We’re writing the year 2024 – a vision

The feuilletons of quality European newspapers are reporting on a comparatively small, unknown, but surprisingly innovative city outside of Vienna. The focus of interest is not on new construction projects or major events, but on courageous and innovative approaches to established structures as a way of actively reshaping the city’s future for coming generations, working together with local actors and inspired by European ideas. Experimental artistic, applied scientific, but also practical neighbourly projects enable a testing and trying of ideas, learning from mistakes and making the future of this city more tangible and malleable.

Art as catalyst

St. Pölten has successfully developed a sophisticated theoretical approach that uses the form of artistic implementation or intervention to have an impact that goes far beyond the typical audiences, thanks to a strong focus on art mediation from major institutions to initiatives and players in the independent scene. A broadly-focused analysis and discussion process was used to define topical fields at the intersection of present and future, actual and desired conditions, thus forming starting points and points of departure for artistic practice.

The potential of the arts as a motor and/or catalyst for social development reaches its highest level of efficiency through new, ambitious forms of outreach art mediation. This is particularly evident with regard to groups of children and young people. The combination of reinforcing and strengthening what was already there (such as the music schools and creative academies, for example) went hand in hand with an approach that specifically enabled self-empowerment and the opening of creative spaces such as rehearsal rooms and studios. Throughout the course of the Capital of Culture project, children and young people – as subjects and objects of the joint further development of the city of the future – draw new inspiration, adopt new ideas and new spaces for discussion and possibilities, epitomising the notion of sustainable, long-term impact.

The neighbourhood as a field of action

We live in a Europe challenged not only in its basic understanding of unity, solidarity and prosperity, but also in terms of such fundamental values as democracy and peace. Though resolving such issues goes beyond what can be expected of cities, the European idea starts with people at home. Peaceful, cooperative co-existence with mutual respect for others is as much a clear, non-negotiable goal for the EU community as it is for a small village in Lower Austria.

The EU’s motto is “united in diversity”, an idea that serves as one of the leitmotifs for the European Capital of Culture year in St. Pölten. Just as good neighbourliness between member states in the EU is crucial to resolving its greatest challenges, a city and its region depend on good cooperation and a strong spirit of community between municipalities, districts, institutions, associations and citizens.

In St. Pölten itself, the potential of this approach has become tangible in the form of many small neighbourhood projects. Not every one was successful, but we have learned from our mistakes and today we can see, for example, playgrounds conceived with the neighbourhood in mind, new uses for and cultural displays in public spaces, contact points for future projects in every district, new technological applications (developed and tested in St. Pölten) for organising voluntary work and for innovative shared taxi systems to enhance mobility in the cities and regions. Experimental opportunities arose by maintaining focus on the dazzling idea while simultaneously providing the greatest possible organisational and administrative support.

New networks

The city’s newly established network was key to the emergence of a certain pioneering spirit. The great and ambitious goal of becoming European Capital of Culture defined a vision of the future that inspired St. Pölten to try new approaches and ideas. Tailor-made concepts for St. Pölten were developed together with local actors in cooperation with other European cities, in discussions with visionary experts from various fields, and by analysis of best-practice examples. New, mutually enriching connections were drawn between schools and cultural institutions, between universities, voluntary associations and businesses, urban planners and new initiatives of civil society, historians and futurologists, artists and the population, i.e. between citizens and Europe. 

Connections to our European neighbours do not take place vertically from the national to the European levels, but horizontally between European regions, cities, institutions and citizens. After all, irrespective of country and language, we share not only a cultural area, but also challenges – from questions of urban development, mobility and educational infrastructure to social issues such as the integration of new residents or rising numbers of people in need of care, new forms of inclusion, and the population’s participation in urban processes of transformation.

Capital of Culture preparations in St. Pölten had a guiding maxim: “Let’s develop the European City of the Future!” Art and culture serving as tools, even driving forces on the path to tomorrow, have opened testing grounds where innovation and the pioneering spirit can be seen, heard, felt and lived by locals, Austrian and European visitors alike. The Capital of Culture as forge for the future!

28 May 2018


Jakob Redl
Project Manager St. Pölten 2024


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