Cultural Heritage and the Just City

The New Urban Agenda, signed in Quito Ecuador in 2016, calls for a broad and holistic understanding of the strategies and approaches needed to develop more sustainable urban transformations.  Importantly, it appears to correct a cultural-blindness in sustainable development policies and practices by insisting on the importance of cultural diversity in efforts to promote more progressive urban transitions.

In particular, it notes the important contribution of culture to addressing impacts of climate change, promoting equitable and affordable access and developing peaceful, inclusive and participatory cities.

Within the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 11, there is also recognition that coordinated action is needed to “Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage” (Goal 11.4).

This all builds on long-standing campaigning from the United Cities and Local Governments to position culture as the fourth pillar of sustainable urban development.

The Urban Institute is engaged in developing comparative networks to explore how culture – and cultural heritage in particular – can play a role in supporting more just urban transformations.

We are sharing knowledge about past and existing initiatives in Cape Town, Kisumu, Gothenburg and Greater Manchester to connect local cultural policies and actions to the aims of realising just cities. This includes learning from cultural democracy experiments, cultural heritage interventions, festivals and local planning processes.

As part of this work a panel discussion was convened at the international Music, Festivals and Heritage conference in Siena in May 2017, organised by the JPI Heritage Plus CHIME project (link to The panel included presentations by Professor Beth Perry, on ‘The role and value of cultural heritage in realising just cities: what can we from a festival gaze’; by Dr Niklas Sorum (University of Gothenburg) on local cultural planning tools for urban justice; and by Dr Rike Sitas (University of Cape Town) on cultural heritage, public life and socio-spatial justice in Cape Town. Work is continuing through a review of the potential and pitfalls of festivals as integrative sites for the use and reuse of tangible and intangible heritage in cities.

This work is funded by the JPI Heritage Plus programme and the Mistra Urban Futures Realising Just Cities programme.