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The urban governance of heritage

So far we have discussed heritage governance at the scale of countries. We now move on to the local scale.

How do cities govern their heritage? What does a local perspective bring to the understanding of the dynamics of heritage governance?

At first glance, cultural heritage appears as a consensual topic for cities. Numerous reports from international organisations, consultants, or local authorities argue that successful heritage policies generate positive impacts for cities:

  • Creating jobs directly at sites or museums
  • Attracting tourists, thus generating indirect revenues
  • Educating the urban population on their past, passing on knowledge to future generations
  • Creating intercultural dialogue
  • Regenerating urban areas and improving the wellbeing of their inhabitants

As a part of urban strategies, cultural heritage is not an end in itself, but an instrument for pursuing different goals. In reality, each city and each urban heritage policy prioritises these goals differently. For example, urban strategies prioritising cultural tourism may disregard, or even be to the detriment to, the accessibility of heritage to the urban population. Focusing on urban regeneration may lead to a concentration of cultural attractions and activities in just a few areas of the city.

Therefore, who is involved, who has say in the elaboration of a heritage policy will determine the objectives that are prioritised and, eventually, its beneficiaries. This is why understanding the urban governance of heritage is essential. Here, we will introduce three key conceptual frameworks to grasp the power dynamics of the strategies toward urban cultural heritage.

  1. Levels of governance: constraint or resource? Let’s look again at the levels of governance. Cities have various degrees of autonomy towards the state. This may affect the financial and human resources at their disposal for launching heritage policies or programs, but also their capacity to regulate. This framework thus represents a constraint on cities’ strategies. But the different levels of governance can also represent a resource that cities can mobilise. In order to protect or promote their heritage, cities can apply for labels, funds, and programs put in place by states, international organisations, or regional governments.

  2. Policy sectors: who gets involved? Urban policies can be divided into different sectors. Municipal administrations are divided into different departments in charge of a specific sector. For instance, the transportation department is in charge of planning public transport. Other sectors can include economic development, tourism, public health. The involvement of different sectors is key to the fulfilment of some of the objectives of heritage policies. How can cultural heritage be used to educate if schools are not involved? How to provide easy access to a heritage site if the transportation sector is not involved? How to attract tourists if the tourism promotion sector is not involved?

  3. Three modes of regulation. Aside from public actors, private actors and civil society also play a strong role in both shaping the strategies of urban cultural heritage and implementing them. Public actors, in charge of promoting the general interest, set the rules and enforce them. They may also directly invest in preserving heritage or operate heritage institutions. Private actors are market-driven and profit-oriented. They are not only key stakeholders in heritage policies, they can also take part in their implementation as part of public-private partnerships. The civil society often plays a central role in the mobilisation for the preservation of heritage. They can also contribute to its promotion.

Share your thoughts:

Which urban policy sectors can get involved in the governance of heritage? The education sector? The transportation sector? The tourism sector?

Reflect on what involving actors outside of the heritage sector can bring.

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This article is from the free online course:

Cultural Heritage and the City

European University Institute (EUI)

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