Sustainable Cities and Communities

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Heritage, Conservation, and Development

  • Martina M. KeitschEmail author
Living reference work entry



Heritage: Etymologically‚ “heritage” from Latin “hereditare” denotes a “condition or state transmitted from ancestors” (Etymology Dictionary 2018). Heritage comprises physical artifacts and/or intangible practices, activities and attributes of groups or communities through time, and can be categorized in natural and cultural heritage. The World Heritage Convention (2018) defines natural heritage as follows: “Natural features consisting of physical and biological formations or groups of such formations, which are of outstanding universal value from the aesthetic or scientific point of view; geological and physiographical formations and precisely delineated areas which constitute the habitat of threatened species of animals and plants of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation; natural sites or precisely delineated natural areas of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science, conservation or natural beauty.” The Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (Faro Convention 2005) defines cultural heritage in Article 2 as “…a group of resources inherited from the past which people identify, independently of ownership, as a reflection and expression of their constantly evolving values, beliefs, knowledge and traditions.” Currently, approaches that merge natural and cultural heritage, for example, regarding the evolution of historical landscapes and/or complex urban landscapes, are getting more common in heritage conservation (Dümke and Gnedovsky 2013).

Conservation: According to Merriam Webster the term describes the careful preservation and protection of something. Conservation includes management to prevent destruction or neglect. Heritage conservation concerns among others to counteract deterioration of historically and culturally important buildings and artifacts and structures or preservation of environments such as parks or gardens.

Development: The Cambridge Dictionary describes “development” as a process in which someone or something grows or changes and becomes or is made more advanced. This description indicates improvements of economic, political, and social structures for citizens for their well-being on a sustainable, long-term basis.

Investigating Dimensions of Heritage, Conservation, and Development

This entry discusses heritage, conservation and development, and their relationships by drawing on state-of the-art research literature. A major challenge for any contemporary society lies in facilitating satisfying relationships between heritage, peoples’ cultural activities, and sustainable development. In this context, cultural sustainability is becoming an important factor in the sustainability debate (Nurse 2006; Wessels 2006). The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) explains that development that is responsive to the cultural context and considers the particularities of a place and community is likely to yield sustainable, inclusive, and equitable outcomes (2012). Currently, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11: “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable,” (United Nation Development Program, UNDP) emphasizes the role of culture and heritage, especially in target 11.4 that calls for strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.

Interpreting heritage, conservation, and development as interdependent, the entry presents an introduction to recent main ideas regarding these domains. Addressing and illustrating the complexities of their relationships, heritage, conservation, and development are illustrated with reference to urban space and stakeholder participation, and possibilities and challenges are discussed. The entry concludes with two methodological suggestions for balancing heritage, conservation, and development with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

Ideas of Heritage, Conservation, and Development

Ideas of natural and cultural heritage are based on multifaceted value systems. These ideas are changing because value systems differ historically and spatially. Values of heritage are also recognized differently by stakeholders. In this sense, heritage representations such as cultural landscapes, buildings, and objects have a symbolic character and contribute to identity development and preservation (Tilley 2006).

Currently, concepts of cultural heritage empathize at least two perspectives. First, heritage is considered to bridge past and future with particular applications in the present, for example, through conservation. This historical view understands heritage consisting of elements that allow societies on the one hand to reflect and reshape their past, to grasp the presence, and to plan for the future (Ashworth 2008; Harrison 2013). Heritage plays here the role of a medium, where both cultural memory and cultural representations meet. Holtorf (2008) refers to cultural memory as human collective understanding of the past in any given social and historical context.

Second, concepts that acknowledge the importance of local heritage are gaining momentum, supplementing concepts that discuss heritage conservation on national and global levels. Connections to heritage and to activities such as preservation of buildings or objects and maintaining traditions are seen as an important element of developing both community and personal identity. Besides acknowledging the contextual value of heritage, this view also reflects its social value as a result of selections, negotiations, and trade-offs, involving multiple stakeholders (Graham et al. 2000).

