World Heritage Cities Programme July-August 2020

World Heritage Cities Programme

Urban Notebooks

Newsletter July-August 2020

Santiago de Compostela (Old Town);
Author: José Luis Municio;
© Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España.
Ministerio de Educación, Cultura y Deporte



     We were delighted to welcome the Mayors of seven World Heritage cities from around the world along with five extraordinary experts to the webinar, ‘Rethinking Urban Heritage for Resilience and Recovery’ on 17 June 2020. We are grateful for their enthusiastic and warm engagement that resulted in a rich discussion. The Mayors of Dubrovnik in Croatia, Assisi in Italy, Tunis in Tunisia, Vigan in the Philippines, and the heads of Lamu and Jaipur cities, all made time to share with us the impact that the pandemic has had and the central role they see for cultural heritage in their cities in the recovery and rebuilding processes. A special thanks to the Mayor of Queretaro in Mexico who fell sick with COVID-19 a day before the event but nevertheless ensured representation. While the cities focused on the importance of engaging with local communities and their well-being, using spaces for emergency response, and setting up virtual platforms for sharing heritage, the experts proposed innovative approaches from ensuring that green solutions and climate action for mitigation and adaptation are integrated into the recovery process to ‘blended finance’ for sustainable development initiatives, including marginalised communities, enhancing pedestrian and bicycle friendly transport, and supporting digital tourism.

    The high-level webinar was part of the two-week World Heritage City Lab (City Lab) an intensive innovation laboratory on the management of urban heritage. The City Lab is intended to build a community of urban heritage professionals based on promoting collaborative problem-solving with co-learning and co-creation of strategies and solutions. The focus is on practical solutions to address real problems and challenges. Site managers, regional and international experts and practitioners came together for the City Lab that included brief presentations on concepts and issues, detailed case studies of specific interventions in selected World Heritage cities, debates, and break out working groups who worked long hours outside the main sessions to develop their proposals. In the context of ‘Recovery and Resilience,’ this City Lab focused on three key themes. The first, on wellbeing and local communities and engaging stakeholders in decision-making related to the management of the historic centres and promoting places that privilege local communities over tourists. The second theme focused on placing heritage at the heart of local economic development strategies, especially at a time when global tourism has been halted and may remain minimal for a significant period of time, local economic development will enable historic centres to continue to thrive in ways that may be less commercially profitable in the short term but more sustainable in the longer term. The final theme on urban infrastructure in historic contexts emphasised the importance of the UNESCO 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation approach that promotes integrally connecting heritage conservation efforts with sustainable urban development.

     Even as we long to return to normality, UNESCO has launched a new initiative on the ‘Next Normal,’ challenging us to reflect critically on what we have come to accept as ‘normal.’ What is the ‘normal’ we long to return to in our historic cities? Can we imagine an alternative to ever increasing mass tourism, escalating exclusion of local communities for the benefit of commercial developments, rampant and uncontrolled development that for ever pits heritage conservation against urban development? Or can we imagine other futures - the ‘Next Normal’ for historic urban centres? The time is now.

Jyoti Hosagrahar
Deputy Director, World Heritage Centre

From UNESCO World Heritage Centre

World Heritage City Webinar “Re-thinking Urban Heritage for Recovery and Resilience”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the fragility of our cities sharply into focus. In light of the new challenges that the crisis has presented to cities worldwide, the Webinar on 17 June brought together seven Mayors from World Heritage Cities all across the world, as well as five senior experts and representatives of international organizations. Many thanks to the Mayors and the high-level speakers who presented their approaches and experiences, and engaged in a rich debate that was opened by the Assistant Director for Culture, Mr. Ernesto Ottone. In line with the implementation of the UNESCO 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation, the World Heritage City Webinar aimed to recover the notion of heritage cities as thriving urban centres using heritage-based strategies to build back cities to be stronger, more sustainable, more resilient, and more deeply connected to their history and landscape. Organized as the first session of the World Heritage City Lab, 63 selected international experts and partners participated in the discussion and over 330 other joined the webinar.

