes may instantly fasten on many of the larger visual attractions – homes, buildings, and offices. However, this should not be allowed to overpower many of the smaller visual delights of the community – lights, benches, flower pots, kiosks, clocks, gables, and pieces of sculpture – or lack of them. At the same time, the eye would also be well advised to pay particular attention to the floor of the community – its pebbles, cobblestones, cut stones, bricks, asphalt, soils, grids, and drains – as well as to the roof of the community – the daytime or night-time silhouette it etches against the eternal sky.
Visual exploration of the floor, roof, and street furnishings of the community should help train the eye to focus on larger visual patterns: simultaneous movement systems of people and vehicles, city blocks, communal squares, street furnishings, landscaping, and planning arrangements. At the same time, aesthetic faculties should be called into play. Not all of the sights will be pleasing. In fact, many will be disturbing: traffic congestion, obnoxious signboards, commercial strips, jungles of wires and poles, littered streets, run-down store fronts, shortages of people places, and the surfeit of splashy advertising enticements.
The strong visual overtones of the community should not be allowed to obscure other sensory characteristics – textures, smells, tastes, and sounds. The satisfaction derived from visual exploration and discovery should help to activate interest in the other sensory dimensions of the community.
At the same time that the community possesses a fascinating admixture of sights, so it also contains an incredible assortment of textures, each calling out to be caressed. For example, take the building materials of the community. What a vast array of different woods, metals, stones, and bricks abounds everywhere—some of these materials are smooth and fine; others are rough, granular, and full of interesting indentations; some are highly finished; others are left in their natural state. Each ready to reward the tactile explorer with their intimate secrets.
Are the community’s smells and tastes any less important than its sights and textures? Yet, how indifferent we tend to be to the various smells of the natural and man-made environment, primarily because pollution has dulled our sensory faculties. However, it would not prove overly difficult to piece together an olfactory profile of the community. Such a profile might include the enchanting scents of favourite flowers in the local park, the intoxicating smells of various perfumes and colognes, the gaseous vapours of exhaust fumes, the distinctive scents of spring saplings or decomposing fall leaves, the pungent odours of local industries, or the beckoning aroma of the local pastry shop.
A visit to the local pastry shop to sample its oven-fresh pies, cakes, breads, or rolls should help to open up the world of taste. This may be followed up at home by experiments which expand gastronomic knowledge of different vegetables, meats, wines, sweets, spices, and herbs. Here, the emphasis may not be on what is habitually pleasing to the taste buds, but rather on what needs to be known about the incredible diversity of tastes. Families of spices and herbs – cinnamon, mace, nutmeg, and cloves, or basil, thyme, marjoram, oregano, and tarragon – will be sampled in succession to expand culinary awareness. New vegetables, such as chicory, escarole, endive, garbanzos, leeks, and parsnips, will be added to salads to enhance their taste. Questions will be asked in local supermarkets about the need for artificially produced tastes or prepackaged foods. More requests will be made in local restaurants for regional specialities and home-cooked delicacies. Slowly, prepackaged, plastic tastes may even yield to local, indigenous tastes as more and more residents express their demands for culinary reform.
The sensory side of the culturescape composition is not only scored for sights, smells, textures, and tastes. It is also scored for sounds. No less an authority than John Cage contends that music is sound, the sound we hear around us, whether inside or outside the concert hall. An increasing number of contemporary composers share this conviction.
