UNESCO shows how culture gives cities social and economic power

Culture has the power to make cities more prosperous, safer, and sustainable.UNESCO’s Global Report, Culture: Urban Future presents evidence on how development policies in line with UNESCO’s conventions on the protection and promotion of culture and heritage can benefit cities.

Current trends show that urbanisation will continue to increase in scale and speed, particularly in Africa and Asia, which are set to be 54 and 64 per cent urban by 2050. The world is projected to have 41 mega cities by 2030, each home to at least 10mn people. Massive and rapid urbanisation can often exacerbate challenges for cities creating more slums and poor access to public spaces as well as having a negative impact on the environment. This process often leads to a rise in unemployment, social inequality, discrimination and violence.

Culture: Urban Future makes the case that culture needs to be fully integrated into urban strategies to ensure their sustainability, as well as a better quality of life for residents.
“Culture lies at the heart of urban renewal and innovation. This Report provides a wealth of insights and concrete evidence showing the power of culture as a strategic asset for creating cities that are more inclusive, creative and sustainable,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO.

As the United Nations works to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the timing is crucial to implement the best policies to strengthen cities, notably with regard to Sustainable Development Goal 11, which, which calls for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable human settlements and cities.

The report analyses the situation, threats and opportunities in different regional contexts, and presents a global picture of tangible and intangible urban heritage conservation and safeguarding, along with the promotion of cultural and creative industries, as a basis for sustainable urban development. It also highlights the conservation and tourist management challenges facing urban areas inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, which make up nearly one-third of the 1,052 sites on the list.

More than 100 case studies are cited in the report detailing the impact of culture in cities, including those in conflict and post-conflict situations. Following the destruction of invaluable sites such as the Al-Askari Shrine in the city of Samarra (Iraq) in 2006 and the ancient mausoleums of Timbuktu in Mali in 2012, reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts have demonstrated the ability of culture to restore social cohesion between communities and improve livelihoods, paving the way for dialogue and reconciliation.

The report also identifies several innovative strategies for the preservation of housing in historic areas, essential to communities’ identity and wellbeing. For example, in Quito (Ecuador), public subsidies have been given to owners to restore residential buildings and forestall the gentrification of historic areas.

The role of the creative industries in fostering long-term economic growth in cities is also highlighted in the case of Shanghai, China, a UNESCO Creative City of Design since 2010. The city is one of the world’s major creative centres, with more than 7.4 per cent of residents employed in the creative industries.

Key recommendations in the report include a range of measures aim to: recognise and promote cultural diversity for cities, integrate culture to counter urban violence, ensure investment to enhance culture, cultural heritage and creativity in urban planning.


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