New Life for Historic Cities

  • Tangible and intangible heritage are sources of social cohesion, factors of diversity and drivers of creativity, innovation and urban regeneration – we must do more to
    harness this power.’ – Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO at the World Urban Forum (Naples, 2012)
  • Urban heritage constitutes a key resource in enhancing the livability of urban areas. It fosters economic development and social cohesion in a changing global environment. This booklet calls to involve more people in preservation efforts, raise levels of awareness, and seek innovative schemes. By actively engaging public, private and civic sectors the city, historic and contemporary, can be better preserved and celebrated.
  • Urban heritage is of vital importance for our cities – now and in the future. Tangible
    and intangible urban heritage are sources of social cohesion, factors of diversity and drivers of creativity, innovation and urban regeneration.
  • The key to understanding and managing any historic urban environment is the recognition that the city is not a static monument or group of buildings, but subject to dynamic forces in the economic, social and cultural spheres that shaped it and keep shaping it. This booklet advocates that a historic context and new development can interact and mutually reinforce their role and meaning.
  • UNESCO’s approach to managing historic urban landscapes is holistic; it integrates
    the goals of urban heritage conservation and those of social and economic development. This method sees urban heritage as a social, cultural and economic asset for the development of cities.
  • The recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape was adopted on 10 November 2011 by UNESCO’s General Conference.
  • The historic urban landscape approach moves beyond the preservation of the physical environment, and focuses on the entire human environment with all of its
    tangible and intangible qualities. It seeks to increase the sustainability of planning and design interventions by taking into account the existing built environment, intangible heritage, cultural diversity, socio-economic and environmental factors along with local community values.
  • The historic urban landscape approach sees and interprets the city as a continuum in time and space. Countless population groups have left their mark, and continue to do so today.
  • As an approach, it considers cultural diversity and creativity as key assets for human,
    social and economic development. It is an alternative method to cutting the city up
    through ‘zoning’ into separate conservation areas, which thereby become ghettos of
    historic preservation. To these ends, UNESCO works with cities to support the integration of environmental, social and cultural concerns into the planning, design and implementation of urban development.
  • In many cities this approach has had very positive and encouraging results. For each
    local situation a balance is reached between preservation and protection of urban heritage, economic development, functionality and livability of a city. Thus the needs of current inhabitants are responded to while sustainably enhancing the city’s natural and cultural resources for future generations.
  • The different approaches – heritage, economic, environmental and sociocultural –
    do not conflict; they are complementary and their long-term success is dependent on them being linked together.
  • The historic urban landscape is the result of the layering and intertwining of cultural and natural values over time. Beyond the notion of ‘historic centre,’ it includes the broader urban context and its geographical setting.
  • How can a city become a stable ecosystem?
  • How can action and planning law work together in order to achieve climate-resilience for cities?
  • Can urban conservation serve the needs of local communities, including the poor and the marginalized?
  • How can future generations be engaged in maintaining the continuation of urban life?
  • Which new financial tools are needed for the management of the historic urban landscape?
  • Can we sustain and enhance the identity of cities as a way to brand them?
  • How can urban conservation promote new forms of productivity and socioeconomic development?
  • If dealt with properly, urban heritage will act as a catalyst for socio-economic development through tourism, commercial use, and higher land and property values – thereby providing the revenues out of which to pay for maintenance, restoration and rehabilitation.
  • Urban heritage areas generate much higher returns than areas devoid of any culturalhistoric significance. Proximity to world-class monuments and sites usually draws high-end service-sector businesses and residents, who are willing to pay more for locations with prestige and status. This is reflected in land and property values.
  • The 250-plus historic cities that have been included in the World Heritage List deliver very significant socio-economic benefits at the local and national levels – not only through tourism and related goods and services, but also through other functions. For instance, Salzburg (Austria) constitutes only 6 per cent of the country’s population, but contributes 25 per cent of its net economic product.
  • Urban heritage areas often demand enhanced management, because of more and/or stricter regulations controlling and monitoring the built environment, which improves planning and design if properly executed. This, in turn, increases certainty for investors as regards the safety of their investments in the long term.
  • The historic urban landscape approach in action
  • 1. Undertake a full assessment of the city’s natural, cultural and human resources;
  • 2. Use participatory planning and stakeholder consultations to decide on conservation aims and actions;
  • 3. Assess the vulnerability of urban heritage to socio-economic pressures and impacts of climate change;
  • 4. Integrate urban heritage values and their vulnerability status into a wider framework of city development;
  • 5. Prioritize policies and actions for conservation and development, including good stewardship;
  • 6. Establish the appropriate (public-private) partnerships and local management frameworks;
  • 7. Develop mechanisms for the coordination of the various activities between different actors.
  • Stadsherstel Paramaribo was established as a foundation in 2011 by Stichting Gebouwd Erfgoed Suriname (site manager of Historic Inner City of Paramaribo, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2002) and De Surinaamsche Bank, the largest private bank in Suriname. Stadsherstel Amsterdam supports, advices and works intensively together with this Surinam initiative, to redevelop and protect built heritage in Paramaribo, the capital city of the South American country. This public-private partnership aims to re-establish the balance between living and working in the inner city through sustainable and commercially viable restoration and management. By giving out shares, businesses and banks can invest, with a modest dividend. In 2013 the foundation will change into a limited liability company, similar to Stadsherstel Amsterdam.
  • The Play the City foundation introduces serious gaming into city-making to test rules and constraints of a given complex urban question and co-design with stakeholders. In conditions where stakes are high and conflicting, city games feed designers with information, which only can arise from the real-time interaction of agents. Play the City has been designing city games for various urban questions internationally. Play the City helps build communities, develop tools for digital urbanism and create strategies for urban development through serious gaming. One of these games was played in Istanbul, focusing on the question of how Istanbul’s vast number of newcomers can be accomodated in an already high-density metropolis under the threat of earthquakes. Participants could “play” the role of the Mayor and use their RFID transport cards to express how they’d tackle urban issues.
  • Ushahidi is a successful non-profit tech company founded in Kenya that specializes in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Ushahidi builds tools for democratizing information, increasing
    transparency and lowering the barriers for individuals to share their stories. One of these tools is the Inherity mobile app, an application that aims to protect cultural heritage by empowering local communities and visitors to lend a hand. Users can record, take a picture and locate on a map any tangible piece of cultural heritage they think is worthwhile. This can be as small as a piece of pottery or as large as a castle.
  • The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. Founded in 1999 by community residents, the Friends fought for the structure’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under threat of demolition. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget. The more than 3 million people who visit the High Line annually have rejuvenated this former brownfield site. Photograph by John Dalton.
  • Disclaimer
  • The present document is distributed for information purposes only and aims neither to interpret nor to complement the Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (2011).
  • The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this brochure do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.
  • Cities are dynamic organisms. There is not a single ‘historic’ city in the world that has retained its ‘original’ character: the concept is a moving target, destined to change with society itself. To preserve the urban historic landscape, strategic and dynamic alliances need to be built between various actors in the urban scene, foremost between public authorities that manage the city and developers and entrepreneurs that operate in the city.