Update: I also audited the European University Institute’s second MOOC, Cultures and identities in Europe (#FLeuropeans), which ran for three weeks from 16 October and was presented in the same textbooky style, with far too many rambling vids hampered by English-as-an-academic lingua-franca serving to obfuscate; copious notes made
Cultural heritage and the city from the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies (@RobSchuCentre) at the European University Institute in Florence, three weeks from 4 September.
Cultural heritage is usually conceived in national or religious terms….today, however, large urban centres emerge as hubs of heritage creation and consumption. Cities brand their own cultural heritage as hubs of artistic creation through museums, galleries, markets of artistic goods, and urban-to-urban networks. They also develop their own policies and brand their cultural institutions.
We shall locate cities as a special type of actor, ‘owners’ of their own heritage, but situated in a multi-level field between international organisations and national actors, as well as practitioners.
The course will discuss how heritage can become a lever for growth, how it contributes to processes of socio-economic transformation. We also discuss the role of special events located in cities such as Olympic Games or programmes such as the European Capitals of Culture in valorising the heritage of a city.
Very wordy and content-crammed MOOC, more like a textbook than a course. There follows some lengthy notes.
Week 1: cultural heritage in an urbanising world
What is cultural heritage?
- something that belongs to the past? something inherited? archaeological sites, historical buildings, statues, but also festivals, songs and storytelling
- traditional view: material sites like archaeological monuments, palaces, or churches and places of worship, paintings and sculptures (tangible heritage)
- now expanded to include:
- artistic practices (dancing, music, rituals, traditional medicine, cooking traditions, sports)
- festivals and carnivals
- ideas, rituals and ways of doing things (intangible or immaterial heritage)
- further expanded to include:
- natural sites, specific plants or animal species – the natural heritage of a country or a place
- intangible practices embedded in physical relationships with concrete things (objects, places, people); even ‘intangible’ heritage is tightly entwined with the material world
- official heritage: sites, objects, and practices that have been officially catalogued and recognised by national and/or international authorities
- unofficial heritage: practices and sites developed by groups of citizens not yet officially recognized as ‘heritage’ (the terms ‘official’ or ‘unofficial’ do not express judgements of value or quality but rather realities of labelling and recognition)
- increasing democratisation of heritage creation, with a closer focus on what communities feel is their heritage and the need to recognise new unofficial forms of heritage
Heritage is about how the past informs the present and is actually used in the present, something communities cherish. It implies ways of categorising objects and traditions – the power of labelling and classifying. It is vulnerable as it may be lost because of destruction, loss, or decay, and more than a collection of things – heritage is about the relationship that a community, nation, city, or ethnic or religious minority constructs with its past. It is a framework within which people are socialised.
What is culture?
Culture is a type of knowledge, a system of meaning and the context within which behaviours, events, processes and institutions are situated. Culture is the set of mental categories that we learn as we grow up and which help us organise our behaviour and interpret our experiences.
Thus culture is mostly about ideas and behaviour, however it has a close link with the material world. Culture – like intangible heritage – exists and is manifested in the interaction of people with one another and in connection to their material environment.
Heritage has a stronger material connotation than culture and is oriented towards the past. However both culture, as a system of meaning, and heritage, as a system of tangible and intangible objects and practices, contribute to forging the sense of belonging to a community.
Definitions of heritage according to the cultural context
Heritage is a very elastic, and at times quite elusive, concept that carries with it a lot of baggage, and the baggage in different languages is quite different. Words shift in different historical and spatial contexts.
In British English there are various layers of meanings deriving from its use in different spheres, in policy and academia, but also in daily life (the lottery). In Italy the equivalent concept of ‘patrimonio culturale’ refers rather to an expert-driven approach, and as such a top-down discourse tends to monopolise the use of the concept. Dansk? Kulturarv.
Cultural heritage policies
Cultural heritage studies and policies emerged along with the socio-economic transformations of the second half of the 20th century. Nowadays cultural heritage policies also refer to activities and objects developed in the present.
