UNESCO and the World Bank place culture at the core of city reconstruction and recovery processes at the 9th World Urban Forum in Malaysia

13 February 2018


On 10 February, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, UNESCO and the World Bank organized a joint event on “Culture, Reconstruction and Recovery”. The event brought together mayors, city-level practitioners, representatives of international organizations, international experts, and representatives of civil society to discuss the guiding principles of a culture-based city reconstruction and recovery framework. The debate aimed at informing the White Paper that UNESCO and the World Bank are elaborating to mainstream culture as an enabler and driver of post-conflict and post-disaster city reconstruction and recovery in UNESCO-World Bank operations. 
Mr Lazare Eloundou Assomou, Deputy Director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, together with Ahmed Eiweida, World Bank Global Lead for Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism, recalled that 66 million people are displaced today, with one-third of them living in cities, and that the number is expected to grow significantly because of increased frequency of natural disasters and continued conflicts. Their joint introduction of the White Paper highlighted that “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”. 
Mr Sameh Wahba, World Bank Global Director for Urban and Territorial Development, Disaster Risk Management and Resilience introduced the innovative framework proposed by the World Bank and UNESCO, and explained that “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”. Building on the “3-Ps” approach (people, places, policies) of the UNESCO Global Report, “Culture Urban Future”, the response to the challenges facing cities needs to build on culture as a key resource, asset, tool. 
Ms Jennifer Semakula-Musisi, Executive Director of the Kampala Capital City Authority, reinforced the importance of culture for post-conflict recovery in the context of Uganda which not only comprises a very culturally-diverse population, but which is also host to 1.4 million refugees from the sub-region. Jennifer Semakula-Musisi unfolded the experience of Kampala, while highlighting the need to engage communities in the recovery process, to allow for its sustainability, and added that “culture is key to rebuilding the minds of the people”, and that, in its wide sense, for instance through the organization of the Kampala Festival, but also through the building of key symbolic monuments, “ culture is rallying point, an essential tool for people to feel at home, part of the society as a whole”. Culture is therefore key to promote a shared understanding, social inclusion, reconciliation, engagement of all citizens and notably the youth. 
As a prime example of disaster recovery following floods, the urban transformation of Santa Fe, Argentina, was presented by its Mayor, Mr José Manuel Corral, who introduced the key elements of the widely-praised regeneration of core elements of the city, including its harbour. The Mayor highlighted the strategic importance of the role of culture, as a key symbol and reference for the collective memory of citizens, who not only need to heal from the trauma of disasters but also to adopt forward-looking recovery strategies where new heritage can be created, and new institutions established. José Manuel Corral emphasized that “culture is a fundamental asset for the recovery of people, particularly marginalized groups that are most vulnerable in the aftermath of disasters”.
Mr Eric Huybrechts, Architect and Urban Planner, Head of International Affairs of the Institut d'Aménagement et d'Urbanisme d'Île-de-France, France, put forward that culture had provided solutions to urban shocks and distress faced by many cities around the world, including Beirut, Phnom Penh, and Rio de Janeiro. Notably, the culture component of urban regeneration strategies can indeed strengthen the sense of ownership and belonging in areas that had not been able to previously benefit from quality public spaces and cultural services. Eric Huybrechts concurred that the “White Paper is key step forward as it reflects an institutional shift with a clear objective to integrate a people-centred approach together with place-based strategies”.
Ms Catherine Cullen, Special Advisor for Culture and Sustainable Cities of the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and former Deputy Mayor for Culture of Lille, France, highlighted the fundamental role of culture as a fourth pillar of sustainable development and recalled the key principles of Agenda 21 for Culture. Catherine Cullen underlined the economic, social and environmental dimensions of the impact of cultural heritage and creativity.
Ms Mizuko Ugo, Professor of Cultural Heritage Conservation at the Tokyo Gakushuin Women’s College, introduced the case study of Tokyo as an illustration of a major recovery effort post-WW2. 
In concluding, Lazare Eloundoun Assomo thanked the participants for their contributions to the White Paper as the discussions made ever more clear that a new integrated approach to city reconstruction and recovery is needed: it needs to integrate the protection of cultural heritage and the promotion of creativity, through a people-centred and place-based approach for future cities to be inclusive, resilient and competitive.