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Writing a New Story: Using Heritage-Based Urban Regeneration to Stimulate Urban Resilience; Article written for the URBACT Network Kairos.


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This article explores how heritage-based urban regeneration can be used as a resource to stimulate urban resilience and develops a set of principles to enable this.
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Writing a New Story: Using Heritage-Based Urban Regeneration to Stimulate Urban
This article explores how heritage-based urban regeneration can be used as a resource to
stimulate urban resilience and develops a set of principles to enable this.
1. Heritage-Based Urban Regeneration as an Innovative Approach
Peter Roberts and Hugh Sykes (2008) describe Urban Regeneration” as an outcome of the
interplay between the many sources of influence and social, environmental and economic
pressures that force cities into a constant need to adapt [and as] a response to the
opportunities and challenges which are presented by urban degeneration in a particular place
at a specific moment in time.(2008, p.9) Unlike urban transformation, which includes
“unwanted” changes in the urban fabric, urban regeneration usually focuses on a specific area
and is based on challenges/problems that have been identified. To improve the situation on
the ground, objectives are defined, and corresponding actions and interventions are designed
and implemented until the objectives have been met (or at least some of them), the project
period is over, or the funding scheme is finished. In classical urban regeneration approaches,
like the “Stadtsanierung” in Germany, heritage was often “something” that was “discovered”
during the process. Consequently, limits that were set by preservationists were sometimes
perceived as rather strong obstacles.
In contrast, in recent years a growing number of transnational projects have been carried
out, where urban heritage has been the starting point for urban regeneration and urban
Noteworthy are the following:
The HerMan (Management of Cultural Heritage in the Central Europe Area) project focused
on Management aspects as the focal point of heritage preservation and urban development
and implemented a broad understanding of cultural heritage (City of Regensburg et al.,
The SUSTCULT (Achieving SUSTainability through an integrated approach to the
management of CULTural heritage) project aimed at attracting financial resources and
stimulating sustainable development through the improvement of urban heritage
management (Sustcult, 2012).
The SUIT (Sustainable Development of Urban Historical Areas through an active Integration
within Towns) project dealt with “built” cultural heritage as a resource, the perception and
recognition of it by communities and its role in sustainable development (Hassler et al.,
The HerO (Heritage as opportunity) project (Figure 1) used management plans as a tool for
urban development (City of Regensburg et al., 2011), while
The COMUS (Community-led Urban Strategies in Historic Towns) project focused on
community-based urban development in countries in transition (Council of Europe, 2016).
And last but not least the still ongoing (2019-2022) KAIRÓS (Heritage as Urban
Regeneration) project, where innovative approaches to use Urban Heritage as a driver for
regeneration are explored. The KAIRÓS project is capitalizing the legacy of the above
mentioned and already finished projects and is structured around a five-pillar model:
Governance - in particular participatory approaches and enabling regulatory
frameworks for heritage valorisation in mid-sized towns and cities.
Space - valorisation and adaptive re-use of urban heritage, including multi-
functionality and specific urban planning solutions for historic quarters.
Economy - entrepreneurial itineraries, business models and technologies related to
heritage valorisation and heritage-led urban development and regeneration.
Attractiveness - re-imagining the ‘heritage city’: from local identity to sustainable
destination management.
Social Cohesion – addressing accessibility and inclusiveness of historic quarters.ós
Figure 1: Partner Cities in the URBACT III Project KAIROS (Source:XXX)
At the same time, the understanding of urban heritage has changed. While at the beginning
of the preservation movement, the activities focused on single monuments (starting with
castles and churches), later the concept of the ensemble was introduced, and in 2011 with the
Recommendation of the Historic Urban Landscape (UNESCO 2011) a more complex and
systemic understanding of urban heritage became more popular. Especially in cities,
UNESCO’s different categories of heritage (tangible, intangible, etc.) were perceived as
connected and part of one system. In general, today urban heritage can be understood as a
system and process that belongs to local communities (Ripp 2018).
