Integration of culture with urban strategies can make cities sustainable

Culture is what makes cities attractive and creative. Sans culture, cities are merely concrete and steel constructions prone to social and environmental degradation

By DTE Staff
Published: Wednesday 19 October 2016

The world is projected to have 41 mega cities by 2030, each home to at least 10 million people
Credit: Vidur Malhotra/Flickr

A UNESCO publication, Global Report, Culture: Urban Future, says that taking the culture pathway can make our cities more safe and sustainable.

As urbanisation continues to increase with rapid speed, especially in Asia and Africa, cities all over the world are facing multiple challenges such as unemployment, social inequality, discrimination and violence.

The report adds that culture needs to be fully integrated while planning urban strategies to ensure better quality of life. “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,” Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, said.

Culture is what makes cities attractive and creative. History shows that culture is at the heart of urban development, as seen through important landmarks, heritage and tradition. Sans culture, cities are merely concrete and steel constructions prone to social and environmental degradation.

Expanding cities

The world is projected to have 41 mega cities by 2030, each home to at least 10 million people. Urbanisation in Africa and Asia are set to be 54 and 64 per cent respectively by 2050, according to the report.

Currently, urban pressure and unregulated land use in Africa are threatening heritage and contributing to the loss of traditional community values and practices.

Preservation becomes important as the continent, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, has an important tradition of urban settlements, dating back as early as the eighth century.

South Asia is home to the largest and densest cities in the world, which are marked by informality and urban poverty. The report calls for risk mitigation policies and preventive management mechanisms for protection of urban heritage, in view of the region’s vulnerability to natural disasters.

Conserving heritage

The report urges urban heritage conservation and protection, along with the promotion of cultural and creative industries. It 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 it.

Conservation is important as more than 100 case studies are cited in the report, detailing the impact of culture in cities, including those facing conflict and post-conflict situations.

Following the destruction of 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 show that culture can go a long way in restoring social ties between communities and improving livelihoods.

Preservation of housing in historic areas also finds a mention in the UNESCO report. For instance, in Quito (Ecuador), public subsidies have been given to owners to restore residential buildings and forestall the gentrification of historic areas.

Creative industries foster long-term economic growth as is the case with 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 residents employed in creative industries.

Looking for solution

The report contains a range of measures aimed to recognise and promote the cultural diversity for cities. Some of these include promoting the natural environment, ensuring social inclusion, improving resilience of cities and enhancing their liveability.

Following these recommendations can make our cities more attractive, the report says. The Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 11) aims to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.

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