Re-Scape Colloquium: Mobilizing Water Heritage in Sustainable Development

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Cultural heritage is a driver for sustainable development to tackle the issues, challenges and threats brought on by globalization (Jyoti Hosagrahar et al. 2016). Conservation of cultural heritage can help to increase the resilience and sustainability of cities. The concept of the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) provides a foundation to practically integrate heritage conservation and sustainable urban development in historical cities. It is a tool that allows for understanding complex networks including those of water. Understanding past water management, policies, philosophy, art, and culture, embedding these findings into present and future practices, and developing adaptive strategies for water infrastructures has recently emerged as a new focus of attention, most notably in the Netherlands. Dutch public authorities have been developing strategies and policies to reclaim and embed water heritage into its spatial planning. Several institutions including ICOMOS NL, the Centre for Global Heritage and Development, PortCityFutures and others are striving to raise more attention to the interrelated challenges of water and heritage.

Water heritage and water challenges exist in several cities, but they are particularly prominent in what we call waterfront cities, by this we mean cities located on the shores of a sea, lake or river that will have to tackle climate change related sea-level rise, changing groundwater levels and rain patterns. We consider water heritage an indispensable element and indicator for the sustainable development of waterfront cities, and suggest that the concept of HUL can provide a holistic approach to address multiple challenges, such as “urbanisation vs. room for water retention”, “(mass-)tourism vs. heritage”, “preservation vs. climate change”, “biodiversity vs. production and consumption”, “tradition vs. migration” or “traditional water systems vs. centralized water management”.

Each city has its own geographical, historical, environmental, political and other particularities, and will need to find locally appropriate solutions. For example, the Dutch city Rotterdam needs to focus on issues of industrial transformation, while the impact of mass-tourism on urban forms is particularly relevant in Amsterdam. The example of Venice, with its challenges of sea-levels rising, flooding brought on by climate change, and of over-touristification are globally known. We wonder if HUL can serve as a tool to understand and sustainably develop these and other waterfront cities. We encourage participants to think about the four toolkits and the six critical steps proposed in the HUL approach for the conservation of heritage in waterfront cities.


In this Re-scape colloquium, we aim to connect questions of water heritage with the HUL approach for the sustainable urban development of waterfront cities. We ask:

  1. What are the challenges that HUL can help identify and solve around water-related issues?
  2. How can the discussion on water heritage enrich the content of HUL?
  3. How can we achieve long-term sustainable development of waterfront cities through activating water heritage?

Program (online)

  • 9:00-9:30
    A keynote lecture by Jyoti Hosagrahar -The UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape Approach: Past, Present and Future. Dr. Hosagrahar is the Deputy Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center in Paris. She proposed and played a leading role in formulating the guidelines of the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) to discuss the implementation of water heritage in sustainable urban development policies and plans.
  • 9:30-9:40
    The Re-scape Programme and the purpose of this meeting (introduction by Kaiyi Zhu, Gül Aktürk and Carola Hein).
  • 9:40-9:55
    Historic Urban Landscape, Water, and Ports (Carola Hein)
  • 9:55-11:00
    Peer discussion in breakout groups (65 mins) on the challenges of historical waterfront areas as dualities, that usually exist as pairs of contrasting instances resulting from two conflicting values held by different stakeholders. The breakout room chair will lead the conversation and raise the following points in relation to each case study: (1) the identification of water as heritage, and its significance for urban development, (2) challenges as multiple connections in waterfront cities, and (3) strategies to implement HUL approaches in public policy on urban management for a sustainable future. 
    Rotterdam (chair: Carola Hein; rapporteur: Kaiyi Zhu)
    Amsterdam (chair: Marie-Thérèse van Thoor; rapporteur: Gül Aktürk)
    Venice (chair: Marica Castigliano; rapporteur: Huang Huang)
  •  11:00-12:00
    Presentations by each group (15 mins) and closing comments by Jyoti while being interviewed by Paolo De Martino. The chair and rapporteur of each breakout room will summarise and present the main opinions and findings proposed in the discussion in the main online room.
  • Closing remarks by Jyoti Hosagrahar.

    Reference: Hosagrahar, J., Soule, J., Fusco Girard, L., and Potts, A. (2016). Cultural Heritage, the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and the New Urban Agenda. BDC. Bollettino Del Centro Calza Bini, 16(1), 37-54.