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The network of World Heritage Cities

The Organisation of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) was founded in 1993 and is composed of 280 cities that host World Heritage sites.
© European University Institute

This step focuses on a network entitled the Organisation of World Heritage Cities (OWHC). It was founded in 1993 and is composed of 280 cities that host World Heritage sites. It is headquartered in Quebec City and has regional secretariats covering the different areas of the globe.

This network supports cities in implementing the World Heritage Convention and promotes cooperation and solidarity among cities to improve heritage conservation. Its actions range from the organisation of meetings, congresses, seminars, and workshops to awarding prize.

While UNESCO, as part of the UN, is rather an intergovernmental organisation relying on state authorities, the Organisation of World Heritage Cities intends to empower cities as the actors with the most interest in the World Heritage List. Nevertheless, around the world, situations differ greatly with regards to decentralization and the amount of power cities have. In many countries, municipalities have few resources. The more autonomy a city has, the more it can develop capacities to manage heritage and engage in inter-city collaboration.

From 2015 to 2017, the Organisation of World Heritage Cities participated in a project entitled Comus. The project was financed by the Council of Europe and the European Union to support cities in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus: Goris and Gyumri in Armenia; Mstislav in Belarus Chiatura and Dusheti in Georgia; Soroca in the Republic of Moldova; Lutsk, Pryluky, and Shovkva in Ukraine. It aimed to introduce innovative approaches to the rehabilitation of urban heritage as well as its promotion as a means to celebrate diversity and spur dialogue among diverse city stakeholders. The project emphasized the importance of enhancing local authorities’ capacities and empowering local citizens. This took the shape of concrete actions in a wide variety of urban policy sectors, from housing improvements to waste and public space enhancement.

The project resulted in the production of technical assessments, reference plans, and feasibility studies. Several capacity-development workshops and visits were set up with the help of the Organisation of World Heritage Cities. Events were also organised with local civil societies to raise awareness and involvement in heritage policies. The Organisation of World Heritage Cities has organised city-to city mentoring: two German cities (Bamberg and Regensburg) and two Austrian cities (Salzburg and Vienna) have been involved in sharing their expertise and providing trainings.

Although the project tends to be presented as mostly technical, it takes place in a region with multiple geopolitical issues. This project is funded by the European Union neighbourhood policy and is applied in former Soviet Republics, where a number of tensions have recently evolved into armed conflicts. Such an initiative can be viewed as form of European soft power using cities as intermediaries. Partnerships between cities can be a way to create connections despite the tensions happening at a national level.

Do you think that such projects can achieve the ambitious aims that they set out? In your opinion, what are their real impacts?

© European University Institute
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