Recent years have seen significant interest among urban policy-makers and researchers in the relationships between culture and urban strategies. The articles contained in this special issue address this theme being evolved versions of selected papers presented at workshops organised by the French and British Planning Studies Group in Liverpool and Lille during 2008 on the theme of 'European Cities and Capitals of Culture'.1 The French and British Planning Study Group (FBPSG) is a thematic group of the Association of European Schools of Planning (AESOP) and brings together academics and practitioners from both sides of the channel who have an interest in Franco-British comparative study. It does this through a network of members and bi-annual meetings held alternately in France and Britain. Membership of the group is defined only by an interest in, and a willingness to discuss, the differences between spatial planning and urban policy in France and Britain. Themes to be studied in the French and British contexts are selected for each year and papers are invited from members of the group and from outside experts in the chosen theme. Presentations and participant interventions may be made in either French or English, as individuals prefer reflecting a commitment to intercultural dialogue and exchange and ongoing debates on the internationalisation of planning research in recent years (Kunzmann, 2004; Yiftachel, 2006; Stiftel and Mukhopadhyay, 2007). The group's activities can also be seen against the backdrop of recent work that emphasises the importance of different 'planning cultures' in conditioning the nature of planning practices and the nature of the issues or problems that planning is called upon to address in different societies (Knieling and Othengrafen, 2009; Sanyal, 2005; Healey and Upton, 2010). As noted above, in 2008 the theme selected to guide the group's activities was 'European Cities and Capitals of Culture'. The theme and the location of the meetings were particularly appropriate and timely given that Liverpool was European Capital of Culture (ECoC) in 2008 and that Lille had been designated as such in 2004. The potential for cross-national learning and comparison was therefore felt to be great and papers were invited on a range of topics relating to culture, planning and urban development. The papers gathered together in the present issue recount the experiences of past and forthcoming ECoCs in France and Britain and other cities that have pursued cultural initiatives as part of their wider urban development strategies.
Situating European cities and capitals of culture
In his book Europe, une mauvaise marque? ['Europe, a bad brand?'], the French marketing expert and academic Georges Lewi argues that 'Europe' has become a well-known but unattractive 'brand' for citizens that no longer conveys a clear sense of purpose or direction (Lewi, 2004). With the original goals of European integration of securing peace and prosperity having been broadly achieved, the merits and goals of the maturing 'European project' have become the subject of more divergent and contested readings among citizens and political parties in the EU member states. The 2000s were a difficult and contradictory decade for the idea and practice of European integration and governance, during which the largest-ever single enlargement of the EU contrasted with a growing 'euroscepticism' in a number of longstanding member states - most dramatically manifested by the rejection of the EU Constitutional Treaty by voters in France and the Netherlands in 2005. However, regardless of the vagaries and controversies of wider processes of European integration and governance and the mediation of different nations' and groups' relationships with, and understandings of, 'Europe' and the EU (which it is far beyond the scope of the present issue to address), the ECoC programme provides a striking example of cities and regions proactively seeking to associate the term 'European' with their particular places and territories. …