There are several competing aims within heritage and broader cultural policy:
- the glorification of the past, of its beauty and its achievements
- the production and consumption of heritage goods – the participation of citizens in the creation and recreation of heritage and their enjoyment of artistic and literary creations or natural landscapes
- a citizenship function – helps citizens feel part of their community and its history, and hence builds a sense of a common future
- an education function – integrated in education curricula, not only in courses on the arts but also in citizenship education, history, geography, natural sciences or biology, and can have an important function today in lifelong learning programmes
- the utilitarian turn – heritage is valorised as a factor of job creation and economic growth, with a growing emphasis on the economic impact of heritage activities and sites that can boost the local economy of a place through related hospitality as well as cultural services
- linked to urban development and the growth of cities – heritage activities contribute to a vibrant city that is attractive to both residents and visitors
Cities and their heritage
An urbanising world poses challenges and opportunities to cultural heritage, endangering both tangible and intangible heritage:
- works of art or historical buildings bulldozed to make space for new real housing or office projects
- everyday rituals that rural people may abandon when moving to urban areas
- traditions, clothing, dialects lost to adopt uniformed and standardised codes of dress or ways of speaking
Reinventing heritage in the city (or inventing a city heritage) can represent a development factor as well as an important way to build a new sense of community. Heritage can be a factor of economic growth. It can attract tourists and make a city a desirable place to live, because of the services and attractions it offers. But the challenges, opportunities, and dilemmas that open up for the protection and promotion of cultural heritage in urban centres are numerous.
Urbanisation and globalisation:
- globalisation “refers to the widening, deepening and speeding up of global interconnectedness” and includes four socio-spatial dimensions:
- the stretching of social, political, and economic activities across borders
- the intensification of interconnectedness and of patterns of transnational interaction and flows (of capital, goods, services, people, media images, ideas, or pollution)
- the speeding up of global interactions and processes
- the intertwining of the local and global in ways that local events may affect distant lands
Over the last 50 years cities have become privileged loci of economic activity and political power, and also of cultural policy and governance – they offer the necessary socio-spatial dimension that economic and cultural globalisation requires, bringing together people, products, services, expertise, consumption, information and communication into an intense and dense network.
Cities epitomise the double potential of globalisation:
- homogenisation – through the diffusion and prevalence of ‘Western’ lifestyles and a global culture of consumerism
- diversity – eg exacerbating identity-related conflicts or local grievances, or through the opening up of new opportunities for cultural expression
Cities allow for manifestations of glocal-hybrid forms, styles, and patterns, bringing together local and global elements and processes.
The combined effects of globalisation and urbanisation also favour the emergence of a new type of ‘city nationalism’: city-imagined communities of people who feel they form a cultural and political community, who feel that they belong together.
Contemporary globalisation is a process of combined and uneven development:
- draws together people, goods, and capital almost cancelling distance of time and space while ignoring existing disparities and inequalities
- creates greater disparities and inequalities in resources, income, health, and cultural power than those that it initially brought together
Metropolitan areas are the privilege ‘theatres’ where globalisation plays out. Particularly in the cultural field, the size of cities and their being ‘nodal points’ where people, capital, and goods cross make them the new protagonists of the cultural scene, propelling them as protagonists into the governance of cultural issues, including of cultural heritage.
Cities and heritage: how different cities speak of their heritage
Some cities identify the source of their heritage in the past:
- Rome, Shanghai, Athens – trace their heritage in ancient civilizations and empires, claiming it as a local heritage, albeit universally recognised
- Vienna, Paris, London, Budapest, Istanbul – trace their heritage in their more recent past as capitals of empire; rich in imperial architecture, palaces and museums, urban planning with impressive boulevards, bridges or sewage systems
- Marseilles, Barcelona – ports which trace their heritage in their economic function of the past, imprinted in their urban planning and characterising the cities to this day
Other cities reinvent their heritage by reference to their present and future:
- western global cities like Sydney, New York, Los Angeles, or Toronto define themselves through cultural diversity, celebrating it as an important part of their heritage
- Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi in the Persian Gulf, Hong Kong and Singapore are creating a new type of global city nationalism, forming their heritage with reference to their geographical morphology (often peninsulas) and their role as global financial and cultural centres
- mega-cities of the global south, former colonies 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 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.
Week 2: the governance of heritage
Heritage governance is about relationships and interactions among different types of actors, seen as a better fit to contemporary societies than government and the state. It enables actors, such as companies or civil society, who are more quick to act and have more timely information, to make up for the lacunae of state action. The term governance designates interaction and networking between public and private actors in horizontal, non-hierarchical ways.
Heritage governance was traditionally linked to the nation-state and was centralised, a task entrusted to culture ministries and their experts. It was also mainly funded by the state; there was little activity in terms of public-private partnerships as heritage was conceived as ‘national property’.
