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Promoting field-based heritage education in Cartagena de Indias (Colombia)

In early 2020, the University of Pennsylvania carried out a field research seminar in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia. The educational exercise was used as an opportunity to study the city’s cultural heritage in more depth, contribute to a wider conversation about urban heritage as a driver for sustainable development, and suggest viable paths for solutions. 

About Cartagena de Indias

Cartagena de Indias is a port city located in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The city has a longstanding history as an economic centre. Its function as a trading hub dates back to its colonial period in the 16th century. Until today, trading has an important role in the city’s economy; however, the tourism sector is now just as important.

The city comprises the World Heritage site of Port, Fortresses and Group of Monuments, Cartagena. The property was inscribed in the World Heritage list in 1984 under criteria (iv) and (vi). The site includes the most extensive fortifications in South America, as well as several quarters of the historic city. A system of zones divides the city into three neighbourhoods: San Pedro, with the cathedral and many Andalusian-style palaces; San Diego, where merchants and the middle class lived; and Gethsemani, the 'popular quarter'.

The declaration of the historic city centre as a national monument in the 1970s and the inscription in the World Heritage List were linked with a tremendous growth in the tourism sector. Eventually, this extraordinary development has led to issues related to mass tourism. Meanwhile, rapid urban development has had a strong impact on both heritage conservation and the socio-economic functions of the historic centre. The central government of the municipality, together with the private sector, are now looking for solutions through public policy, planning, and urban design interventions towards sustainable management of heritage. 

The State of Conservation Reports presented to the World Heritage Committee between 1993 and 2019 highlight ongoing issues related to management and legal frameworks. In 2019, the most significant threats to the Outstanding Universal Value were related to real estate, tourism and gentrification. The existing management structures and planning regulations were seen as a weakness in protecting the property from increasing tourism and development pressures. As of 2020, site management was working on the development of Specialised Management and Protection Plans for the protected areas.

Promoting field-based heritage education

In early 2020, students from the Stuart Weitzman School of Design of the University of Pennsylvania conducted a field research in the Colombian city of Cartagena de Indias as part of a seminar-based course titled: “Urban Regeneration in the Americas: The Conservation and Development of Urban Heritage Areas”.

The exercise addressed urban conservation issues and the approach of the Historic Urban Landscape while integrating heritage conservation, city planning, urban design, and architecture. The goal was to develop new approaches to urban development in Cartagena that placed heritage as a major contributor to the social and economic development of its communities. The initiative aimed to promote a conversation about issues that were not usually discussed in Cartagena by developing structured presentations and suggesting viable paths to find solutions.

The project addressed conservation and development at six different layers, such as:

  • the accessibility and integration of the historic centre with the rest of the city;
  • the displacement of the local population by mass tourism encouraged by the dominant “tourism-oriented” development narrative;
  • the presence and contribution of afro-Colombian communities in the historic centre;
  • the use of public spaces by mass tourism;
  • the regulation of rapid change in the historic centre; and
  • the opportunities offered by tactical interventions in addressing some of the issues

Aiming at inspiring public efforts, this educational initiative made use of fieldwork and discussion seminars to come up with a comprehensive collection of complementary approaches and possible solutions addressing pressing issues in Cartagena. The final report summarises the outcomes of the activity and aims at providing a strong reference framework to local authorities for integrated sustainable development. 

Source: Eduardo Rojas, Lecturer, “Historic Preservation”, University of Pennsylvania, 2020.

Contribution towards the implementation of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape

The project could contribute to the implementation of the Historic Urban Landscape approach by aiming to provide a better understanding of urban heritage and promoting public debates about heritage values, which can encourage community involvement in heritage processes and a sense of ownership amongst local residents. 

Civic engagement tools

Contribution towards Sustainable Development

If fully implemented in accordance with the described plans, the initiative could contribute towards Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

  • Target 4.7: the initiative aims to promote education for sustainable development, including the potential of culture and cultural heritage to contribute to sustainable development. 

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

  • Target 11.4: the initiative aims to strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural heritage by providing hands-on heritage education and training and encouraging public conversations about cultural heritage values and its contribution to sustainable urban development. 

Note: the described potential impacts of the projects are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. UNESCO does not endorse the specific initiatives nor ratifies their positive impact.

To learn more

Dr Eduardo Rojas, lecturer, University of Pennsylvania. upenn.edu/historic-preservation/people/eduardo-rojas

All images © Eduardo Rojas
Note: The cases shared in this platform address heritage protection practices in World Heritage sites and beyond. Items being showcased in this website do not entail any type of recognition or inclusion in the World Heritage list or any of its thematic programmes. The practices shared 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 as a way to provide insights and expand the dialogue on heritage conservation with a view to further urban heritage management practice in general.