The long-term goal of the GCI's Historic Cities and Urban Settlements Initiative, which grows out of a collaboration with the Organization of the World Heritage Cities (OWHC)—is to contribute to the preservation of historic cities through the development of projects that focus on key challenges in the conservation of urban environments and that improve conservation practice in the field.

Historic urban settlements are a unique reflection of the capacity of humankind to socially structure and organize space. Today, some 250 cities or urban settlements are registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list, representing the diverse responses to the specific geographic and socio-economic conditions by local populations.


There is little question that exponential evolution and growth and uncontrolled changes put the integrity and authenticity of historic cities and urban settlements—and values that are embedded in them—at risk. At a time of rapid urbanization and globalization, the conservation of historic cities is one of the most urgent and difficult challenges facing the field of heritage conservation. The task extends beyond the preservation of the architecture and landscape, and requires the careful management of change through adaptation of historic buildings and urban fabric to new forms of living, evolving land uses, and consideration of intangible heritage that contributes to the city's cultural significance.

The GCI has long recognized the importance of the conservation of historic cities. Between 1991 and 1997, the GCI was involved in a project in Quito, that addressed different issues related to the conservation of the historic fabric of an urban environment. The Quito project included a photogrammetric study of historic buildings on the principal thoroughfare, Calle García Moreno; investigation of the color history of building facades; environmental monitoring; and an international colloquium on the seismic retrofitting of historic buildings. The project also addressed the conservation and cataloging of the Monastery of La Merced Library and conducted an assessment of deterioration problems in the interior polychromy and gilding of the Church of La Compañia de Jésus. In addition to the Quito project, the GCI has explored ways to better address the most pervasive and urgent challenges faced in the conservation of historic cities and urban settlements through ongoing work in site management and field projects in China, Egypt, Southeast Asia, Jordan, and Tunisia.

The primary objectives of this stage of the initiative are:

  • to assess issues and needs for the conservation and management of historic cities, as well as to identify potential beneficiaries and partners; and
  • to identify gaps in knowledge and to outline potential actions that can improve practices and support professionals and decision makers in addressing the development threats and conservation challenges that confront historic cities.

The GCI is researching the critical challenges in the conservation of historic cities in order to assess needs and identify gaps in the existing body of knowledge related to this area of work. The GCI's efforts include convening an experts meeting with professionals from conservation and urban planning, as well as decision makers, to discuss and identify priorities in order to determine where action can be most effectively targeted.

Last updated: November 2014