UNESCO, a specialised agency of the United Nations that aims at promoting world peace and security through international cooperation in education, arts, sciences, and culture, has adopted an approach introducing the recommendations about Historic Urban Landscape in the year 2011 that perceives urban heritage as a social, cultural and economic asset for the development of cities. In its brochure, ‘New life for historic cities: The historic urban landscape approach explained’, the organisation states that it goes beyond addressing only the preservation of the physical environment but emphasises the entire human environment with its tangible and intangible values.
The evolution of mankind over the decades throughout the globe has of its outcome in the form of the establishment of varied human settlements, each carrying indigenous qualities in terms of social, cultural, environmental and economic values. It could be a strategic geographical location or the availability of natural resources; certain regions could be observed to develop at a greater pace. In due course, such settlements attracted more population, as they could fulfil basic human needs and eventually enrich human life through advancements in infrastructural provisions like communication or transport, which played a pivotal role in developing rich cultural and social linkages with surroundings.
In today’s scenario, such settlements, which can commonly be called cities, and accommodate more than fifty per cent of the world’s population, bear enormous pressure while catering to their ever-growing occupants. While the citizens are searching for their cosy niche in the urban fabric where they can have an assured and safe life accompanied by culturally healthy environments with economic functionality, local authorities compete to achieve global character for the region. ‘World-class cities’ have become a global development trend. While striving to reach these global standards in terms of infrastructure and the overall quality of life, the potential of cultural threads, which have impacted the region’s progression to date to a great extent, is barely being acknowledged. The intricacies in the socio-cultural interactions and their physical setting could rarely find any place in the development process.
The scenario, when addressed on a global platform, based on the four previous UNESCO recommendations concerning heritage preservation, an approach was put forth that envisions the city as a ‘layering and interconnection of values’ (UNESCO 2011). Here, the historic urban landscape is briefed as the urban area, which can be perceived as the result of a historical layering of values and attributes associated with culture and society, broadened out beyond the idea of ‘historic centre’, or ‘ensemble’ with the frame of geographical settings. The topography, geomorphology, hydrology, and other natural features as well as its built components, both historic and contemporary, infrastructures on and beneath the ground, open spaces and transition zones, land use patterns and spatial organisation, perceptual and visual characters, all are covered under the umbrella of widened context. Also, intangible dimensions such as social and cultural practices and economic processes are considered. In that, the living component of the city was perceived as one of the layers equally significant as others.
It can be said that the city’s livability depends enormously on the heritage component that encompasses the tangible and intangible gestures, which in turn impacts the cohesivity of society and the economic advancements on the ever-changing canvas of the global environment. Since the past half-century, urban heritage conservation has been addressed as an essential field of public good worldwide. Efforts are being made to preserve the shared legacy of values and benefit from it to face the present challenges.
This historic urban heritage approach by UNESCO addressed the essentiality of reframing the urban heritage conservation strategies with a wider and constant goal of sustainable development that could integrate public and private domains and eventually aims at enriching human life. A new landscape approach is suggested, which inculcates the identification, conservation and management of a historic area with active reference to its wider urban context. Here, an emphasis on physical forms and their interrelationships, spatial organisation and connectedness, natural settings, and socio-cultural and economic aspects is expected. Governance and management concerns of local, national, regional, and international stakeholders are imbibed in such urban development. Cultural diversity and creativity is considered as a key asset for human social and economic progress. The approach assures the harmony that can be achieved with the broadened perception amongst the contemporary interventions and historical settings without overlooking the regional contexts. The physical and social transformations can be accommodated while celebrating the urban heritage.
Uncontrolled urban sprawl has started the transformation of many historic urban areas. Even the multilayered changes on a global level cast deep impressions on the values communities attribute to the region and the perceptions of the users as well. While providing the economic, social and cultural opportunities to enhance the quality of life, urbanization, when gone unmanaged, thoroughly affects the integrity of the urban fabric and, eventually, the identity of communities. Here, the historic urban landscape approach can be a ray of hope to strengthen the tangible and intangible bonds of contemporary man with its rich past by nurturing his inheritance for future generations!
UNESCO, n.d. UNESCO. [Online]
Available at: https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1026
[Accessed March 2023].
ICOMOS, n.d. ICOMOS. [Online]
Available at: https://www.icomos.org/images/DOCUMENTS/Working_Groups/SDG/UNESCO_2011_Historic_Urban_Landscape_HUL_Recommendation.pdf
[Accessed March 2023].