Culture lies at the heart of urban renewal and innovation

30 December 2016

Culture has the power to make cities more prosperous, safer and sustainable, according to UNESCO's Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Urban Development ‘Culture: Urban Future’, launched this year in Quito (Ecuador) on the occasion of the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Development (Habitat III). The Report recommends building on culture as a sustainable resource for inclusive economic and social development for cities.

Urbanization is swiftly increasing across the globe; by 2030 the world is projected to have 41 mega cities, each being the home to more than 10 million people. In cities, large and small, increasing migration means increasing cultural diversity, which must be tapped into as a sustainable source of creativity, innovation and inclusive development. As centres of cultural exchange and built heritage, cities are reclaiming public spaces as a means of promoting debate, creative expression and social interaction. “The cities of tomorrow must be people-centred and resilient, with livable built and natural environments, rural-urban linkages, and quality public spaces. This requires innovative and integrated policy-making, with culture at the core of urban planning and regeneration, so as to ensure sustainability and improved quality of life for people” said Francesco Bandarin, Assistant Director-General for Culture of UNESCO.

As a follow-up to Habitat III and the launch of ‘Culture: Urban Future’, UNESCO will bring together from 12 to 13 January 2017 experts, international organizations and academic institutions from across the world to develop a road map for the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development through culture in an urban context. Sustainable Development Goal 11 calls for inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable human settlements and cities, and is in focus in the Report, whose key Recommendations include measures that aim to: recognize and promote cultural diversity for cities, integrate culture to counter urban violence, and ensure investment to enhance culture, cultural heritage and creativity in urban planning. UNESCO’s Urban Network on Culture will contribute to the implementation of these Recommendations, and to promoting the safeguarding, conservation and management of heritage, as well as creative and cultural industries in urban settings.

The Report serves as a point of reference, with over 100 case studies detailing how development policies in line with UNESCO's Culture Conventions on the protection and promotion of tangible and intangible cultural heritage, the diversity of cultural expressions and cultural industries can benefit cities by addressing unemployment, social inequality, discrimination and violence. Cities in conflict and post-conflict situations can make use of models such as Samarra (Iraq) or Timbuktu (Mali), where reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts have demonstrated the ability of culture to restore social cohesion between communities and improve livelihoods. The role of the creative industries in fostering long-term economic growth as in Shanghai (China), a UNESCO Creative City of Design since 2010, the tourist management challenges facing urban areas inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and the use of historic urban landscapes in urban planning and regeneration as in Rawalpindi (Pakistan), are also fully developed in the Report, providing concrete models for mayors, policy-makers, and urban strategists.