Heritage decisions and development are accompanied and influenced by cultural, social, and economic activities of certain societal groups. Issues on identity, meaning, and values indicate the probability of conflicting notions of ownership attached to heritage and ultimately conflicting sets of values and interests. Wang and Sauerlia (2014) illustrate that in cultural heritage, conservation and sustainability issues, conflicts, and challenges are linked to diverse stakeholders, which have to be taken into account. In relation to development, cultural heritage conservation can have both positive and negative impact on community activities, resilience, and well-being. For example, broadening access to historic sites and allowing local participation raise interest in the history of the people, places, and traditions (Yung et al. 2017). On the other hand, forced heritage conservation, evictions, and restrictions are often threats to communities.

The Washington Charter, Article 3 stated already in 1987: “The participation and the involvement of the residents are essential for the success of the conservation programme and should be encouraged” (Washington Charter 1987). The conservation of historic towns and urban areas concerns first of all their residents.” Within this context, conservation challenges present themselves as development challenges (ICOMOS 1987). Wang and Sauerlia (2014) point that historical, contextual, and symbolic values of heritage comprise tasks for conservation professionals and decision-makers, for example, to ensure that residents and stakeholders understand, appreciate, and ideally support conservation work and to balance reconstruction and requirements of preservation with contemporary living conditions and private economic interest.

Sustainable Development

Concepts and contents of sustainable development have undergone significant transformations, since the first definition of the term by the World Commission on Environment and Development, as “…development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (1987, 46). These transformations indicate that sustainable development requires a continually revised understanding of many ideas and strategies. For example, lacking knowledge has to be identified, and sustainable innovation should be directed to meet new emerging challenges. Robinson explains: “Sustainability …is itself the emergent property of a conversation about what kind of world we collectively want to live in now and in the future.”

The history of sustainable development started at least two decades before the World Commission on Environment and Development coined the term sustainable development. Ideas about corresponding progress, growth, equity, and resources emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Du Pisani 2006). Environmental concern was partly triggered by the fear that economic growth might endanger the survival of the human race and the planet, and was expressed by authors such as Glick: “…if we continue our present practices we will face a steady deterioration of the conditions under which we live” (Glick, in Dubos et al. 1970, 2). In 1972, The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 1972, Article 3) stated that “…In our time, man’s capability to transform his surroundings, if used wisely can bring to all peoples the benefit of development and the opportunity to enhance the quality of life. Wrongly or heedlessly applied, the same power can do incalculable harm to human beings and human environment.” Further, “To defend and improve the human environment for present and future generations has become an imperative goal for mankind” (Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, 1972, Article 3).

Responding to the environmental crisis, the sustainable development paradigm focused initially mainly on economic and environmental aspects of interactions between humans and nature with the aim to satisfy human needs within the limited boundaries of the ecosphere. The original intention of sustainable development was thus to coordinate and manage the vitality of nature’s ecological systems with economic activities. Consequently, a natural science approach gained momentum, putting sustainability at the center of attention for scientific analyses and action, while ethical and cultural dimensions were seldom part of the debate. In the beginning of the twenty-first century, the former unquestioned ideology of the manageability of nature within a framework of constant economic growth and Westernized consumer culture became however a major criticism of the sustainable development paradigm (Du Pisani 2006).

Successively, the idea solidified that human life quality is as depended on the existence of other species and natural environments as humans’ material needs. Further, the insight that economic, social, and ecological development intrinsically depend on each other was reflected conceptually and methodologically (e.g., Holling 2001; Ostrom 2009). Acknowledgment of the challenge to harmonize tensions between nature and culture remained tacit until recently. In 2015, the UN Open Working Group proposal for the Sustainable Development Goals stated in point 9: “Rio+20 affirmed the conviction that in order to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations, it is necessary to promote harmony with nature. It acknowledged the natural and cultural diversity of the world, and recognized that all cultures and civilizations can contribute to sustainable development (UN Open Working Group 2015).”

In the last two decades, heritage, conservation, culture, and sustainable development become closer connected, conceptually as well as practically. In 2011, the UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape suggested a holistic approach that balances conservation with the triple bottom line, i.e., social, economic, and environmental sustainability. This relates, for example, to how historic city parts affected by environmental damages such as air pollution, increasing solid waste, and water pollution (Appendino 2017; Nocca 2017).