In the KAIRÓS Baseline Study Miguel Rivas (2020 p.8) identified three changes in heritage
A The change of scale: from single buildings and monuments to the whole historic urban
B The change of purpose: form preservation to valorisation;
C The change of method: from sectoral to interdisciplinary methods in an integrated approach;
These observed changes together with the paradigm shift in understanding heritage as a
system and process that belongs to local communities has several consequences for heritage
management in general but is also paving the way to use Urban Heritage as an entry point and
resource for urban resilience.
2. Flexible Cities Can Better Deal with Current Challenges: Urban Resilience
With global climate change and the resulting weather extremes, threats to cities caused by
heatwaves, flooding, heavy rain and thunderstorms, have been a growing concern in many
different parts of the world. Short-term health-related crises like the COVID-19 Pandemic,
but also long-term economic crises have led to the now-widespread use of resilience as a
concept to make cities stronger and better able to respond to these crises and disasters.
Urban Resilience can be defined as “…the ability of an urban system — and all its
constituent socio-ecological and socio-technical networks across temporal and spatial scales
— to maintain or rapidly return to desired functions in the face of a disturbance, to adapt to
change, and to quickly transform systems that limit current or future adaptive capacity.”
(Meerow et al., 2015; p. 39)
The resilience of natural and cultural heritage is also a topic in the Urban Agenda of the EU
and especially in the partnership for culture and cultural heritage.
However, unlike the concept of sustainability, which is concerned with maintaining
resources, urban resilience focuses on the ability to adapt to changing challenges.
3. Finding the Commonalities in Heritage-Based Urban Regeneration and Urban Resilience
Heritage-based urban regeneration and urban resilience have two things in common.
First, both can be understood through a systemic approach. Urban resilience is strongly
connected to adaptation and flexibility. It is not something “fixed” that happens only once
but rather needs to be changed and adapted constantly. Similarly, heritage-based urban
regeneration, maybe in contrast to 20th century concepts of preservation and conservation,
is also a concept where fluid and flexible elements, like, for example, non-permanent uses of
public spaces, flexible concepts of mobility, pop-up stores and art, etc., have a prominent
Second, for both, the improvement of quality of life is their ultimate goal.
Heritage-based urban regeneration aims to improve or at least keep the quality of life for
local communities. Urban resilience shares this ultimate objective by strengthening the
capacity of a city, in the aftermath of a crisis or disaster, to go (back) to the previous level of
quality of life it enjoyed. . .
Taking these similarities into account, there are still some differences to embrace. Unlike
urban resilience, which is more a permanent, ongoing quality or state, urban regeneration is
often connected to a limited project period that is framed by specific funding. Integrating
the different time scopes of the two can therefore be a challenging task.
Figure 2: Urban resilience is often associated with natural disasters? It is, however, not limited to these
alone. (Source: Matthias Ripp)
4. The New Narrative: How Heritage-Based Urban Regeneration Can Contribute to
Stimulate Urban Resilience
Urban heritage is often sometimes described as something inflexible, and together with rigid
preservation rules, it has often been perceived as an obstacle for urban development and
transformation. Slowly in the last 20 to 30 years, the narrative has been changing from the
need to find a balance between preservation and development to the understanding that
urban heritage is a powerful resource for urban development. Urban development, urban
transformation and urban resilience are all linked in that they can best be understood in a
systemic way acknowledging how different entities of the urban system are related,
connected and how interventions often affect different parts of the system at the same
time. Unfortunately, only a few research projects have focused on specific qualities of urban
heritage that can be used to stimulate urban resilience. However, a new way of thinking,
which perceives heritage-based urban regeneration as a resource for urban resilience, is
slowly emerging. Heritage-based urban regeneration can be a strong resource to motivate
and integrate local communities in local resilience strategies and plans. Urban heritage is a
strong and emotionally accessible concept providing local communities with a sense of
identity and social and psychological well-being. Heritage is often connected to “feeling at
home” and associated with positive and negative feelings of important events in the social
and personal lives of local communities. To use it more as a resource and factor for resilience
is, therefore, a smart and promising road to travel along.
