From February 13 to 15, over 50 representatives of nearly 25 UNESCO World Heritage Cities followed an invitation by the Mayor of Vienna to attend a conference of the OWHC, the Organization of World Heritage Cities, at Vienna City Hall. It was a forum for exchange and deliberation on the challenges facing dynamic cities between the development and preservation of their World Heritage Sites.
The City of Vienna has been an active member of the OWHC for years, and has repeatedly been elected to the OWHC Board of Directors. The OWHC is organised in Regional Secretariats, and thanks to the Austrian capital’s favourable location at the heart of Europe, Vienna plays a key role mediating between the members and bringing together different regions in the network. Its key role has been emphasised in the past by joint initiatives and a successful workshop. This time, delegations came to Vienna from cities in all parts of the world, ranging from Mexico to China. In addition to European UNESCO World Heritage Cities like Amsterdam, Berlin, Bordeaux, Bruges, Brussels, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Krakow, Prague, Riga and Warsaw, the Conference also attracted participants representing the Historic Centre of Baku, Moscow, Istanbul, St. Petersburg and Tel Aviv.
OWHC Secretary General Denis Ricard, who joined the Conference from Quebec, appreciates the long-standing, successful partnership with Vienna: “I am not surprised to see that an international Conference of World Heritage Cities that attracts an international audience like this was organised by Vienna, of all cities. A walk through the Historic City Centre of Vienna demonstrates how a highly committed city can successfully reconcile dynamic development, high quality of life for the population, and preservation of its cultural heritage.”
The OWHC was founded in 1993; its secretariat is based in Quebec. More than 300 cities inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List are members of the organisation today.
The conference, initiated by Ernst Woller, the First President of the Parliament of the Province of Vienna and Permanent Representative of the City of Vienna to the OWHC, was jointly organised by the City of Vienna and OWHC, with significant support from the Austrian Federal Chancellery, the Austrian Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs, as well as UNESCO and ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites. The presence of Mechthild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and ICOMOS Austria President Caroline Jäger-Klein underscored the special importance of the Conference.
The event was formally opened by Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig, who once again emphasised that protecting and managing its cultural heritage are central tasks for Vienna. “The City of Vienna invests heavily in preserving the historic city centre and protecting its heritage of cultural assets. Vienna is a living city in full development – it is not a museum. We need to focus on combining conservation and development”, the Mayor explained in his opening remarks.
As President of the Vienna Provincial Parliament, Ernst Woller sums up the challenges facing World Heritage Cities: “Cities are home to more than half of the world’s population. Many of these Cities also have World Heritage Sites that require protection. What is more, almost all cities are undergoing rapid growth and dynamic development, which needs to be reconciled with World Heritage preservation. Cities bear social responsibility and have to remain living, liveable habitats for everyone who lives there.”
A two-day workshop provided an opportunity for the participating experts and political representatives from OWHC Member Countries to describe their individual challenges between urban development and World Heritage, and to exchange their experience in this context. Various aspects such as tourism, pollution, demographic dynamics, mobility issues and stakeholder involvement were stressed to be influencing the balance between preservation and development. Therefore, the cities wish to intensify the exchange among each other as well as to foster the dialogue with UNESCO and ICOMOS in order to frame these challenges adequately.
The cities’ representatives discussed the potential of a vivid transdisciplinary dialogue with e.g. experts, inhabitants, architects or owners of restored properties. They stressed the relevance of education on cultural heritage for a broader public. Accordingly, mainstreaming the cultural heritage in order to oppose cultural amnesia is a common interest of the participating cities. Incentives for private sector investments, suitable architectural solutions or concerted stakeholder involvement processes are crucial issues as well. In order to preserve the basis for World Heritage, the cities agreed on the importance to enhance the quality of life for their inhabitants, to maintain attractive destinations for tourists and to remain livable and thriving urban areas.
The Vienna Declaration on the Preservation, Development and Management of World Heritage in Dynamic Cities, which was signed by the participating cities at Vienna City Hall on 15 February, is a synopsis of the agreements reached at the conference. The Vienna Declaration is not only supported by the cities that were represented during the Conference, but also by those which were involved in the process and could not join the gathering, such as the cities of Quebec and Quito. The Mayor of Quebec, who is also the President of the OWHC for the 2017-2019 period, confirms that he agrees with the Declaration: “We support this vision and agree with the objective of developing an integrated method, as preservation is not an isolated activity but part of the sustainable development covering the social, the economic and the cultural sector.“ Quito, which is also a member of the Board of Directors of the OWHC, mentioned: “Our cities are dynamic and constantly evolving and so should be our concept of heritage, particularly since this concept is built on the relationship between the historical object and the people who inhabit it.“
“The City of Vienna is aware of its valuable heritage and does its very best to guarantee the protection of the city’s priceless cultural and architectural assets. At the same time, more and more people are attracted by the high quality of life Vienna offers and choose to live, work or study here. Reconciling these various tasks is a challenge, but Vienna is not the only city facing this challenge. The high number of participants at the conference shows quite impressively how many cities are committed to finding a way to reconcile growth and preservation“, explains Maria Vassilakou, Deputy Mayor and Executive City Councillor for Urban Planning in Vienna, who actively took part in the deliberations at the Conference.
The structured dialogue between UNESCO World Heritage Cities and the institutions in charge of World Heritage preservation will increasingly be continued via the OWHC in the future, benefiting from the member cities’ vast experience and mediating between them to provide effective support with the challenges they face.
Press photos are available online at https://www.wien.gv.at/presse/bilder