Enhancing Livability in World Heritage Cities
16th World Congress of the OWHC – 7-10 September 2021
World Heritage Cities call for good practices in ensuring conservation and enhancement of their heritage. These practices must take into account that historic cities are living places that evolve and adapt to the realities of communities who live there today. The UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage also indicates this objective and stipulates that States Parties shall endeavor “[…] to adopt a general policy which aims to give the cultural and natural heritage function in the life of the community and to integrate the protection of that heritage into comprehensive planning programmes” (Art. 5(a)). This ability to ensure the preservation of the past while meeting the needs of the present will allow World Heritage Cities to offer a remarkable quality of life to their residents.
At several levels, these cities are already successful models of quality of life and well-being. Their urban fabric, sometimes centuries old, is an example of sustainability and the plurality of this built environment, in its forms and its functions, promotes an essential diversity to create open and inclusive communities. Built on a human scale, these cities also allow those who live there to benefit from high-quality public spaces that are favorable to interactions, exchanges, and solidarity between citizens. It is therefore not surprising that this livability, so typical of World Heritage Cities, is being increasingly cited as an example, and that some of the greatest assets of these places have become a source of inspiration for planners and architects who are designing the cities of tomorrow.
However, World Heritage Cities are also under heavy pressure. In some of them, increasingly unaffordable rents and unsustainable tourism displace local communities that have been living there for generations. In others, unviable urban development contributes to the disappearance of places or practices that carry an invaluable tangible and intangible heritage. And it is without taking into account the increasing climatic upheavals, and the consequent humanitarian crises, which are dangers that weigh more and more heavily on this heritage of humanity. While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced cities to turn their full attention to this unprecedented crisis, it is essential to anticipate from now on that many of these challenges, which directly threaten the quality of life of World Heritage Cities, will eventually be brought back to the forefront.
The unparalleled scale of the current crisis is also a reminder of the urgent need to make historic cities more resilient. While the pandemic has spared no community, some are further weakened by an economic and social crisis that has led to thousands of job losses and business closures. Facing a general decline in their income, many cities must also find solutions to maintain and protect their infrastructure, especially their built heritage. On the other hand, the last few months have also been marked by several inspiring gestures of solidarity to face the crisis. All over the planet, authorities and citizens are joining forces to prepare the recovery and support it with concrete actions to make historic cities more sustainable, able to adapt to the major challenges of the coming decades. These actions are essential to ensure that historic cities can continue to provide each population with high-quality living environments.
Inspired by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the New Urban Agenda and the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) approach, the OWHC wishes to reflect on the solutions that will enhance the livability and highlight the uniqueness of World Heritage Cities. By facing these challenges, they will become even stronger models of urbanity and conviviality.
2021 – Québec, Canada
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