Learn more

World Heritage City Lab 

From increasing green spaces in and around World Heritage cities, to engaging local communities in all stages from inventorying to decision-making, a wide variety of problems, approaches and solutions were discussed during the World Heritage City Lab on 17-26 June 2020 organised online as part of the World Heritage Cities Programme of the World Heritage Centre. The international workshop, that began with the World Heritage City Webinar, and a lecture by Dr. Mechtild Rossler, Director of the World Heritage Centre, launching the City Lab deliberations, brought together regional and international experts, relevant UNESCO Category 2 Centres, and some World Heritage city site managers, to reflect on and explore challenges in a range of World Heritage cities with a view to considering strategies for heritage management as well as recovery and resilience in the context of the global pandemic using the approach of the UNESCO 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation as a key tool.

Three key themes addressed were: well-being and local communities; heritage at the core of local economic development strategies; and re-thinking urban infrastructure in historic urban contexts. The final session worked as a general debate on the way forward to heritage-based recovery and resilience for heritage cities. More than 50 participants joined daily from 30 different countries from across the world. 16 experts who joined the Lab were from the Africa region.

Learn more


World Heritage City Lab: testimonials

“Thanks kindly for pulling this together so well [...] My heartiest congratulations on this successful engagement with key actors from around the globe.”
Mr. Satya Tripathi, UN Assistant Secretary General, UN Environment

“it's been a real pleasure participating. I have learned a lot and it's been invigorating to get in contact with so many interesting people.”
Mr. Pier Luigi Sacco, Head of Venice Office, OECD 

“Thank you World Heritage Cities Programme for organising the City Lab and opening out unusual discussions among professionals, officials and civic society, thus redefining the priorities and responsibilities of relevant international organisations and their relationship with decision makers and other stakeholders”
Ms. Shadia Touqan, Director, ARC-WH, Bahrain

“I really enjoyed the lively webinar discussions last night, and its being a great experience for me to be involved.”
Ms. Elizabeth Vines, McDougall & Vines,
Conservation and Heritage Consultants, Australia 

“It has been really an exciting and inspiring experience. I have learned a lot from the excellent presentations and the high level discussions.”
Mr. Daniele Pini, Professor and conservation Expert, Italy  

“Thank you so much for organising such a dense and enriching City Lab. It was a pleasure and an honour to work with everyone [...]. Each one of us came from a different professional backgrounds and I was very happy to see how rich the discussions were, and to see that I can contribute with a more hands-on/bottom-up approach to community engagement and resilience building.”
Ms. Maya Rafih, Expert, Egypt

“Enriching debate and presentations”
Mr. Adnène Ben Nejma, Expert, Tunisia  

“I am so delighted to participate on this interesting Lab. I gained experience and shared ideas with many experts in the urban heritage field. [...] the debate was timely and interesting.”
Mr. Medhanie Teklemariam Andom,
Site Manager of “Asmara: A Modernist African City”
World Heritage property, Eritrea  

Look out for the Outcomes and Recordings of the World Heritage City Lab to be posted soon on 

Learn more on “Site managers from Eastern Africa participate in UNESCO’s World Heritage City Lab” 


Urban Solutions: Learning from cities’ responses to COVID-19’

The impact on cites of the global health crisis COVID-19 and the innovative ways to reimagine more resilient futures was at the heart of the UNESCO Cities Platform Online Meeting. The intersectoral UNESCO Cities Platform (UCP) composed of 8 UNESCO city Networks and Programmes, including the World Heritage Cities Programme, from all across UNESCO Sectors have a comprehensive and transversal approach to the Organization’s work in the urban context for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The event included a Special Session on Transformative City Tourism moderated by Dr. Mechtild Rossler, Director of the World Heritage Centre. The current global crisis has had an unprecedented impact on tourism worldwide, and so also on the employment and income of millions. The panel debate focused on the importance of promoting more sustainable and more local tourism in the current context.

Learn more
Watch the meeting

World Heritage site closures and re-openings - Update

UNESCO continues monitoring the situation of World Heritage Sites facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Its global map on the closure of World Heritage sites due to COVID-19 and analysis has been updated on 03/08/2020. As you can see 60% of World Heritage properties in some countries are now open or partially open.