Strategies, policies, and technologies to integrate sustainability in maintaining tangible and intangible heritage are still in an infancy stage (Richard and Wilson 2007), however, successively sustainable development becomes part of heritage and conservation and vice versa, represented, e.g., SDG 11 and the “New Urban Agenda” that appraises cultural heritage as an important factor for urban sustainable development (New Urban Agenda 2017). Culture is crucial “in rehabilitating and revitalizing urban areas, and in strengthening social participation and the exercise of citizenship” (New Urban Agenda 2017, point 38) thus contributing to generate viable communities (New Urban Agenda 2017, points 45 and 60).

Nocca (2017, 4) points out: “The definition of Historic Urban Landscape …is the latest specific contribution of the international debate on the identification, conservation, and enhancement of cultural heritage. The Historic Urban Landscape…the ‘historic layering of cultural and natural values and attributes’ incorporates the intangible dimension of heritage. …This approach recognizes the necessity to support …cultural and natural heritage in a world characterized by rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, integrating heritage conservation into the transformation strategies and projects.” On a transnational level, the document Towards an Integrated Approach to Cultural Heritage for Europe (European Commission 2014) acknowledges the “intrinsic and social value of heritage” as a strategic resource for sustainable development.

Cultural Sustainability Heritage and Conservation

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO 2011), development interventions that are responsive to the cultural and environmental context and the particularities of a place and community and that advance a human-centered approach to development are most effective and likely to yield sustainable, inclusive, and equitable outcomes (UNESCO 2012). Interpreting this statement, some authors suggest that culture should be regarded as the fourth pillar of sustainability. Wessels (2006) states, e.g., that adding culture on its own merits to the ecological, economic, and social pillar creates a holistic approach to sustainability.

Cultural sustainability looks at ways to improve life quality of citizens, for example, by providing a viable inheritance for future generations. This requires the recognition of local cultural values, equal rights, and providing support for community-based, people-centered, and participatory approaches. Further, the promotion of cultural diversity and the preservation and conservation of tangible and intangible (local) cultural heritage are considered key aspects (Wessels 2006).

Historically, comprehensive ideas on heritage, conservation, and development, which emphasize, e.g., social and economic benefits accompanying the preservation of cultural heritage, have existed some for decades. The World Heritage Convention stated already in 1972 that: “…the cultural heritage and the natural heritage are increasingly threatened with destruction not only by the traditional causes of decay, but also by changing social and economic conditions which aggravate the situation with even more formidable phenomena of damage or destruction.” Recently, Rodwell (2007, 8) points at the common connotations of conservation and sustainability – to manage resources and achieve enhancement for both the natural environmental and peoples’ quality of life. In this sense, “Conservation means all the processes of looking after a place so as to retain its cultural significance.”

In the 2003 “Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage,” the UNESCO provided a framework protecting “living heritage” globally. The term “living heritage” overlaps with the term “intangible cultural heritage.” The UNESCO understands living heritage as the fundament of communities and as essential source of identity and continuity. Aspects of living heritage include tradition, oral history and narratives, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge concerning nature and cosmos, and indigenous skills, techniques, and craftsmanship. The UNESCO emphasizes particularly nature-culture relationships, local participation, and inherent dynamics of living heritage: “Intangible cultural heritage refers to living practices and expressions passed down from generation to generation. These living traditions are constantly recreated by communities in response to their environment, their relationship with nature and their history… The 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage … places individuals and communities at the heart of efforts to ensure its viability. In this way, intangible cultural heritage can become a fundamental factor in sustainability, a catalyst for meaning and energy, a source of creativity and innovation, and a resource to meet new challenges and find appropriate solutions” (UNESCO News 2013).

In terms of social and cultural sustainability, living heritage also plays an important normative role in promoting values such as cultural diversity, social cohesion, reconciliation, peace, and economic development. Court et al. (2015) suggest that these values can be realized through participation, here people-centered approaches, and suggest that the community should play a genuine, self-driven role to manage conservation of cultural heritage. Stakeholders, such as policy-makers, conservationists, and architects, should be familiar with the local context and needs, so that long-lasting benefits for the community can be achieved. Court et al. remark that people-centered approaches benefit even disadvantaged communities to develop capacities and assets that can advance their own development and heritage resources.

