The 2020 Rome Charter and the «cultural capabilities»

The 2020 Rome Charter rightly states that precisely “our beliefs, our values and our creative activities give shape” to a city, which is “the incarnation of our imagination, individual and shared”. We must consider the city as the real and symbolic body of a community.

Thinking about the city is one of today’s biggest challenges. There is a potential in each of us and in our communities that must be supported so that it can contribute to the construction of the city, to the realization of a cultural democracy.

The city is a place where the cultural life of the community is expressed, as described in Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”

Therefore, thinking about human capabilities in the urban context, as the 2020 Rome Charter does, is really important.

I would like to quote the first Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium n. 71, which quotes the book of Revelation and makes an interesting deduction:

“The new Jerusalem, the Holy City (cf. Rev 21:2–4),” he says, “is the goal towards which the whole of humanity is set out. And the Pope notes: “It is interesting that revelation tells us that the fullness of humanity and history is realized in a city.

The city can be for us the symbol of the effort to advance culture towards human fulfilment.

The city, in fact, is the place of processes where one experiences a singular interweaving of the superiority of time over the same space. The city is not only space and place but above all dynamic of events.

The city is the place of strong polar and living contrasts and oppositions.

“In the city — we read in the Final Document of the Conference of Latin American and Caribbean Bishops in 2007 — coexist binomials that test it daily: tradition and modernity, globality and particularity, inclusion and exclusion, personalization and depersonalization, secular and religious language, homogeneity and plurality, urban culture and multiculturalism” (Aparecida 512).

The city is a place that risks generating the anonymity that is the opposite of belonging to a people, but it is also a place that can cause involvement and inclusion and bonding.

The city must therefore fulfil its duty to support its inhabitants in their cultural capabilities by developing cultural policies, plans and actions. Public administrations, national and local governments have legal obligations regarding participation in culture, enshrined not only in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also in other international treaties and conventions. They must therefore implement effective policies and adequate resources to meet these obligations.

The 2020 Rome Charter states that the right to participate in cultural life is based on five capabilities:

Discover, Create, Share, Live, Protect / Culture

  1. The ability to discover cultural roots
  2. The ability to be creative and give life to cultural expressions that can enrich the life of the city;
  3. The ability to share cultures and creativity, to enrich and deepen social and democratic life
  4. The ability to live and enjoy all the cultural resources of the city, so that they can be a source of inspiration and growth.
  5. The ability to take care of the common cultural resources of the city, to teach, to transmit, to prevent their destruction.

It is very important to talk about “capabilities”

- Human capabilities are the essential possibilities to be guaranteed to a human being to make his or her life worth living.

- And it is very important to reformulate the principle of treating each person as an end, articulating it as the principle of providing each person with the fundamental capabilities for each and every one.

- Since it is necessary to make politically concrete the idea of a life in harmony with human dignity, human capabilities play a particularly central and pervasive role in everything that is planned and realized. Above all, it is necessary to improve all those factors that increase human dignity, such as language, the surrounding environment, social relations, leisure time, all of which are outside the scope of a purely distributive analysis of available resources. It is not so much the resources or income available that count, but the actual freedom to choose between a series of possible lives. This makes a city a potential place for effective personal and community emancipation, also in the cultural sphere.

The five capabilities, as described in the 2020 Rome Charter, make one understand the importance of being able to use imagination and thought in relation to one’s own experience, the production of creative works and artistic manifestations. And they make you understand the importance of being able to exercise your critical sense in a way protected by the guarantees of freedom of expression.

This is very important because today “the city has been transformed into the place of new cultures that are emerging and imposing themselves with a new language and a new symbology” (Aparecida 510). In the urban world complex cultural transformations take place that have an impact on all dimensions of life (see Aparecida 511).

Talking about human capabilities helps to build citizenship.

Pope Francis as Archbishop of Buenos Aires wrote:

“Living in a big city nowadays is a very complex thing, since the ties of race, history and culture are not homogeneous, and the same civil rights are not shared equally by all residents. There are many “non-citizens”, “half citizens” and “second-class citizens” in the city, either because they do not enjoy full rights (the excluded, foreigners, sans-papiers, children without schooling, the elderly and the sick without social security coverage), or because they are not in compliance with their duties”.

Bergoglio wrote in 2010 that it is necessary to “recover the effectiveness of being a citizen”. It is necessary to transform oneself “from an inhabitant to a citizen”.

It seems to me that the capabilities described by the 2020 Rome Charter are ordered precisely to live a correct citizenship that focuses on cooperation and not competition, empathy and not selfishness, which values the social responsibility of art.

In this sense I would like to point out two further points of reflection:

We cannot forget the Internet in the so called smart cities. Participation and membership risk being considered the result of a “consensus” and therefore a “product” of communication. In this context, the steps of participation risk being resolved in a sort of “login procedure”, perhaps even on the basis of a “contract”, which also allows a quick disconnection (logoff). The rootedness in democracy would result in a sort of “installation” (set up) of a program (software) in a machine (hardware, the State, the City…), which can therefore easily be “uninstalled” (uninstall).

But we have to recall that Pope Francis himself had stated in 2016 that “true citizenship is also built on the Net”. The point is: how can we live with the Internet as a form of participation and citizenship without falling into demagogic shortcuts?

People who would accept this concept as the basic moral core of a political conception, without sharing any particular metaphysical interpretation of the world, no ethical-religious vision, or even no particular conception of the person or human nature.

In Cuba, speaking to the young people, Pope Francis said among other things:

“Open hearts, open minds… Why are we always arguing about what separates us, about what makes us different? Why do we not shake hands in what we have in common? We must have the courage to talk about what we have in common… But this is only possible when I have the ability to talk about what I have in common with the other, about what we are capable of working together”.

And then he told one of his experiences:

“In Buenos Aires — in a new parish, in a very, very poor area — a group of young university students were building some parish premises. And the parish priest said to me: “Why don’t you come one Saturday and I will introduce you to them? ”. They were dedicated to building on Saturdays and Sundays. They were students from the university. I went and saw them, and he introduced them to me: “This is the architect, he’s Jewish, this is Communist, this is a practicing Catholic, this is…”. They were all different, but they were all working together for the common good”.

I insist a lot on this point. Cultural capabilities build the “culture of encounter” and mean the passion in wanting to design something that involves everyone. This culture implies the ability to recognize to the other the right to be oneself in its difference, making the difference an opportunity to realize a good that benefits everyone. The 2020 Rome Charter imagines a more inclusive, democratic and sustainable city. Its realization is in the hands of all those who inhabit it.

And the meeting is expressed in a way of treating others that is kindness, as we read in the 2020 Rome Charter, understood as attention not to hurt others with words or gestures, but which also includes saying words of encouragement, which give strength, which stimulate, which make possible a space of listening in the midst of so much indifference. This effort, lived every day, is capable of creating that healthy coexistence that overcomes misunderstandings and prevents conflicts”.

Kindness presupposes esteem and respect, and therefore deeply transforms lifestyle, social relationships, the way of debating and comparing ideas. It facilitates the search for consensus and opens roads where exasperation destroys all bridges.

And it is really true: today more than ever, in this time of Covid-19, we are discovering in our cities unexpected resources of kindness, solidarity and courage. And it seems to me that the capabilities described in the 2020 Rome Charter are ordered precisely to live a correct citizenship that focuses on cooperation and not competition, empathy and not selfishness, which values the social responsibility of art.

Director of La Civiltà Cattolica @CivCatt, Consultor at Pontifical @VaticanCultura, Board of Directors @Georgetown University. Jesuit.