See the Map 

Himeji-jo; Author: Ko Hon Chiu Vincent;
© Ko Hon Chiu Vincent


Outcomes of the Fukuoka Expert Meeting on "Heritage in Urban Contexts”

The Outcomes of the International Experts Meeting "Heritage in Urban Contexts: Impacts of Development Projects on World Heritage properties in Cities" held in Fukuoka, Japan, 14-17 January 2020 are finalised and available now. The event was co-sponsored by Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs and Kyushu University in cooperation with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS, ICCROM, IUCN. A range of senior international experts gathered in Fukuoka to develop a methodology, tools, and processes linked to the implementation of the UNESCO 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation (HUL Recommendation) in World Heritage cities. This reflection took place in the framework of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Outcomes include Thematic Recommendations, a framework for establishing the local Attributes of Urban Heritage Identity of a World Heritage property in addition to the Outstanding Universal Value, and a Methodology for Implementing the HUL Recommendation that connects 8 key steps with 4 types of tools.

Read more 

Final Outcomes

Jbel Dersa; Author: Anassbarnichou2;
© Anassbarnichou2 

World Heritage City Dialogues

The World Heritage City Dialogues continued in July bringing together Site Managers in the World Heritage Cities and strengthening our international community. This time, Site Managers from the Arab States and Latin America and the Caribbean regions shared their latest experiences and questions. More Dialogues will take place in the upcoming months. If you are a Site Manager or a Focal Point, please join us!

The Dialogues have served to strengthen the bonds and to stimulate exchanges between Site Managers and the World Heritage Centre.

Site Managers and Focal Points, keep us updated with your contact details, and share with us the specific topics and ideas you would like to discuss during upcoming Dialogues.

UNESCO International Expert Workshop on Culture|2030 Indicators

Forty-five participants from all regions of the world were introduced to the Culture|2030 Indicators methodology for implementation at the national and urban levels during the UNESCO International Expert Workshop on the Culture|2030 Indicators, conducted 2-11 June with opening remarks by Mr Ernesto Ottone R., UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture and Ms Silvia Montoya, Director of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Montreal. Participants also participated in a collaborative effort to construct the 22 thematic indicators for all the four thematic dimensions.

Learn more

UNESCO’s “Next Normal” campaign

At a moment when people everywhere lament the loss of ‘normality’ and long to return to ‘normal’ life, UNESCO has launched a global campaign challenging our perception of normality. From the perspective that certain deprivations have too long been considered normal, UNESCO sees the current moment to redirect efforts towards a new Next Normal. This initiative of the UNESCO Forum: Imagining the World to Come, our previous reality cannot be considered normal any longer, now is the time to make a change. 

Watch the video  

Learn more

Author: Ruy Salaverry;
© Ruy Salaverry 

World Environment Day 2020: Solutions from Nature

5th June was World Environment Day. The foods we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate that makes our planet habitable all come from nature. These are exceptional times, and to care for ourselves we must care for nature. As we focus on recovery and resilience in World Heritage cities, World Environment day reminds us about the role of nature and its links with cities. It is time to integrate nature into urban solutions for historic cities.

Learn more

City Focus

City Focus is a corner for the World Heritage Cities
to share their challenges and initiatives.
Share yours!

Lamu old town

Mr. Mohamed Mwenje, Site Manager of the “Lamu Old Town” World Heritage property in Kenya, shared information on the severe impacts that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to his historic coastal city. “Lamu faces immense infrastructural challenges in all sectors, but most especially the health, transport and education sectors,” reported Mr. Mwenje. “The tourism industry has also been hit hard by the pandemic as over 80% of tourists have been lost,” he added.

Watch the video 


The World Heritage Site of the “Old City of Dubrovnik”, in Croatia, shareds this unusual postcard of a deserted historical city centre during the lock-down period caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, during the World Heritage City Webinar, and along with the re-opening of some European World Heritage sites, Mr. Mato Franković, Mayor of Dubrovnik, discussed key impacts of the pandemic on the city, and the role for heritage in recovery and rebuilding – in the short term and in the longer term.

