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Taking nature into account in the World Heritage Management plan of Strasbourg (France)

The World Heritage site of "Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt" is carrying out an update of the World Heritage management plan and urban planning tools following the extension of the property in 2017. The new plan will seek to integrate cultural and natural heritage values and their attributes in order to improve the city’s liveability and micro-climate.

About the city of Strasbourg

Strasbourg is a city in the Rhine valley in North-Eastern France, by the German border. The city is one of the three “European capitals” with Luxembourg and Brussels, and hosts the headquarters of the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and other European institutions. The city has a medium density: with a total area of 78km² and 284,000 inhabitants (500,000 in the metropolitan area), the overall density is 3,630 inhabitants / km².

Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt was inscribed on the World Heritage List under criteria (ii) and (iv). The initial property, inscribed in 1988, was formed by the Grande-Île, the historic centre of Strasbourg. An extension concerning the Neustadt, the new town, designed and built under the German administration (1871-1918) to convert it into a regional capital, was approved in 2017.

"The Grande-Île and the Neustadt form an urban ensemble that is characteristic of Rhineland Europe, with a structure that centres on the cathedral, a major masterpiece of Gothic art. Its distinctive silhouette dominates the ancient riverbed of the Rhine and its man-made waterways. Perspectives created around the cathedral give rise to a unified urban space and shape a distinctive landscape organized around the rivers and canals."

The French and Germanic influences have enabled the composition of a specific urban space combining constructions reflecting major significant periods of European history: Roman Antiquity, the Middle Ages and the Rhineland Renaissance, French 18th century classicism, and then the 19th and early 20th centuries which saw the emergence of a modern city, the capital and symbol of the new German state.

Climate-related impacts

Due to its geographic location and climate, the impacts of climate change in the region of Alsace are less visible than in other areas. However, climate records show a clear increase in the number of record high temperatures and heat waves: while between 1925 and 1929 there were only three days when the temperature exceeded 34° C during the day and 19°C by night, between 2015 and 2019, there were 35. 

Monthly Anomalies of Temperature and Precipitation. Source: meteoblue.com Monthly Anomalies of Temperature and Precipitation. Source: meteoblue.com

From 1921 to 1950, in Strasbourg, the average annual temperature was 9.93° C. Between 1950 and 1990, temperatures stayed relatively constant. Average annual temperatures rose sharply after 1990, reaching an annual average of 11.46° C in 2020. Unless emissions are not cut drastically, heat waves are expected to be more frequent, longer and more intense due to climate change, reaching peaks of up to 50° C.  

In the last twenty years, the Alsatian capital has gained 1°C. This is significantly more than in less urbanised areas in Alsace, pointing to the negative interaction between urbanisation, rising temperatures and climate change.  

Source: Sabine Pffeiffer, 2021, Le réchauffement climatique en Alsace, moins spectaculaire qu'ailleurs, n'en est pas moins visible.

Climate action solutions and strategies: taking nature into account in the World Heritage Management plan of Strasbourg 

The World Heritage site of Strasbourg, Grande-Île and Neustadt, is using the opportunity provided by the update of the World Heritage management plan to enhance and valorise the natural elements present in this outstanding urban environment. This goal is achieved through a variety of means including regulations, guidelines and planning tools.

Urban green spaces are considered an appropriate way to reduce urban heat island effects and provide comfort to the nearby occupants. In addition to cooling the actual space, urban green spaces are also able to influence the surrounding area. 

The World Heritage Management and safeguarding plan (Plan de sauvegarde et de mise en valeur) is a binding document covering the World Heritage site and surroundings, a total of 209 hectares. Originally developed in 2011, the plan is currently undergoing a revision and extension to include the Neustadt, following the 2017 extension of the World Heritage site. The update is expected to be be finalised by 2022.

The project is developed by the Urbanism and Development Agency of the Metropolis of Strasbourg (Agence de développement et d’urbanisme de l’agglomération strasbourgeoise, ADEUS) in partnership with a number of heritage professionals, which includes architects, historians, landscape architects, urbanists and sociologists. It is financed by the French national government, the Regional direction of cultural affairs, the City and Euro-metropolis of Strasbourg.

The aims of the revision and extension are to:

  • Protect and enhance the urban heritage of the city
  • Enhance the habitability of the historic centre, threatened by mass tourism.
  • Preserve the built and natural heritage
  • Improve the cultural and economic attractiveness of the city
  • Manage disaster risk, mainly regarding fire and flooding.

These goals are planned to be implemented through a variety of actions, including urban regulations and planning tools, which target public spaces, natural heritage, and significant buildings (both interior and exterior).

The update is used as an opportunity to include natural heritage values and their attributes within the wider frameworks of heritage preservation. By protecting green areas and vegetation, the city aims to improve its liveability and environmental performance, and preserve and diversify its natural elements and spaces. Specifically, the natural heritage is protected through:

  • Detailed studies of the characteristics, morphology, and identity of green spaces
  • Written regulations
  • Graphic regulations
  • Guidelines for development and thematic planning

By including natural heritage within the planning and management tools of the World Heritage site, Strasbourg aims to send a clear message regarding the importance of green spaces and vegetation as key elements of urban heritage and identity, which must be protected and preserved for future generations. Green spaces can improve the liveability of urban areas and prevent and mitigate the urban heat island effect, reducing the city’s adverse environmental impact and contributing to the fight against climate change.

Source: Ms Cathy MULLER, Head of the Building Police Department of the Euro-metropolis of Strasbourg, 2021

Contribution towards global goals

How does this case study contribute to the global commitments of sustainable development, climate change action and heritage conservation?

© Alexandra Capello

Sustainable development

The initiative aims to contribute towards sustainable development by addressing the following Sustainable Development Goals:

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

Target 11.4: the initiative aims to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Target 11.6: the initiative aims to reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, by increasing the amount of green areas in the city and preventing and mitigating urban heat island effects.
Target 11.7: the initiative aims to increase public access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces.
Target 11.b: the initiative aims to adopt and implement integrated policies and plans towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and resilience to disasters.

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

Target 13.1: the preservation of green spaces can strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change-related hazards (heat waves and droughts) by mitigating the urban heat island effect and providing cooling to the urban areas. 

Climate change

Rising temperatures, slightly reduced precipitations, longer and more frequent heat waves, worsened by urbanisation.  

Preserve the green spaces of the historic city and promote their use by the community.  
Integrate disaster risk management into World Heritage management frameworks. 

Historic Urban Landscape

The integration of green and natural values in the World Heritage management and planning frameworks can contribute to the implementation of the approach of the 2011 Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape by creating an integrated approach towards the conservation and management of historic areas, which considers the different layers and elements that form the identity of the city. This approach is expressed through a variety of legal and spatial planning instruments. 

Regulatory systems Knowledge and planning

Learn more

Discover more about the details of the case study and the stakeholders involved.

Author: Jean-Jacques Gelbart © Editions Gelbart
To learn more

Ms Cathy MULLER, Service de la police du bâtiment, Strasbourg.

Image credits:
© UNESCO, 2021. Project team: Jyoti Hosagrahar, Alba Zamarbide, Carlota Marijuán Rodríguez, Federico Rudari, Mirna Ashraf Ali.
over image: Frantisek Zvardon © Mission Patrimoine – GCT Ville et Eurométropole de Strasbourg.

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 described potential impacts of the initiative are only indicative and based on submitted and available information. The World Heritage Centre does not carry out an independent verification of the projects and their impacts. The views expressed by experts and site managers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Heritage Centre.