The long-term goal of the Historic Cities and Urban Settlements Initiative, is to contribute to the advancement of this area of practice by undertaking research, creating and disseminating key texts, developing and delivering training, and carrying out field projects that address a number of the key challenges affecting the successful conservation of the world's urban heritage.

The historic urban environment is 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 change puts 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 the historic urban environment is one of the most urgent and difficult challenges facing the field of heritage conservation. The task extends beyond the conservation of the physical fabric of the city and its setting, demanding a more holistic understanding of the historic urban landscape and all the values contribute to its 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 the historic center of Quito. 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; and an international colloquium on the seismic retrofitting of historic buildings.

Recognizing the important role of local government in the management of historic cities, between 2005 and 2013 the GCI partnered with the Organization of World Heritage Cities to design and deliver the Scientific Program and the Mayor's workshop at the biannual OWHC Symposia.

In addition to these projects, over the last decade 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:

  • Undertake research to identify and assess issues and needs for the conservation and management of historic cities, as a basis for developing solutions to critical problems as well as to identify potential beneficiaries and partners
  • Identify gaps in knowledge and information 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 the historic urban environment
  • Create and disseminate key texts that assist professionals in their work
  • Deliver training in the conservation of urban heritage to professional practitioners in underserved regions of the world

To date the GCI has undertaken preliminary research into 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. In 2009, the GCI convened 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.

Since that time the GCI has disseminated a number of publications that respond to some of these needs, held an international colloquium on the role of contemporary architecture in the historic environment and has undertaken a series of urban conservation training workshops in Malaysia for professionals from the region.

Page updated: September 2015