Theoretically, heritage conservation is increasingly tied to concepts on social sustainability to achieve better coherence and acceptance. Newer theories emphasize the sense of community, locality, social interaction, cohesion, and inclusion in line with sustainable development and heritage conservation strategies (Rodwell 2007). Further, collaboration, cooperation, and partnership among various stakeholders in local and global level have received growing attention in the literature (Chapagain 2008; Aas et al. 2005; Rahman 2013).

The notion of “culture” entails underlying belief systems, values, experiences, and worldviews, which contribute to shape relationships as well as interactions and practical actions within the environment (Nurse 2006). In this sense, cultural sustainability and heritage conservation in, e.g., urban space connects with the embodied knowledge of the stakeholders. Several contemporary concepts show an increased recognition and interest in the empowerment of local actors and collaboration between different stakeholders in heritage and conservation projects, addressing needs more fully along with national and global priorities (Walker and Devine-Wright 2008; UNESCO 2013).

Both local people and community groups (users) and external stakeholders play significant roles for implementing and maintaining heritage conservation (Court and Wijesuriya 2015). People-Centred Approaches to the Conservation of Cultural Heritage: Living Local people own “embodied” information, developed throughout generations as their “culture.” The notion of “embodiment” refers to a phenomenological concept of spatiality and humans’ experience of space (Relph 1976). According to Relph (1976), the very quality of space lies in the potential to organize human values, experiences, and activities spatially. An important point is that a place can have different identities for different users and that these identities change dynamically, relating to embodied information and activities that connect these users with places.

From a cultural heritage point of view, this phenomenological perspective invites to revisit ideas of “heritage” and methodologically by including narratives on daily experiences and “ways of living” in planning and collaboration decisions and activities (Keitsch and Singh 2014). McCoy and Scully (2002, 120) put it as follows: “People want to be part of community … and to make progress on the issues that are important to them. They need opportunities that allow them to make the best use of their skills and time. They need to be invited to participate by those they know and trust.” Normatively, inclusion means orientation toward participation and strive for a mutual trust building, initiative taking, motivation, and ownership.

Community groups, facing environmental, economic, and social transformations, change internally in order to adapt. However, groups and stakeholders such as conservationists, architects, planners, and others involved in the heritage conservation process are not only challenged to adapt but to couple innovation with the protection of local values, beliefs, and identity. Connecting users and stakeholders through various cultural activities is mentioned by some authors as a promising practice to encourage mutual trust. Involvement in common activities for heritage conservation might also present an opportunity for the broader public to gain some stakes. Additionally, sharing cultural practices within a context of local knowledge, skills, and heritage management can be a motor for future common actions and is thus not just a driver of inclusion, social mobility, and economic stability but can play a key role in creating sustainable environments (Keitsch and Singh 2014). External stakeholders such as decision-makers on national and global levels can thereby facilitate local peoples’ knowledge of heritage strategies and would thereby become a valuable resource for conservation projects.

Regarding, for example, the conservation of tangible heritage in the form of monuments and buildings, which are still in use for various cultural and social activities, a people-centered or inclusive approach should address the need for restoration in line with users’ needs, e.g., to have a safe and suitable space for rituals and other cultural activities. When community members (users) and stakeholders start repairing, e.g., parts of a temple, this is an internal affair for the users, and they will think of the project as their own (Keitsch and Singh 2014). However, the restoration of the monuments is might also be in the interest of governmental and commercial stakeholders and other organizations who have different conservation requirements. In fact, community members often face technical and bureaucratic barriers when getting involved in heritage conservation. This is partly due to their lack of policy, technical, and organizational knowledge. Eventually, community members and groups might also be confronted with economic hurdles, which generates the necessity to include more stakeholders, sometimes even farer from the locality, such as international donors. Comprising diverging interests and requirements from the donors, regulatory bodies, and need of technical experts, the project scales up with mounting financial, bureaucratic, and technical challenges. While the community members and groups see their attachment to the project through the lens of the usability to perform their cultural activities, the external stakeholders see the project’s technical attributes, architectural features, regulations and policies, or economic benefit. These variations in perceptions can result in inter- and intragroup conflicts, which is often a major factor for halting a project’s process. Anticipation of potential conflicts between stakeholders and mitigation strategies can reduce this risk (Keitsch and Singh 2014).