During the past 15 years heritage governance has undergone a process of transformation leading to a number of changes:
- multi-level: both horizontal and vertical cooperation; vertical between international, national, regional, and even local authorities and actors, and horizontal between actors from different sectors
- inter-related with other policies such as education and tourism, but also with business innovation and SMEs
- decentralised rather than top-down and expert-dominated
- outsourcing – many functions of heritage preservation, such as cataloguing and restoration, are outsourced to private (profit/not) actors, offering flexibility and efficiency
- devolution – regional and local actors are given power and responsibility in managing their heritage, privileging a stronger sense of ownership, cutting red tape and allowing heritage to become a lever of cultural and economic development
- managerialisation – the role of managers (of museums, libraries, cultural foundations, associations) has become increasingly important; each cultural institution shows a high degree of autonomy as well as self-sustainability; also with much more community participation
- privatisation – beyond outsourcing or managerialisation to the outright concession of cultural heritage places or items entirely to private operators
Heritage in urban strategies
What does a local perspective bring to the understanding of the dynamics of heritage governance? Numerous reports argue that successful heritage policies generate positive impacts for cities, by:
- creating jobs directly at sites or museums
- attracting tourists, thus generating indirect revenues
- educating the urban population on their past, passing on knowledge to future generations
- creating intercultural dialogue
- regenerating urban areas and improving the well-being of their inhabitants
As a part of an urban strategy cultural heritage is not an end in itself but an instrument for pursuing different goals. Each city and each urban heritage policy prioritises these goals differently. For example, urban strategies prioritising cultural tourism may disregard, or even be to the detriment to, the accessibility of heritage to the urban population. Focusing on urban regeneration may lead to a concentration of cultural attractions and activities in just a few areas of the city.
Who is involved and has a say in the elaboration of a heritage policy will determine the objectives that are prioritised and, eventually, its beneficiaries.
Three conceptual frameworks showing the power dynamics of urban cultural heritage strategies:
- levels of governance: constraint or resource? cities have various degrees of autonomy, which may affect the financial and human resources at their disposal and their capacity to regulate
- policy sectors: who gets involved? education? transportation? tourism?
- modes of regulation:
- public actors set the rules and enforce them, and may also directly invest in preserving heritage or operate heritage institutions
- private actors are market-driven and profit-oriented, and may act as key stakeholders and take part in their implementation as part of public-private partnerships
- civil society often plays a central role in the mobilisation for the preservation of heritage and its promotion
Heritage and urban development
Economists argue that cultural heritage should not be viewed as a cost, but rather as an investment that can yield short-term and long-term economic impacts:
- short-term: direct effects (eg employment and income generated), induced effects (eg visitor consumption, benefit to local businesses, jobs…) and indirect effects (multiplier effects)
- long-term (more difficult to calculate):
- increased attractiveness of a city – recognitions, such as UNESCO World Heritage list or landmark cultural projects, can raise cultural tourism, which generates higher spending and can contribute to encouraging residents and businesses to settle in the city by raising the quality of life
- fuels urban creativity, providing knowledge and ideas, which can be reinterpreted and generate spillovers in the local economy
- a key component in urban regeneration – in numerous former industrial neighbourhoods in crisis or central areas in decay the focus on cultural heritage has accelerated the revival of urban life
This suggests a mechanic process, whereas local development relies on how cultural heritage relates to the local social and economic system. For example heritage trails appear to be a low-scale initiative which can generate several benefits, such as attracting more visitors for longer stays and diverting flows from congested areas, but more important is the collaboration that such projects can trigger, between heritage sites and service providers, between different local governments or among nonprofit organisations, all gathered around a common objective and a common cultural identity.
Giving new life to industrial heritage
By the 1980s the use of industrial heritage as tool of urban development had spread rapidly, resulting from the context of the industrial crisis as well as from the will to promote a more inclusive approach to heritage.
Many cities like Liverpool, Marseille, Genoa and Bilbao experienced difficult times. [CPH never mentioned in this connection; too small, or because it has the benefit of being a capital?] Beyond an economic crisis these cities underwent . Derelict factories and former industrial neighbourhoods in decay appeared as deep scars in the landscape, leading to an identity crisis as well as an economic crisis.
