Culture is at the core of city recovery say UNESCO and World Bank at World Urban Forum


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14 February 2018
Today across the globe, sixty-six million people are displaced, with one-third of them living in cities. These numbers are expected to grow significantly because of the increased frequency of natural disasters and continued conflicts.  With such challenges, cities need to mainstream culture as an enabler and driver of their post-conflict and post-disaster efforts.
These issues were at the center of the UNESCO-World Bank joint event “Culture, Reconstruction and Recovery” held on 10 February during the World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia).  
“Culture, through heritage and creativity, embodies the identities and sense of belonging of communities and can serve as a key resource of city reconstruction and recovery, while promoting community ownership, social inclusion and economic recovery,” said Lazare Eloundou Assomo, Deputy Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, together with Ahmed Eiweida, World Bank Global Lead for Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism. 
Mayors, city-level practitioners, and international experts participating in the event identified principles for a culture-based city reconstruction and recovery framework.  The debate will inform the White Paper “Culture, Reconstruction, Recovery:  Sustainable development policies to address the impact of conflicts, disasters and crises in cities”, that UNESCO and the World Bank are jointly elaborating, and which was introduced at the event. 
“Culture should be placed at the core of reconstruction and recovery processes by embedding cultural and natural heritage as well as intangible heritage and creativity into integrated strategies that rely on both people-centred and place-based approaches,” said Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience.  He stressed that cities need to incorporate culture as a key resource, asset, and tool, and build on the “3-Ps” approach (people, places, policies) set out in the UNESCO Global Report, Culture Urban Future, to respond successfully to the challenges they face.
As an example of practical ways in which to do this, Jennifer Semakula-Musisi, Executive Director of the Kampala Capital City Authority, outlined post-conflict recovery in the context of Uganda, where the population is culturally-diverse and 1.4 million refugees from the sub-region are hosted.  “In Kampala, through the organization of the Kampala Festival and the building of key symbolic monuments, culture has become a rallying point; it is an essential tool to promote shared understanding, social inclusion, reconciliation, and engagement of all citizens and notably the youth,” she said. 
Santa Fe, Argentina is another example of disaster recovery and urban transformation following the devastating floods of 2017.  The city is regenerating itself, using culture as a key reference for the collective memory of citizens who not only need to heal from the trauma but also adopt forward-looking development strategies where new heritage can be created, and new institutions established.  “Culture is a fundamental asset for the recovery of people, particularly marginalized groups that are most vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters,” said Mayor José Manuel Corral.
Other examples of culture providing solutions to urban shocks and distress include Beirut, Phnom Penh, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo, where urban regeneration strategies strengthen the sense of ownership and belonging, communities benefit from quality public spaces and cultural services, and cultural heritage and creativity foster economic, social and environmental recovery.   “The White Paper a is key step forward as it reflects an institutional shift with a clear objective to integrate culture into people-centred and place-based strategies” said Eric Huybrechts, Architect and Urban Planner, Head of International Affairs of the Institut d'Aménagement et d'Urbanisme d'Île-de-France, France. 
With the elaboration of the UNESCO-World Bank White Paper, cities in post-disaster and post-conflict scenarios will have a framework to help them integrate the protection of cultural heritage and the promotion of creativity in their recovery, reconstruction and development strategies, helping to make them more inclusive, resilient and competitive in the future.