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October 2012

Rutgers University, Cultural Heritage and Preservation Studies Conference
Cultural Landscapes: Preservation Challenges in the 21st Century
"Historic Urban Landscapes: New UNESCO Tool for a Sustainable Future"
Patricia M. O'Donnell, FASLA, AICP, IFLA, ICOMOS

New Brunswick, NJ

Accelerated urban change in the 21st century was the impetus for the UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL), approved November 2011. Going beyond World Heritage cities, HUL is directed toward all cities and towns, each a unique vessel of heritage.  UNESCO World Heritage provided a series of international forums on issues facing urban heritage in the 21st century. The HUL recommendation is a paradigm shift away from cities as ensembles of buildings, toward cities as a dense cultural landscape. UNESCO's HUL approach is relevant to all heritage professionals as an inclusive context for managing the character of tangible city patterns, spatial and visual relationships, topography, geomorphology, hydrology and natural features, built environment, open spaces; infrastructures, and the intangible heritage of cities as place based practices and perceptions.

Diverse settlements are subject to pressures diminishing heritage to include population losses and gains, unplanned development, loss of identity and rootedness, environmental degradation, climate change, global competitiveness, as well as social issues and intangible heritage values. With changing social patterns and demographic shifts, a focus on the uniqueness of heritage and continuity of place is needed.  HUL establishes a framework for global commonwealth of urban heritage, through recognition that heritage is valued for differing reasons and motivations by residents, politicians, tourists, developers, employers, and the preservation community.

The HUL approach asserts, conservation of urban heritage is a shared integrative undertaking that affirms cities as sustainable places of the future. The broad community of urban dwellers, tourists, nations, and global interests, brings four interdisciplinary groups of tools:

  • Civic Engagement
  • Knowledge and Planning
  • Regulatory Systems
  • Finance

This range of tools demands an interdisciplinary approach that relies on all stakeholders and sees urban conservation, vitality and quality of life as a holistic construct that can be uplifted through a broad variety of actions and ongoing initiatives. Their application is explored, using specific urban heritage examples, and positioning HUL as a multiple-value urban heritage construct for the new millennium.  In this paper HUL is presented as a new tool for managing urban change, wherein heritage, quality of life, social fabric, economic vitality, tangible and intangible values, creativity and innovation are all embraced within the dynamic nature of living cities.

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