The use of industrial heritage as a resource has been a key strategy in creating a new urban narrative, defining new functions for empty warehouses and closed factories and creating new jobs in both the tourism sector and the ‘new economy’, including knowledge-based sectors such as IT, design, or the arts.
The recognition and promotion of industrial heritage was part of a general movement towards a wider and more inclusive recognition approach, which affected vernacular and rural heritage as well as alternative cultural productions such as graffiti.
The historical and aesthetic values of industrial heritage became recognised as a testimony of the industrial revolutions which transformed the world from the 19th century, of successive technical achievements and of the memory of the working class. Projects aimed at telling a new story in order to overcome their identity crisis, and at developing new economic sectors such as entertainment and tourism
Week 3: heritage and urban change
Urban transformations: the city as an ever-evolving cultural heritage
As a city evolves some of its infrastructures and buildings lose their initial functions, are conserved and become part of its cultural heritage. In the second half of the 20th century numerous train stations became obsolete; some were heritagised (the social construction of heritage, the process that leads people to consider something as heritage).
Brian Hoyle has identified six stages in the relationship between cities and ports:
- in ancient and medieval ports port and city are closely associated, from both a spatial and functional point of view
- between the 19th century and early 20th century the growth in industry and trade pushes ports outside the city’s confines
- in the mid-20th century, with the rise of industrial activities like oil refining and the introduction of containers, the port starts being separated from the city
- 1960s t0 1980s: new maritime technology causes the establishment of separate port industrial development areas; the retreat from the waterfront
- 1970s to the 1990s: redevelopment of the waterfront, with a process of urban renewal beginning within the original port areas
- 1980s onwards: a new stage of reconnection between the port and the city, with redevelopment projects enhancing the importance of port and city integration
This transformation in the organic relationship between the port and the city has affected urban neighbourhoods where the workers employed in port activities once lived. Hafen City in Hamburg “aims to recover the port warehouses, restore the historic district and reinforce Hamburg’s identity as a maritime city”. But having former ports and industrial areas recognised as places of heritage value has been a tortuous process; such areas are seen as problematic because of poverty, abandonment, crime and poor services. Their inclusion in heritage programmes is still a contested issue in many cities.
Cultural heritage vs urban development
Does urban development appear as an asset or as a threat to the preservation of heritage?
Three key tensions:
- archaeology vs urban development: research in the urban environment can take place under the pressures of urban developers unwilling to avoid delays in their projects
- preserving the historical landscape vs adjusting to urban change
- authenticity vs instrumentalisation of heritage: tourism-oriented urban regeneration strategies can be to the detriment of the preservation of local intangible heritage and vernacular social practices; the existence of measures to safeguard built heritage does not necessarily guarantee the preservation of the city’s social character; who is heritage for?
The consequences of heritagisation for local populations:
- lower class populations living in the historic centre of Naples have been viewed by the urban elites as an obstacle to promoting the area as cultural heritage, as they were associated with a bad reputation, namely crime and poverty; this led the administration to redefine the right behaviour in the city and make reproaches to local inhabitants for their “lack of heritage consciousness”
The issue of gentrification:
- the term gentrification has been used to describe the settlement of upper and middle class households in working class neighbourhoods, often associated with the transition in housing tenure from renting to ownership
- the rehabilitation of cities’ built heritage is often accused of contributing to the process of gentrification
- the intangible heritage that lies in the customs, habits, and everyday life of these neighbourhoods’ inhabitants may be at risk while built heritage is conserved
- evolution of the definition of gentrification:
- 1980s: mostly related to a process of rehabilitation of 18th and 19th century inner neighbourhoods as well as the conversion of former factories and warehouses into lofts and apartments
- 21st century: expanded to include redevelopment projects in central areas and extended to the analysis of the changes in modes of consumption in inner neighbourhoods
- a distinction is generally made between two types of dynamics:
- top-down logics of redevelopment of central areas that lead to (and sometimes aim at) the eviction of local populations
- an organic process involving local communities and businesses that enables conservation of the character of the area
- not necessarily a planned process, but this does not mean that policies cannot play an indirect role; the construction of a new train station or a new cultural centre, the improvement of urban services, the creation of touristic trails, can all contribute to gentrification
- Kate Shaw: “preservation of heritage can be used as a deliberate gentrification strategy, with the ‘cultural sensibilities’ of the middle class pointedly distinguishing between past and future users”
Gentrification represents a key tension in heritage policy. Different visions of what heritage should be for compete:
- some argue that heritage should be preserved to accelerate urban regeneration and attract tourists
- others defend the position that cultural heritage should mostly carry social and educational objectives
- also a subject of tension between the advocates of the rehabilitation of built heritage and those also devoted to safeguarding intangible heritage
Some policies have been trying to challenge this issue:
- the establishment of social housing within gentrifying neighbourhood, either in new or rehabilitated buildings
- the regulation of rents in order to prevent lower income households from being evicted because of the rise of real estate values
Events and city identity
Different kinds of events have been integrated into the strategies of cities to promote heritage.
