UNESCO’s Sustainable Revitalization Work and Old Delhi

SCA’s meeting with Marina Faetanini, Programme Specialist, Social and Human Sciences Sector at United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) India was fortunately timed with the release of their report (with UN-HABITAT) on India – part of a series entitled “Historic Districts for All – A Social and Human Approach to Sustainable Revitalization – Manual for City Professionals.” The report is envisaged as a first vehicle to create a toolkit for practitioners for preserving not only the built historic structures but also the intangible historic elements of culture, community, local traditions and way of life. These activities are part of UNESCO’s integrated approach to urban revitalization for historic districts, incorporating improvement of inhabitants’ living conditions, revival and diversification of the economic base, enhancement of cultural diversity and strategic physical preservation.

The next step in Marina’s vision is to transform the report into a training program for practitioners to promote revitalization of historic and cultural assets in cities. Even though the report documents various cases from across the country, for now, the focus is on Delhi to gain support from political and academic groups.

As part of this process, Marina recently engaged a group of advocates in a walking tour of Shahjahanabad, the historic old center of Delhi. Her research has faced the challenge of credible statistical data on Old Delhi past 1962. The population, socio-economic conditions, geographic origin, and number of people per household or density was completely missing. We agreed that it was unfortunate, if not entirely surprising, but that credible statistical data is certainly a basic requirement for an effective plan for revitalization and rehabilitation. Even if someone were able to get the concerned public and private parties interested in pitching in towards revitalization of the city’s cultural and historic assets, they would be hit by the immediate roadblock of lack of data to use a starting point.

Recognizing this gap, UNESCO is working with the Delhi City government to start a research center in Old Delhi that to study, map and document the historic and cultural assets in the old city. A center physically located within the old city would have the following benefits:

  • Better able to forge relationships with the community
  • Better access to learn about and document the elements of intangible cultural heritage which would be otherwise lost in large scale top-down intervention for revitalization
  • Better capacity to empower local residents to lead the revitalization and rehabilitation efforts (as with the HUDCO and Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation alliance – see interviews with HUDCO and Debashish Nayak).

These important steps to bridge the gap between thought leadership and implementation, one of SCA’s key missions, are moving forward because of local capacity and innovation, as well as enabling, networking and best practices contributed by international partners.

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