Federation for
Housing and

Inclusivity Through Festivals?

What about the social role of festivals?

Kate Terzano - Each year on April 30th, the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day – a day where people dress in orange (the national color), play music, throw parties, and buy and sell old clothes, spare bicycle parts, and random trinkets in a massive, country-wide rummage sale.  It’s a hugely important holiday held in honor of the Queen, but really it’s a festival for the people.

As a foreigner living in the Netherlands, I hadn’t experienced Queen’s Day before.  Of course, I was impressed by the sheer number of people who staked out spots on the sidewalks to sell their used things.  In my neighborhood, people even began camping out the night before.  But I was more interested in the concept of the day (along with the previous evening – Queen’s Night) as a festival.  Usually, we talk about festivals as economic generators for cities.  Festivals attract tourists (both local tourists and out of towners), and that makes money for a city.  Festivals can also be a way of helping promote a certain image for a city – sometimes to the degree that the festivals are synonymous with the city.  After all, we know that you go to Munich for Oktoberfest and to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

But what about the social role of festivals? As planners, I think we tend to overlook the social experience of festivals.  I walked around The Hague on Queen’s Night, listening to the free open-air concerts.  I began to wonder, what makes festivals socially, economically, and culturally inclusive?  Did this Dutch holiday celebrate the cultural diversity of its population?  With the celebrations on the streets over this 48-hour period, the city was the most open – and the most culturally mixed – that I’ve seen it.

So yes, the holiday seemed to appeal to a wide spectrum of people, and that in itself could be a marker of success. But are there other social points about festivals that are worth considering?  Is it possible to generalize about festivals?  For starters, they need community support to be economically successful.  They usually need a symbolic, cultural meaning to make them memorable and distinct.  And they often reflect how community members identify.  As such, festivals can be a way of strengthening a sense of community and place.

What kinds of festivals do you see in your city?  Are they inclusive?

Kate Terzano is Content Manager at The International Federation for Housing and Planning
Image courtesy of Sjoerd SW