A group of composers connected with the World Soundscape Project believes that there is a soundscape of natural, human, and mechanical sounds which corresponds to the landscape of physical and architectural sights. They contend that the soundscape of the world is in reality a vast musical composition which has been badly orchestrated in the present century. There has been an imperialistic spread of many of the most grotesque and taxing sounds imaginable. The hard-edge sounds of modern technology—from power tools, lawnmowers, factories, machines, cars, trucks, planes, motorcycles, and other mechanical devices—have masked out almost all human and natural sounds in many parts of the world. In pre-industrial and rural cultures, natural and human sounds account for up to 95 per cent of all sounds, with the sounds of tools and technology accounting for the remaining 5 per cent. In industrialized and urban cultures, the proportions are virtually reversed. The sounds of machine technology account for an alarming 70 per cent of all sounds—and at progressively higher and higher decibel levels. This has brought in its wake two concomitant developments. First, it has caused increased deafness and impaired hearing. Second, it has turned most communities in industrialized societies into sonic sewers. By promoting improvements in noise abatement legislation and aural acuity—through “ear-cleaning and ear-training” exercises, sounds museums, and sounds walks—the World Soundscape group hopes to inspire a universal movement for a better world soundscape—a soundscape which will prove vastly more satisfying to ear and mind.
Determined explorers will not allow the local soundscape to pass unnoticed. Rather, they will store sounds away in the bank of memorable acoustical experiences—wind rattling against metal, birds singing at dawn, rain drops on a tin roof, train whistles, fog horns, factory sirens, revving motors, church bells, and the clatter of horses’ hooves on pavement. Like the composers of the World Soundscape Project, committed explorers will soon discover that many of the most beautiful sounds are disappearing, due to the rapid onslaught of technological sounds and the lack of effective noise abatement legislation. This too will be added to the expanding sensoryscape of the community.
At the same time that some residents will be contributing to the building of the sensory profile of the community, others will be involved in the piecing together of other types of profiles – natural, historical, scientific, institutional, human, and aesthetic. Each profile will possess its own peculiar characteristics.
Some citizens may become interested in fashioning a natural profile of the community and its environs. Here, probes will be conducted into the topographical contours of the community: its hills, valleys, rivers, streams, embankments, and overall geographic setting. Parks and conservation areas will be studied in detail for their scenic appeal, flora and fauna, fragile botanical systems, and distinctive ecological features. Others may be interested in painting an historical portrait of the community which illustrates why it was originally settled, how it grew in response to different types of needs, and when it underwent periods of profound change. To do this effectively, it may prove necessary to draw on museum holdings, archival material, old photographs, library records, and newspaper clippings. Through this, an impression will be gleaned of the different layers of culture which combine to form the overall cultural composition of the community. Still others may be interested in preparing a scientific profile of the community. This will entail probes into transportation and communication systems, changes in climatic conditions, meteorological studies, and the activities of different research agencies.
Active interest in the institutional profile of the community may result from visits to different community resources, such as museums, libraries, social agencies, government offices, factories, banks, insurance companies, commercial enterprises, boutiques, community centres, concert halls, and sports arenas. Standing behind this complex network of institutions are the myriad individuals and organizations responsible for the numerous programs and services which are offered in the community. How unaware we tend to be of the various programs and services which are available to us either as residents or visitors to communities. How little knowledge we have of the real functioning of our numerous institutions. Travelling down this path is essential to the crystallization of a comprehensive community culturescape. Not only is there exposure to the inner workings of the community as a dynamic and evolving entity, but also much more is learned about the way in which complex decisions are made – decisions which affect the planning, design, and development of all our communities.
People who are determined to probe to the very depths of the cultural experience will be anxious to learn as much as possible about the human profile of the community. Initially, a probe into this area may start when an individual becomes interested in his or her own cultural patterns. Eventually, it will probably fan out to encompass an interest in the cultural patterns that are traced by others.
It is often said that human beings are the products of habit. Plotted over time, these habits form cycles; some of which – eating, sleeping, and working – are necessary for survival; while others – watching television, enjoying hobbies, reading, or attending meetings or parties – are highly optional. One of the best ways of documenting these cycles is to keep a cultural diary. A cultural diary differs from a general diary in that it is intended to record in systematic fashion that amount of time or money spent on life’s different activities, rather than to chronicle those special little events and experiences which highlight the day. As such, a cultural diary breaks a given period of time in two ways: first, into minutes, hours, and weeks; and second, into different types of activities. Records are then kept of the actual amounts of time or money spent on these different activities. When these separate recordings are aggregated and plotted graphically on maps of the community or on charts, cycles are revealed which expose the extent to which all individuals are the products of different types of cultural habits and trace different patterns on their environment.
