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World Heritage Cities Programme (archive)

The World Heritage Cities Programme is one of six thematic programmes formally approved and monitored by the World Heritage Committee. It aims to assist States Parties in the challenges of protecting and managing their urban heritage. The programme is structured along a two-way process, with 1) the development of a theoretical framework for urban heritage conservation, and 2) the provision of technical assistance to States Parties for the implementation of new approaches and schemes.

Concerned by the multitude of World Heritage Cities facing difficulties in reconciling conservation and development, the World Heritage Committee at its 29th session in Durban, South Africa (July 2005) requested the development of a new UNESCO Recommendation to provide updated guidelines in this regard. Following its mandate as standard-setting organization, UNESCO is currently engaged in the development of a Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (provisional title) to meet the urban challenges of tomorrow. In addition to this, the World Heritage Committee has requested investigating the impacts of modern architectural insertions in historic urban environments, and for developing guidance on visual impact assessments.


With the support from the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention, the World Heritage Committee, the Advisory Bodies ICOMOS , ICCROM and IUCN , and various professional organizations, including the International Union of Architects (UIA), the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), the International Federation for Housing and Planning (IFHP), the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC), the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC), the International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank (WB), the World Heritage Centre has initiated planning and regional consultation meetings to receive expert input on concepts, definitions and approaches to urban historic conservation.

Five regional expert meetings, in Jerusalem (June 2006), Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation (January 2007), Olinda, Brazil (November 2007), Zanzibar, Tanzania (November/December 2009) and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (December 2009), in addition to three planning meetings held at UNESCO Headquarters (in September 2006, November 2008 and February 2010), constitute the core of the debate with identification of issues, approaches and tools. Reports of these meetings, as well as some keynote papers on the subject are available below. In general a broad support for the ongoing review process has been expressed, in which the 2005 Vienna Memorandum was widely recognized as a useful basis and work-in-progress.


At the February 2010 Expert Meeting on HUL, a First Draft of the new UNESCO Recommendation was elaborated, which is currently out for consultation to the institutional partners in this process. After receipt of their comments in May, a Second Draft will be elaborated which will be sent to all UNESCO Member States at the beginning of Summer 2010. With 4 months for review at the national level, comments from the Member States will be received in the Fall of 2010, which then will form the basis for the elaboration of a Third Draft of the new UNESCO Recommendation. This document will be discussed in the Spring of 2011 at an Intergovernmental Meeting at UNESCO Headquarters, as requested by the General Conference, after which a Final Draft will be elaborated and sent to the 36th General Conference of UNESCO in the Fall of 2011 for discussion and adoption. 


Upon adoption of the new UNESCO Recommendation, foreseen at the 36th session of the General Conference in the fall of 2011, the Member States will commit themselves to taking appropriate steps to:

  • Adapt this new instrument to their specific contexts;
  • Disseminate it widely across their national territories;
  • Facilitate implementation through formulation and adoption of supporting policies;
  • And monitor its impact on the conservation and management of historic cities and urban settlements.

To assist the Member States in this, UNESCO aims to provide support that will draw upon international and inter-sectoral expertise in the fostering of cooperation in the further development and implementation of the HUL approach, the exchange of ideas and practices, and communication and transmission of knowledge to all stakeholders in the process and civil society at large.


The following expert/regional/international meetings have been organized or attended by the World Heritage Centre in association with its partners in the context of UNESCO's initiative on the Safeguarding of Historic Urban Landscapes: