Design and Coordination of the Scientific Content of the OWHC Biannual Congresses 2005–2009

The membership of the Organization of World Heritage Cities is composed of cities registered on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Currently, 242 cities are registered under this category of heritage. The World Congress of the OWHC is a unique forum held every two years, which brings together politicians and cultural heritage professionals who are committed to the preservation of historic cities, particularly those inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Since the first world meeting in 1991, this event has enabled participants to discuss topics of common interest, to share experiences, and to learn about new strategies for meeting the challenges associated with the conservation and management of World Heritage cities.

planning meeting - Quito

To stimulate these discussions, the GCI works with the OWHC and the hosting city to identify a theme relevant for the city and of interest to the OWHC members.

An important issue raised early on in the collaborative project was how to introduce newly elected mayors to the responsibilities associated with running a World Heritage city. In response, the GCI developed an introductory course to conservation, specifically tailored for newly elected mayors or officials, to be offered each time the OWHC holds its international congress.

The GCI–OWHC collaboration was undertaken to:

  • assist the OWHC to create a model for future forums where all participants of the OWHC World Congress—politicians and conservation professionals—have an opportunity to discuss the salient issues raised during these international gatherings;
  • bring together experts conversant in the latest developments related to the congress theme, as well as relevant and practical examples; and
  • develop and test a prototype course to introduce new mayors and decision makers of World Heritage cities to their role and responsibilities in relation to conservation.

Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru

Work completed

The 8th OWHC World Congress was held in Cuzco, Peru, September 19-23, 2005, under the theme "Patrimonio de la Humanidad, Patrimonio con Humanidad (Heritage of Humankind, a Heritage with Humanity)." The theme was proposed by the mayor of Cuzco at the 7th Congress in Rhodes, when Cuzco was elected as the next hosting city. The theme was further developed by an advisory committee composed of the mayor of Cuzco and representatives of the municipality, representatives of the OWHC, a group of selected experts, and GCI staff.

Scientific Session – The general theme was explored in three sessions that addressed the following topics:

  • citizen participation in the revitalization of World Heritage cities: successes and failures;
  • intangible heritage in a World Heritage city: identifying and supporting it; and
  • hosting tourists in World Heritage cities: how to reconcile the needs of the residents with those of visitors.

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Each of the above topics was presented by an invited speaker conversant in the latest thinking on the subject. The participants were then organized into three discussion groups, based on the three official OWHC languages (English, French, and Spanish). In each group, two case studies were presented—one by a politician (a representative of an OWHC city), and the other by a professional from the conservation field; each presentation aimed to generate an exchange of ideas between politicians and professionals. Key questions prompted further discussion, which was summarized and presented by rapporteurs. The rapporteurs presented each group's conclusions at the final session of the congress.

In addition to the sessions described above, a poster session provided an opportunity for congress participants to present case studies that reflected on the theme of the meeting.

More than 1,150 people participated in the World Symposium; of these, 650 were students, who followed the presentations and debates via a closed-circuit video system.

Mayor's Workshop - Cuzco

Mayors Workshop – The pre-congress mayors workshop organized by the GCI had three objectives: 1) to encourage vigorous discussion regarding common issues confronted by OWHC mayors; 2) to focus on mayors' responsibilities towards cultural heritage; and 3) to utilize a case study example from the hosting city to complement the points raised during presentations and discussions, in order to familiarize participants with the challenges confronted by the city's management.

This workshop was attended by twenty-two newly elected mayors and by officials especially interested in learning about their special responsibilities in running a World Heritage city and about the resources at their disposal. The workshop was conducted in English and Spanish, and was organized around brief presentations and discussions focused on the mayors' own experiences, problems, and solutions concerning cultural heritage protection; it included a case study of a site within the host city of Cuzco.

The 9th OWHC World Congress, held in Kazan, Russia, June 19–23, 2007, centered on "Heritage and Economics." The cultural heritage of historic cities is often considered a major asset for economic development and an important source of income for the city and its inhabitants. Increasingly, tourism exerts a major role in this regard. However, the protection and management of a city's cultural heritage also embodies other values, cultural as well as monetary, that need to be understood and safeguarded. The 9th World Congress examined in greater depth the dynamic link between heritage and economics, and presented tools and guidelines for mayors to confront with greater insight the associated challenges.

building in Kazan

The program was slightly modified from the prior congress to include: four keynote presentations given by leading experts in the field of heritage and economics; a plenary panel of mayors exploring the question "Is tourism enough?"; a poster session open to all participants; a students' session; and the pre-congress mayors' workshop.