Watch the video

Learn more about the World Heritage City Webinar 

Sharing Practice:

Ms. Ming Chee Ang, General Manager of George Town World Heritage Integrated (GTWHI), in charge of the management of the George Town, part of the World Heritage Site of Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca (Malaysia), shared with us a series of points for reflection related to the challenges to community participation and engagement in current times.

She emphasised:

  • Resiliency: especially related to understanding heritage attributes, vulnerabilities and risk to local life and impacts to livelihoods.
  • Accessibility: especially related to formal and informal communication and the empowering local people with access to technology.
  • Attitude: The importance of staying optimistic to find hope and to work collectively as a team. She stressed the importance of physical distancing while being socially engaged.

She also added that as resources are always scarce, it is important to prioritise on who among the local community should be receiving these contact details.



Reflections of an Expert

Eduardo Rojas

Watch the video
Conservation of the Urban Heritage:
A new frontier for urban development
management in Latin America 

   There is a growing consensus on the significant contribution that urban heritage makes to the social and economic development of cities. Recent international agreements like the United Nations New Urban Agenda crystalize the widespread support for these ideas and call for taking advantage of these opportunities without delays. However, putting these ideas into practice poses a significant governance challenge, and the solutions vary among regions. This note focuses on historic cities in Latin America.

   Change is a constant in cities. Managing change in an urban heritage area confronts decision-makers with the need to attain a delicate balance between allowing change and preserving the heritage values of the historic quarter or centre. Planning methodologies and legally binding regulatory instruments promoting such outcomes do exist but in Latin America they are neither widely used nor integrated into urban development governance. The most common situation is that heritage conservation and urban development management run in parallel tracks with fragmentary and silo-focused institutions and different structures of authority.

   Successful experiences indicate that the integration of urban heritage conservation with the sustainable development of cities requires a significant involvement of institutions at the local level of government; the use of flexible regulations allowing for adaptive rehabilitation of urban heritage; and sustained cooperation among public, private, and community institutions. In Latin America taking advantage of the development opportunities mentioned here requires significant reforms to the governance structures of city management and urban heritage preservation. The objective is to reach a long-term balance between promoting change in cities and preserving the cultural values of the urban heritage. This goal is attainable with the knowledge and implementation tools available with three reforms are implemented.

1. Share the responsibility for urban heritage between national culture institutions, which are directly responsible for World Heritage properties, and local urban development agencies, so the decisions about the balance between development and preservation are fundamentally made at the local level, in a transparent and technically supported process with backing and supervision from competent higher level government agencies.

2. Make urban heritage preservation regulations and interventions an integral part of urban development plans and city management processes. Local control should reduce conflicts and ensure more buy-in on the part of the social actors that are more likely to benefit and also pay the costs of urban heritage preservation.

3. Incorporate all interested social actors into the urban heritage preservation governance mechanisms by establishing institutional arrangements that promote cooperation and shared responsibility among them. Cooperation helps to accept the socially agreed balance between development and preservation. Shared responsibility brings more resources to the enterprise ensuring its long-term sustainability.

These reforms are not easy to implement. In most countries of Latin America, they will cut across long-established practices and require reconciling conflicts among social actors. However, they are needed to implement an approach that is gaining ground on ways ensure that the rich urban heritage of Latin America benefits the local community thus ensuring a future for this inheritance from the past.

Eduardo Rojas, Chilean architect and planner,
Lecturer at the Weitzman School of Design,
University of Pennsylvania,
July 2020

Publications of interest

UCLG DECALOGUE for the COVID-19 aftermath

UCLG (United Cities and Local Governments) has recently launched the Decalogue for the COVID-19 era that aims to be a charter for the aftermath of the pandemic. The Decalogue calls on local and regional governments, to develop a strong local democracy and be the guardians of international solidarity. The Decalogue has been inspired from the lessons learnt from UCLG membership and is still in consultations to ensure that this process also feeds into future inputs.

