Heritage Conservation as Sustainable Development: The Historic Preservation Movement's Road to Habitat 3

By Donovan Rypkema 
Heritage Strategies International is most pleased to be joining US/ICOMOS and the US members of the International Scientific Committee on the Economics of Conservation in providing content to this Knowledge Exchange. Over the next several months expect us to post blogs, send Tweets, and foster discussion, particularly in three major emphasis areas: Cultural Heritage as an Enabler for Social Cohesion, Inclusion and Equity; Cultural Heritage, Urban Livability and Sustainability; and Cultural Heritage and Creativity as a Driver for Inclusive Economic Development.
And the reality is this: cities cannot be sustainable without inclusion and equity; cannot be sustainable without livability; cannot be sustainable without economic development. Both tangible and intangible heritage can and do contribute to equity, inclusion, livability, sustainability, creativity and economic development. And there is growing evidence in how, when, and where that happens.
What we hope to do in the months between now and Habitat III in Quito in October, is to bring to the Knowledge Exchange of ICOMOS examples from both the US and elsewhere of the multiple contributions that heritage makes in each of those focus areas.
Perhaps it makes sense to begin with a basic understanding of “sustainable development.” The definition that emerged from the Brundtland Commission nearly thirty years ago was this: development that meets the needs and aspirations of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But that definition holds particular importance for cultural heritage. It is abundantly clear that cultural heritage helps meet today’s needs and aspirations. But if we destroy that heritage – razing a historic building is the most clear cut example – it cannot, by definition, be available to meet the needs of future generations. Leveling a heritage building is the antithesis of the definition of sustainable development.
As the understanding of sustainability has grown, the international framework has come to recognize that sustainable development has three dimensions – environmental sustainability; social sustainability and economic sustainability. This is often represented as a Venn diagram.

But the reality is that when cultural heritage is made a priority, it automatically and simultaneously advances environmental sustainability, social sustainability, and economic sustainability. (Some now add a cultural sustainability component to the diagram, but that’s a discussion for a later blog).
The revised Sustainable Development Goals have for the first time included cultural heritage, establishing a target of “making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable by strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.” It is incumbent on advocates for cultural heritage to identify examples, methods, and strategies of how that can be done.
We hope you will join us in sharing through this Knowledge Center contributions of cultural heritage to making inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable cities. We look forward to learning from you.

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