The central topic growing out of the theme of the congress was: "How can heritage preservation contribute to the sustainable economic development of a city while safeguarding its cultural identity?" Four questions followed from this topic.

  • How do you promote economic development based on heritage?
  • How do you share the benefits of economic development?
  • How do you manage the development pressures?
  • What kinds of practical tools can be used to achieve the goals of enhancing both heritage and economics in historic cities?

Together these questions helped frame the keynote talks delivered by internationally renowned experts.

poster authors, 9th OWHC World Congress Panel of mayors, 9th OWHC World Congress
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To address the main issues faced by mayors of World Heritage cities in managing tourism, a panel of mayors was organized so that a select group of these officials could discuss—in front of the plenary audience—how they addressed the challenges that tourism posed in their respective cities. The discussion centered on the question: "Is tourism enough?," and addressed two issues: 1) public funds generated and devoted to heritage conservation; and 2) tourism carrying capacity in historic cities.

mayors' workshop

The objective of the students' program was to significantly involve university students from Kazan in the activities of the congress. This effort built upon the positive experience at the OWHC's 8th World Congress in Cuzco. It was anticipated in Cuzco and in Kazan that many of these students would become professionals involved in their city's preservation and development. Through a competitive process that began in fall 2006, Kazan students from various institutions developed projects on the theme of the congress, working over a period of six months. A total of twenty projects from six institutions were presented as part of the congress posters and as oral presentations in a student session. Students discussed their work with other students, as well as with congress keynote speakers, participants, and City of Kazan representatives.

The pre-congress mayors' workshop focused on an issue that many mayors confront in the protection of their cities' historic resources: how to reintegrate into the living fabric of the city historic structures that have deteriorated, been left vacant, or are otherwise in need of adaptation to new uses. The mayors' workshop was a key event at the Kazan World Congress, as it helped draw attention of participants to some of the challenges facing Kazan. In addition, it set the stage for an interactive environment at the congress, one in which participants felt comfortable sharing ideas with colleagues in informal ways.

Proceedings of the congress are being edited and will be available online when completed.

neighborhood of La Ronda, Quito

Work in progress
The 10th OWHC World Congress will be held in Quito, Ecuador, September 8–11, 2009. In 1978, Quito was, with Kraków, Poland, one of the first two cities to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The theme of the congress is "Revitalization of Historical Centers: How to Involve All Social Actors?"

This theme is well demonstrated by projects implemented by the local authorities of the City of Quito that have been directed at the physical and cultural recovery of the historic center's public spaces and fabric. The conservation and preservation of the historic city center has been an objective of the local and national authorities since 1976, as attested to by the Normas de Quito—the first document advocating for the conservation of historic cities as a whole—and by the efforts undertaken after the dramatic 1987 earthquake in Quito with the creation of the Fondo de Salvamento (Salvage Fund). These significant steps toward the conservation of the historic center has since been reinforced since 2000 by strong municipal policies that promote social identity and cultural values and are supported by effective governmental operations and regulatory tools. This has allowed for the recovery of the space and function of the historic core of the city, restoring a sense of identity and belonging to inhabitants and visitors.

view from El Panecillo of historic center of Quito

Central to the theme of the 10th OWHC World Congress is the examination of the role that heritage conservation can play as a catalyst for urban regeneration and revitalization. The congress will present the concept that through appropriate social engagement—and through the involvement of local communities and the public and private sectors—sustainable solutions to managing the complexities of historic cities will emerge that secure lively and livable communities. Because the revitalization of historic cities goes beyond the preservation and conservation of the historic fabric, reaching these solutions requires a process that accounts for all of the cultural values embedded in the physical components of the place and that involves city residents and other relevant participants from the public and private sectors.

To explore the theme, the organizers of the 10th World Congress have developed a program that includes four keynote presentations, several small group discussions centered on questions raised by the presentations, a poster session featuring analyses of case studies related to the theme of the Congress, and activities for a select group of university students in Quito. A summary of the most relevant ideas exchanged during the discussion sessions will be presented at the concluding session.

The pre-congress mayors' workshop will concentrate on the Ronda project—a regeneration project in a historic center neighborhood—and other similar projects underway in the periphery of the historic center of Quito. A similar program will be organized for congress participants and provide the potential to appreciate both the regeneration efforts and the conservation work on some of the most impressive monuments in the historic center.

For more information on the upcoming World Congress, visit the congress Web site:

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Following the congress, the project team will undertake an evaluation of the event that will summarize the congress activities, review their evolution, and analyze their results in a format that can serve as a guide for future OWHC World Congresses.

Last updated: March 2009