Browse the publication 

Value of heritage for tourism- Proceedings of the 6th UNESCO UNITWIN Conference 2019

Dominique Vanneste & Wesley Gruijthuijsen (eds.), University of Leuven, 2020, ISBN 978-94-6407-365-2 

The proceedings of the 6th UNESCO UNITWIN Conference 2019 are now available online. The Conference, was organised by Katholieke Universiteit Leuven with a Scientific Committee composed by members of the UNESCO-UNITWIN ‘Culture, Tourism, Development’ Network.
The event built on the idea that heritage offers on the one hand, an asset for heritage and cultural tourism, while on the other, the sharing of heritage’s values with locals and visitors provokes learning processes and experience. Visitors too can also contribute in many ways to heritage conservation. If properly managed, heritage and tourism can mutually benefit and share goals. 

 Read the articles and proceedings

ICCROM’s Annual Report 2019

ICCROM has recently presented its 2019 Annual Report.
This annual report highlights the importance of partnership, inviting partnerships to carry out activities that will make a more lasting impact and address contemporary issues in heritage conservation worldwide.

Read the report

Our partners

World Monuments Fund

On 19 May 2020, the World Monuments Fund hosted an online discussion “Cultural Heritage in Times of Crisis” addressing the role of heritage sites following the COVID-19 pandemic. The conversation addressed the role heritage sites in the months and years to come in the context of recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic.

Watch the video

Heritage and Pandemics: Traditional Knowledge for Building Resilience

ICCROM held a session on the role of Traditional Knowledge in building resilience on 26 June. With the examples of Egypt, Guatemala and Nigeria, the session addressed the role that traditional knowledge plays in filling-in the gaps in state-led pandemic response, and to build resilience in post-pandemic recovery. It also addressed the possibilities of mainstreaming traditional knowledge in recovery strategies and plans.

Watch the video

Complex of Hué Monuments;
Author: Giora Dan;
The World Heritage Collection 

The Culture-Nature Journey- ICOMOS Webinar |

The “Culture-Nature Journey” webinar, held on 16 May 2020, and organised by the ICOMOS Emerging Professionals Working Group is now available to watch at ICOMOS YouTube Channel and to read the summary.

The Culture-Nature Journey is jointly coordinated by ICOMOS and IUCN in partnership with the World Heritage Centre, and a range of partners from all over the world. The Culture-Nature Journey, or Nature-Culture Journey, addresses how natural and cultural heritage are closely interconnected in most landscapes and seascapes, and defends the better integration of theory and practice regarding their identification and management. The journey also puts a strong focus on how the relationships between people and the natural environment have shaped both our physical environment and belief systems.

Watch the video

Learn more 

ICOMOS CIVVIH Resilience of Historic Cities in times of COVID-19 Webinar

The webinar, held on 17 June 2020, dealt with the issue how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN is transforming our world. What is the impact of the New Urban Agenda and is the Historic Urban Landscape approach an appropriate tool for resilient historic cities?

Watch the video

Learn more

Lecture Series-Impact Assessment for World Heritage

ICCROM, ICOMOS and IUCN have been collaborating, in partnership with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA), on the elaboration of a new joint World Heritage Impact Assessment (WHIA) Guidance document within the framework of the ICCROM-IUCN World Heritage Leadership Programme. In July, 2 1-hour sessions were held to deliver core content aspects about impact assessment guidance. 

  • 16 July 12pm (CEST) Impact Assessment for World Heritage I- what are the main things you need to know
  • 30 July 12pm (CEST) Impact Assessment for World Heritage II - steps and processes


Note: The practices shared in Urban Notebooks are not assessed in any way by the World Heritage Centre or presented here as model practices nor do they represent complete solutions to heritage management problems. The views expressed by experts and Site Managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre. The practices and views shared here are included in Urban Notebooks as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on urban heritage with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.

Room for thought


How is COVID-19 changing urban heritage conservation and management approaches?

What changes are you experiencing in your site?

How could we support colleagues though our international community?

Share your thoughts and concerns with us!
Send us your questions by email for discussion during City Dialogues

Guidelines for Contributions


Urban Notebooks is a way for World Heritage Cities to share up-to-date information, practices and opportunities around the world.

Please share with us your challenges and projects. Share with us the initiatives and activities related to culture in your city in response to the COVID-19. Please share opportunities as well. Your contributions will make the Urban Notebooks better.

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Find the form for submissions here (English/French) and Grant of Rights document (English/French)

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We gratefully acknowledge the support of
the City of Nanjing