Cultural Heritage and Development

Dear reader,

We are happy to bring you the third issue of the SoPHIA Newsletter. This issue focuses on the link between cultural heritage and development and the importance of assessment models for evaluating heritage interventions and their contributions to our sustainable future.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015, based on the three pillars of sustainable development – its economic, social, and environmental objectives — represent a conceptual shift in thinking about development beyond economic growth — envisioning a desirable future that is equitable, inclusive, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable. Within its framework, the international development agenda refers to culture for the first time. Culture and creativity contribute to each of these pillars transversally, while the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, in turn, should contribute to the safeguarding of cultural heritage and nurturing creativity. In such a framework, cultural heritage and creativity are recognised as resources that need to be protected and carefully managed, because they can serve both as drivers and enablers for achieving the SDGs.

Following the UN recognition of cultural heritage as a development resource and the potential of culture-forward solutions to ensure the success of interventions to achieve the SDGs, a stronger emphasis on the importance of cultural heritage for development is equally placed in the Urban Agenda 2016 adopted also by the United Nations, while 2021 has been declared the International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development. The European Union has also been incorporating culture in its development policies, considering culture as a fundamental element driving the success of other development goals (human development, social cohesion, green environment and gender-balanced opportunities). Consequently, it has been widely recognized that culture and cultural heritage have strong impacts on society, in terms of social inclusion, integration and sustainable human development. In EU, the importance of cultural heritage for local and regional development is most strongly emphasized by the European Commission’s decision to make 2018 the European Year of Cultural Heritage, which clearly indicates the ability of heritage to be a powerful engine for regeneration, sustainable development and economic growth.

The potential of cultural heritage as an element and tool for socio-economic development has the rising attention of experts and policy-makers and cultural heritage is increasingly being described as a productive sector with multiple effects on the economy, as well as on society. Investments in cultural heritage have an appreciable economic potential for local and regional development in terms of cultural consumption and in the form of increased employment and income. Therefore, cultural heritage represents a major component and contributor to the attractiveness of Europe’s regions, cities, towns and rural areas in terms of private sector investment, developing cultural creative quarters and attracting talents and new businesses — thereby enhancing regional competitiveness both within Europe and globally. Some examples of developments by investing in cultural heritage include the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which has radically changed the economy of the city, the National Museums in Liverpool, or initiatives related to historic urban environments of different European cities, such as Krakow, Lille, Manchester and many others. Finding adequate sustainable models of development that ensure balanced financial profitability could attract more private investors whose investments would also ensure better protection of heritage resources.

Furthermore, except through an economic point of view where cultural heritage may provide numerous beneficial effects and employment opportunities, from a social point of view it may enhance well-being, research and education. The Faro Convention (2011) states that the historic centre of a city, a monument, a local museum, a public garden, a landscape, are “goods” that benefit specific communities and can be key elements for local development, helping to improve the quality of life of that community and producing integration, social cohesion as well as a sense of belonging. Thus, expectations related to the cultural heritage development encompass both economic and social benefits and include enhancing regional identity, creating cultural clusters and favourable conditions for creative industries, fostering the increase of tourism, attracting various social groups, cultural entrepreneurs and start-up companies, addressing the needs of the public sector (public administration, health care and educational institutions), as well as bringing environmental benefits.

For most of the countries, the state budget represents the main source of finance for protection, conservation and maintenance of cultural heritage projects (Council of Europe, 2013). Besides national funding, European cultural heritage benefits from a range of EU policies, programs and funding. In 2007-2013, € 3.2 billion was invested in heritage from the European Regional Development Fund; a further € 1.2 billion on rural heritage from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and around € 100 million worth of heritage research was funded from the 7th Framework Program. Further millions were invested on cultural heritage institutions / projects from public sources at national, regional and local level. Regardless of whether the investments are coming from public or private sources, appropriate methods and indicators for evaluating if the desired outcomes have been achieved need to be developed.

The link between culture and development is a topic that has been discussed for several decades, but the SDGs adopted in 2015 place clear emphasis on the fact that the only way forward is by ensuring a balanced development and by envisioning a desirable future that is equitable, inclusive, peaceful, and environmentally sustainable. Thus, the decision-makers are making an effort to integrate heritage and heritage-related policy instruments into development policies at the local, regional, national and global levels. This is also the point where the SoPHIA project lends a hand to decision-makers and heritage professionals, as its work is directed towards developing a model for holistic impact assessment of interventions on historical environment and cultural heritage, organized around four main analytical dimensions of impact – the social, cultural, economic and environmental domains. SoPHIA aims to provide impact assessment tools that would ensure a balanced approach to measuring ‘success’ of heritage interventions and their contributions to our sustainable future. This is a complex issue that cannot be resolved easily, but SoPHIA is diligently working on providing our contribution to the cultural and policy sectors’ collective thinking and developing of the adequate ways forward.

The IRMO team

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