Social sustainable development in heritage conservation acknowledges the fact that local groups have embodied information and developed traditions and knowledge throughout generations as their “culture.” Culture shapes not only relationships and practical actions within the natural environment, but culture, heritage, and conservation can contribute to community viability, for example, through economic development. Nocca (2017) emphasizes, for example, that local products as elements of both heritage and local identity can mediate values of a community and to contribute to income generation, representing a strong connection between a product and its place of origin. Small sustainable businesses and local entrepreneurs can develop ways to compete with mass-produced commodified culture, which may contribute to increase economic growth. Simultaneously local governments can promote sustainable, local production to strengthen communities’ identity, activities, and social bonds simultaneously maintaining triple bottom-line principles. Ideally, local resources can give access to both strength of local economy and of local culture and to sustainable everyday activities.

In practice, balancing economic opportunities and cultural values in a community is challenging. While cultural knowledge and practices often form a solid common ground locally, culture as commodity can shift power balances internally among community members and bring external forces into play, for example, when investors, travel agencies, tourist associations, and promoters convert local culture to an income source without compensation of the locals (Gurung 2018). Changes can lead to growing inequity, incongruence, and rising exclusion. Sometimes local level control may lead to the self-destructive pathways, misusing the space, and asserting social injustice and environmental decay. These kinds of instabilities and conflicts require governmental interventions as ultimate regulation mechanisms to provide the future sustainability for the community and stakeholders. Projects that deal with sustainable conservation and heritage development will henceforth have to consider solutions that connect sustainability, heritage conservation, and the community’s thriving and well-being, i.e., pay attention to cultural viability, economic affluence, environmental resilience, and social equity.


Recent research literature on heritage, conservation, and development increasingly acknowledges that heritage has meaning on multiple levels, which is served best by transdisciplinary methodologies and approaches that can be developed and used worldwide.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) define a future development agenda for 2015–2030 meant to encourage the international community to move toward a global sustainable future in the next few decades. The aims of sustainable development (SD) and their articulation in SDGs advance the discussion on a better world, with emphasis on values for human rights, justice, health, and well-being (SDG 16). Two methodological strategies with regard to conservation, heritage, and development are here suggested to approach these aims.

First, as Nocca points out (2017), generic tools are needed to evaluate the contribution of cultural heritage to the achievement of the SDGs. These tools should reflect the interrelatedness between heritage, conservation, and development and comprise the possibility to link with, e.g., sustainable conservation and management of cultural heritage (Keitumetse 2011). Further, evaluating cultural heritage related to ecological and social challenges might require the development of new (crosscutting indicators) and evaluation methods to assess the contribution of cultural heritage to triple bottom-line challenges of sustainability.

Second, cultural heritage is inquired by many disciplines such as humanities, social sciences, environmental studies, architecture, and design. Suggestions for cultural heritage and SDG success should be sought through interdisciplinary research (Robinson 2004) especially by implementing transdisciplinary collaboration between scientific experts and societal stakeholders (Termeer et al. 2012; Biggs et al. 2010).

Transdisciplinary research comprise to find methodologies for academia to collaborate directly with stakeholders. Applying and refining methods such as co-design, contextual case studies, and fieldwork within existing communities of practices will enhance dialogue, mutual learning, and respect. New transdisciplinary methodologies facilitate to share multiple perspectives and generate common knowledge and for effectively integrating multiple values and perspectives. Implemented in education, transdisciplinary methodologies enable students to plan and design heritage conservation strategies that are feasible, applicable, and desirable for societal stakeholders and that yield SDGs policy adaption.



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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of DesignNorwegian University of Science and TechnologyTrondheimNorway

Section editors and affiliations

  • Astrid Skjerven
    • 1
  1. 1.OsloMet -Oslo Metropolitan UniversityOsloNorway