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Cities and heritage

Can cities speak of their own heritage?
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Hello, everybody. Today we will travel around the world to look at how different cities speak of their heritage. Heritage has been traditionally thought of as national or global. Nowadays, observing how cities increasingly play a key role in economy and politics as well as cultural production and consumption the question one might raise is, do cities develop their own heritage, and how? As cities develop their own sense of being communities of people, they claim to have their own heritage. Cities identify the source of their heritage in different elements. Some determine that it can be found in the past. Let’s have a look.
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Rome, Shanghai, or Athens, for example, are historical cities that trace their heritage in ancient civilizations and empires, and claim it as a local heritage albeit being universally recognised. Other cities trace their heritage in their more recent past. For example, Vienna, Paris, London, Budapest, and Istanbul have been capitals of empires and are thus rich in imperial architecture, as well as palaces and museums containing works of art and jewellery. Their imperial past is to be found also in their urban planning in impressive boulevards, bridges, or sewage systems. Port cities like Marseilles, Barcelona, or Naples trace their heritage in their economic function of the past, which is imprinted in their urban planning, and characterises the cities to this day.
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Now let’s look at cities that reinvent their heritage, not by reference to the past but by reference to their present and future. Western global cities like Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto define themselves through cultural diversity and celebrate it as an important part of their heritage. Some other cities form their heritage with reference to their geographical morphology, being usually peninsulas, and to their role as global financial and cultural centres. This is the case of cities, such as Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf area, as well as of Hong Kong and Singapore. These cities create what we can call a new type of global city nationalism.
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Looking at former colonies, several mega-cities of the global south, such as Delhi, Mumbai, Cape Town, or Johannesburg, trace their heritage with reference to their colonial past, as well as to their sense of national independence and acceptance of ethnic and cultural diversity. What can we learn from this trip across time and space? Perhaps that what counts most in defining the heritage of a city is the emergence of a self-consciousness of the city as a heritage community, and the claim to govern itself with a large degree of independence from the nation.
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According to the Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society, adopted by the Committee of Ministers of Council of Europe in 2005, a heritage community consists of people who value specific aspects of cultural heritage which they wish, within the framework of public action, to sustain and transmit to future generations.

In this video, we will travel around the world to look at how different cities speak of their heritage.

We mention cases ranging from Rome to Shanghai and Barcelona in order to explore the sources that cities draw on to define and promote their heritage.

What do you see as the sources of heritage in your own city?

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Cultural Heritage and the City

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