Mega-events: national pride or city branding?
- the football world cup, the Olympic Games and world expositions are highly mediatised and reach a global audience; they have become major tools for cities to display their singularity and to compete on the global stage
- emerged in the 19th century, in the context of the industrial revolution. and are associated with the rise of modernity
- the first world exposition was the Great Exhibition of London in 1851
- the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens in 1896
- aim at celebrating universal values such as excellence, respect, and friendship (Olympic)s or progress and innovation (expositions)
- the nations that organise them wish to demonstrate their economic and political power:
- materialised through innovative buildings, which remain important monuments (the Eiffel Tower)
- to display imperialism (the 1931 colonial exhibition in Paris left a contested heritage – its main building was turned into the National Museum of the History of Immigration in 2012)
- until the second half of the 20th century the city is rather a showcase of modernity than an actor in mega-events strategies
- later on cities started to compete to organise such events in order to increase their attractiveness:
- their first motivation is economic impacts – mega-events are argued to yield high returns on investments by attracting tourists and enhancing cities’ images
- their second motivation is to accelerate urban transformations – the year of a mega-event often constitutes the deadline for a number of major redevelopment projects, new infrastructure, new cultural and sport facilities
- the use of mega-events as an instrument of national pride has not disappeared; emerging countries combine urban branding and nation branding aimed at asserting the rising soft power of these nations, as in China’s stadium by Herzog and De Meuron for the 2008 Olympics; Gulf countries also offer a good example, with the World Exposition in 2020 in Dubai and the 2022 Football World Cup in Doha
Festivals as instruments to enhance local heritage:
- mega-events have a global scale but are highly standardised, while smaller scale events such as festivals, carnivals, or biennials can be more rooted in the city’s identity
- cities use festivals to create a lively and attractive urban environment, but also view them as a way to differentiate and promote a specific identity, often carrying old traditions that made them famous worldwide
- festivals can be a great asset to the city, especially if they are not imported for commercial or for self-realisation reasons but are rooted in the community, with the concept connected to the city and the citizens themselves involved
European Capital of Culture
- evolved from a traditional arts festival to a complex programme tied to economic and social objectives
- during the first years the event took place in the recognised European cultural centres such as Athens, Florence, or Paris, lasting only a few months and involving mainly the cultural sector to achieve mostly cultural goals
- in 1990 Glasgow played a pioneering role in using the event as a tool to transform the city’s image by extending it to a year long programme and taking it as an opportunity to regenerate a city tarnished by the industrial crisis
- Lille came up with a number of innovations that expanded the scope and objectives of the initiative, involving 193 towns in the area, emphasising the social impact, establishing cultural sectors and events in peripheral neighbourhoods to reach out to diverse populations and boosting citizens’ participation through a volunteering programme involving almost 18,000 citizens
- a narrow focus on urban growth that may not benefit the whole city’s population is now avoided, with the scope and objectives expanded to include, for example, inter-city cooperation as well as social impacts
- ECC projects are often criticised for being too elitist and not rooted enough in their city; Marseille’s cultural scene rose up to the reduction of culture to an urban marketing tool and created a parallel event to the European Capital of Culture, named, the “Off”; three artists aimed “to put the Marseillais artist at the heart of the European Capital of Culture, by organising off the wall and impertinent shows, based on paradoxes of the city”; see also OFF-Biennale Budapest
- smaller cities often take a more innovative approach and are able to capture more significant benefits; see Creating the past on Hull’s stint as UK City of Culture
Aarhus 2017: the ECC Olympics? Of rather more interest would be Milton Keynes 2023:
The city is culture…Rather than looking at the culture that takes place in the city…the real task is to understand the city itself as culture. Milton Keynes was meant to be different: it is, as the Capital of Culture bid proposes, “different by design”.