Critical Heritage Studies

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Heritage & Sustainable Development: the role of participatory heritage practices in historic cities

The binomial Heritage & Sustainable Development is increasingly becoming high in societal agendas, being integrated part of debates on urban development, policy making, citizens’ quality of life, adaptive reuse and circular economy, among others. Within academia, Heritage & Sustainability studies are a growing interdisciplinary field, which includes a broad range of disciplines linked to environment, society and economy. Within the sustainable development discourse, heritage finds its mention in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2016), target 11.4 – strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage. In this perspective, heritage preservation is considered a goal of sustainable development in itself, but much interdisciplinary and intersectoral research is currently done to understand the broader impact that heritage management and preservation can have on the achievement of all sustainability goals, beyond 11.4.

Inclusive stakeholders’ participation is considered a condition to sustainable heritage practices and is increasingly advocated for by academic research, grey literature and international policy frameworks. The impact of participatory heritage practices is mainly investigated through the analysis of case studies worldwide, but little attempt has been made so far to theorize participatory practices’ contribution to sustainable development. Moreover, the study of singular local cases and the comparison of few of them fail to provide an international overview of current practices and greater opportunities for mutual learning.

Figure: Mayors Workshop at OWHC XIV World Congress, 2017, Gyeongju, South Korea.

The doctoral research project of Ilaria Rosetti (2018-2022) aims to fill this gap by answering the question ‘how do participatory heritage practices play a role in achieving sustainable development in historic cities?’. Through a systematic literature review, three main roles of participation have been identified: participation to culture as a right, as a driver of sustainable development and as an enabler of the continuity of sustainability-oriented heritage practices on the long-term. In this framework, quality of participation and continuity of practices can determine which role participatory practices have in addressing sustainable development.

Her research develops along three lines: first, by looking at international policy frameworks to understand if participation to culture is acknowledged as a right, and what other roles of participation are promoted; second, by exploring current participatory practices in historic cities worldwide, working in collaboration with the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), observing trends, differences and similarities; third, by applying this knowledge to the analysis of the case of Antwerp. The two main aim of this project are to raise awareness on the fundamental roles played by participatory heritage practices inachieving sustainable development at large and in the long-term, advocating for a better integration of these practices in sustainability agendas, and providing cities with knowledge and tools to improve participation and maximize its transformative potential in the process of change towards more sustainable cities.  

Figure: Theoretical framework, extracted from Rosetti I., Jacobs M., Pereira Roders A. (2020). Heritage and Sustainability. A reflection on the role of participatory heritage practices in sustainable development. Proceedings LDE conference Heritage and the Sustainable Development Goals, 26-29 November 2019, Delft. (soon to be published)