Four factors can be helpful in this:
A) The role of communities
Communities often share a strong identification with urban heritage and at the same time
have diverse and context-specific needs in terms of resilience. Using urban heritage as a
resource and entry point to stimulate urban resilience is, therefore, a promising approach.
One Example of strong community involvement can be found in the development of the
Management plan for the City of Regensburg (City of Regensburg 2012)
B) Flexibility
Urban heritage, when examined from a conceptual point of view, offers far MORE flexibility
that many contemporary solutions (Ripp 2017). For example, it offers many traditional
building materials which provide a much better repairability than contemporary materials.
Discovering these qualities and communicating and promoting them can redefine the
relationship between urban heritage and urban resilience.
For example, the historic roof tiles, made of natural stone, used in the city of Girokastra,
Albania, can more easily be repaired than modern roofs made of metal (Ripp & Lukat 2017).
C) Nature-Based Solutions
Heritage and natural entities have been considered together since the preservation
movement was born in the 19th century. Today nature-based solutions are becoming more
popular, especially in Europe, and they can play a significant role in the concepts of
sustainability and resilience.
The green areas in the city of Vienna have been appreciated and used for recreational
purposes for centuries, but especially during periods of confinement during the recent
COVID pandemic (City of Vienna 2020).
D) Transferring Tools
Tools that have been successful in heritage-based regeneration, for example, local
stakeholder groups and other ideas for community involvement, could be transferred to
local resilience strategies using not only all or a part of the existing human resources but also
the existing communication and participation platforms. For example, a community council
to accompany the development of urban resilience could be implemented or existing local
support groups developed into this.
The communication platforms that have been established in urban regeneration projects can
be expanded beyond a project’s lifetime and be used for urban resilience, or when defining
urban resilience strategies, the specific actions from the urban regeneration process, for
example NBS (nature-based solutions) can be incorporated. These are just a few of many
possible ideas...
5. What Cities Can Do
Heritage is an asset that many local communities identify with. It is not only perceived as
something rational but is connected to emotions, a sense of well-being and “feeling at
home”. Because of this, urban heritage is a great starting point for many different concepts,
and one of these is urban resilience. Urban heritage has qualities which can be used to
stimulate urban resilience, as explained below.
The KAIRÓS Principles to Use Heritage-Based Urban Regeneration to Stimulate Urban
A Include the heritage sector into the development of local resilience strategies from the
very beginning
B Research and examine the specific qualities of the local cultural heritage, both individual
buildings and the city as a whole, and identify how these qualities can contribute to urban
C Promote an understanding, among the local communities and decision-makers in
particular, that urban heritage has to contribute to urban resilience and is not only
concerned with preservation.
D Foster an attitude of cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary collaboration among the different
sectors of the local administration to get a comprehensive understanding of the local urban
heritage system and how it is affected by urban transformation
Only when the changes in the understanding of urban heritage and the changes related to
the scale, purpose and methods in heritage management and heritage-based urban
regeneration are fully understood and integrated, it will be possible to use urban heritage
with its full potential to enhance urban resilience. To keep focusing on the role of urban
heritage as an object that is to be preserved will limit the scope and only reflect a
compartmentalized view that is not reflecting all aspects and relations that are part of
heritage as a system.
City of Regensburg, Ripp, M., & Scheffler, N. (2011). HerO - Heritage as opportunity. The Road to Success:
Integrated Management of Historic Towns-Guidebook.
City of Regensburg, Mühlmann, R., & Ripp, M. (2012). Management Plan UNESCO World Heritage Site "Old
town of Regensburg with Stadtamhof".
City of Vienna (2020): Wiener Parks und Gärten werden nicht geschlossen.
the heart of heritage governance.
principles- for-h/1680728eb4
Hassler, U., Algreen-Ussing, G., & Kohler, N. (2002). Cultural heritage and sustainable development in SUIT.
SUIT Position Paper, 3(9), 1-5.
Meerow, S., Newell, J.P., Stults, M. (2015). Defining urban resilience: A review. School of Natural Resources and
Environment, University of Michigan, 440 Church Street.