Cycles of human activity often act to highlight fundamental problems in community development. Much of the concern of cultural development—for greater human fulfillment in life, a more responsive environment, better conservation of resources, more citizen participation in decision-making, and a higher level of awareness—can only be accomplished by reinforcing or breaking with these established patterns of human activity. Simultaneously, new cycles are created; cycles which bring people closer to real satisfaction in their daily lives. Creation of these new cycles may require higher occupational turnover, variations in working hours, reduced consumption of goods and services, more recreational and artistic amenities, more effective urban renewal or abatement legislation, better control of water or air pollution, greater regulation of business and industry, and more democratic forms of decision-making. Such can often be the effects of cultural change.
To achieve a full understanding of the human profile of the community, excursions into the land of individual habits should be complemented by probes into the habits of friends, relatives, neighbours, and more distant residents. Although people often betray signs of similarity in external terms, in internal terms, their lives are very diverse, reflecting their different ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs, upbringing, education, and personal preferences. A little friendly curiosity usually brings its own rewards. Often probing in this area reveals significant differences in the way people choose to live their lives, approach jobs, practise hobbies, celebrate events, cook dishes, observe holidays, and utilize leisure time. A rich human mine exists in every community and is always ready for the tapping.
If the door starts to swing open the moment the human profile is probed, it is thrust open wide as soon as the aesthetic profile is exposed. Here is where preferences run strong and feelings cut deep. The aesthetic experience is an exceedingly personal affair. Whereas one person may detest the sound of motorcycles, planes, or trucks, another person may revel in such sounds. One person may find billboards offensive; another may find them satisfying. Some may feel that the city core needs a facelift; others may be content to leave it alone. Unfortunately, we know very little about the aesthetic preferences of people: far too often they remain hidden from view due to adverse educational or social experiences. However, since they represent one of life’s realities, they should be brought out into the open and confronted for what they really are: illustrations of the infinite spectrum of likes and dislikes which comprise all communities. Herein lies one of the real strengths of the culturescape process. By allowing many sides of an issue to surface, it knits many aesthetic preferences into the cultural fabric of society.
Dialoghi Mediterranei, n. 48, marzo 2021
«Una comunità è come uno specchio in frantumi. Ogni persona ne possiede un pezzo abbastanza grande da poter vedere il proprio riflesso. Tuttavia, nessuno ha un pezzo abbastanza grande da ottenere un riflesso della comunità nel suo insieme. […] Un paesaggio culturale è uno strumento che permette alle persone di partecipare ovunque per rimettere insieme lo specchio in frantumi della comunità». Con queste parole di Paul Schafer viene qui riproposta la pubblicazione di uno stralcio rielaborato del capitolo 8 del suo libro The Age Of Culture, pubblicato in Canada nel 2014. Un articolo di riflessione, che aiuterà il lettore ad intendere il valore del patrimonio culturale della Comunità.
 This article is based on a highly exploratory study the author directed for Ontario’s Ministry of Culture and Recreation. The study, which involved in-depth probes into four communities in Ontario, was published under the title Explorations in Culturescapes: A Cultural Approach to Community Development. The author wishes to thank the Ministry for permission to draw on this study in the preparation of this article. In addition, the author also wishes to thank the editor of Cultures, Dr. G. S. Métraux, for several valuable suggestions concerning the development of this article.
D. Paul Schafer ha lavorato nel campo culturale per cinquant’anni come autore, consulente, educatore e ricercatore. Ha insegnato alla York University e all’Università di Toronto, ha svolto numerose missioni per l’UNESCO ed è direttore del World Culture Project (www3.sympatico.ca/dpaulschafer). I suoi libri hanno per oggetto: Culture: Beacon of the Future and Revolution o Renaissance: Making the Transition from an Economic Age to a Cultural Age. Vive e lavora a Markham, Ontario.