OUT NOW: UNESCO Urban Heritage Atlas, a platform that maps the uniqueness of historic cities and settlements

UNESCO launches the Urban Heritage Atlas, an innovative online platform aimed at documenting and conserving the world's historic cities. Featuring detailed maps and narratives, this tool supports better management of urban heritage by highlighting its diversity and uniqueness. It serves as a key resource for implementing the 2011 Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation, fostering global collaboration in heritage preservation.

Image of Urban Heritage Atlas, Unesco

In a new initiative to preserve the rich tapestry of global urban heritage, UNESCO has launched a comprehensive online platform designed to celebrate the diversity of the world’s historic cities and settlements. This innovative tool aims to foster better management and conservation of urban heritage by using digital technology to document, visualise, and narrate the unique characteristics of different historic settings.

The UNESCO Urban Heritage Atlas launches as a technical aid for the implementation of the 2011 Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) Recommendation. It functions as a cultural mapping platform, an educational resource, and a participatory tool, that offers users a new lens through which to view and understand the complexities and value of urban heritage. At its core, the Atlas is dedicated to highlighting the interplay between the built environment, natural features, and intangible elements that together shape the identity of historic cities and settlements.

Urban heritage is the tapestry woven from a city’s historical buildings, traditions, and natural features. It’s the essence of what makes a city unique and shapes its identity.

A Showcase of Global Urban Heritage

Initially featuring 10 World Heritage cities from various regions, including the Ancient Ksour of Ouadane, Chinguetti, Tichitt, Oualata in Mauritania, Asmara in Eritrea, and the Historic Centre of Cordoba in Spain, the Atlas provides an in-depth look at these pilot projects. Each city is presented with detailed visuals, analytical narratives, and geo-referenced maps that underscore their unique heritage values. This collaborative effort was developed with local stakeholders and extends beyond the World Heritage List, encompassing a wider array of historic cities and settlements.

A Multifaceted Approach to Urban Heritage Conservation

The Urban Heritage Atlas has many features and roles:

  • An Atlas and Archive: Documenting the diversity and uniqueness of world historic cities through visual, narrative, and analytical mapping, and addressing the gap in understanding urban heritage in the context of rapid urbanisation.
  • A Technical Aid: Supporting the implementation of the HUL Recommendation by making heritage layers more visible thereby enabling better management and ensuring that new projects align with heritage values.
  • A Cultural Mapping Platform: Aiding in identifying and documenting the distinctive heritage value of historic cities, assisting local and national authorities in recognizing and managing these values.
  • A Learning Resource: Promoting an understanding and awareness of urban heritage, encouraging stakeholder participation for informed conservation and development decisions.

The Historic Urban Landscape (HUL) Recommendation is a landmark legal instrument adopted by UNESCO in 2011. It provides a framework and approach for integrating heritage conservation with urban development plans and processes. It encourages cities to manage change dynamically and adaptively, safeguarding the heritage value of urban areas while accommodating contemporary needs and aspirations. It represents a shift towards more holistic and inclusive conservation practices that recognise the complexity of historic urban environments and the need for a more nuanced and integrated approach to their management and development.

Participation and Future Directions

UNESCO invites stakeholders to contribute further studies to the Atlas, enhancing its scope through images, texts, and geo-referenced data. This initiative is not only part of UNESCO’s commitment to safeguarding cultural heritage but also emphasises the ever-growing role of digital technology in heritage conservation.

As the Atlas continues to evolve, it holds the promise of becoming an vital resource for urban planners, conservationists, and policymakers worldwide, guiding the integration of heritage conservation with urban development. This tool’s success, however, will depend on its ability to engage a broad spectrum of users and stakeholders, from local communities to international experts, in a collective effort to protect and celebrate our urban heritage.

Start browsing the atlas: Check the New and Old Towns of Edinburg or see the other 9 pilot-sites

For those interested in contributing to the UNESCO Urban Heritage Atlas or seeking more information, please contact heritage4cities@unesco.org. Together, we can ensure that the rich legacy of the world’s historic cities is preserved for future generations.

This article is based on information available as of 15 February 2024. For updates and more details, please refer to the official UNESCO website and the Urban Heritage Atlas platform.

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