Ripp, M., & Lukat, A. H. (2017). From obstacle to resource: How built cultural heritage can contribute to
resilient cities. In Going Beyond (pp. 99-112). Springer, Cham.
Ripp, M. (2018). Heritage as a System and Process that Belongs to Local Communities. Reframing the role of
local communities and stakeholders Council of Europe / Faro Convention Workshop, Fontecchio.
Rivas. M. (2020) Kairós: Heritage as Urban Regeneration. Baseline study. URBACT Action planning network.
Sustcult. (2012). Concept Study on the role of Cultural Heritage as the fourth pillar of Sustainable Development.
Roberts, P. and Sykes, H. (2008). Urban Regeneration: A Handbook. SAGE Publications Ltd. DOI:
UNESCO (2011). Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape. [accessed 10 January 2021]
This paper focuses on urban heritage meanings, values, and management challenges in postcolonial Algeria, and particularly on the question of exclusivism of non-traditional urban places in heritage discourse. In the process of reconstruction of homogenous national postcolonial cultural identities, local heritage views and perspectives are often ignored. This paper suggests looking simultaneously into national policies and legislative texts on urban heritage, and local stakeholders’ perceptions of what heritage should be, to identify gaps and potentially ways to improve current urban heritage governance. The comparison between both national and local urban heritage indicators helps identify mechanisms and impacts of national exclusivism in the protection of urban heritage. Moreover, the result of focus groups and interviews with Annaba’s citizens, specialists, and officials, has helped unravel the potential of a more place-based approach to heritage management in Algeria. We argue that focusing on the local heritageness of undesignated urban places could pave the way for a more forward-thinking, holistic and inclusive approach to community-based urban heritage management. It is a methodology with wide potential in contemporary North-Africa.
Full-text available
Acknowledging that heritage is now better understood as being both determined by and the responsibility of local communities, their participation from the outset is clearly essential to reach a common understanding of the objectives connected to it (Ripp and Rodwell 2016). To shape this action space for the best possible benefit, the identification and integration of all stakeholders is essential. Definitions of stakeholder are various, from those institutions and individuals who have a dominant political and financial interest in a place, to anyone who has physical or intellectual access to it. For the purposes of this chapter, three classifications are useful: primary, direct users (local community); secondary, indirect users (incoming traders, consumers and tourists, service providers, and other employment and visitor-related categories); and tertiary, influential (governmental, non-governmental, academia, and outside investors). Engaging with citizens as the primary stakeholders matches closest with the shift in roles discussed above. "today’s comprehension of cultural heritage [is]community-oriented, dynamic rather than static, systemic not linear"
Full-text available
In the past built cultural heritage was, in the framework of sustainable urban development, often seen as an obstacle that is difficult to integrate into urban change. The need to change and adapt the historic urban fabric is more pressing than ever. The concept of resilience, originally applied in psychology and now used throughout various disciplines, can help to understand that historic building’s degree of adaptability, with regard to urban change, is far greater than it seems at the first glance. This article shows that urban heritage directly contributes to urban resilience on four different levels: resilience by way of design and construction, resilience by way of appropriate materials with a high level of “repairability,” resilience by way of adapted uses, and resilience factors in urban planning. After defining how these different levels are supported through the reputedly rigid and inflexible built urban heritage, some strategies to stimulate and strengthen these factors are suggested.
Defining urban resilience: A review. School of Natural Resources and Environment
  • S Meerow
  • J P Newell
  • M Stults
Meerow, S., Newell, J.P., Stults, M. (2015). Defining urban resilience: A review. School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, 440 Church Street.
Kairós: Heritage as Urban Regeneration. Baseline study. URBACT Action planning network
  • M Rivas
Rivas. M. (2020) Kairós: Heritage as Urban Regeneration. Baseline study. URBACT Action planning network.
Concept Study on the role of Cultural Heritage as the fourth pillar of Sustainable Development
  • Sustcult
Sustcult. (2012). Concept Study on the role of Cultural Heritage as the fourth pillar of Sustainable Development.
Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape
UNESCO (2011). Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape.