Produced by Edinburgh World Heritage as part of the AtlaS.WH project

Heritage for people

Europe’s historic cities are individually unique with often original architecture, varied settings, and distinctive history and heritage. But they face increasingly common problems.

From the effects of over-tourism, and the need to better conserve our valuable ancient buildings, to addressing the challenges post-COVID-19, there is clearly an opportunity to better manage our historic cities by learning from each other and sharing best practice.   

The AtlaS.WH project [] has been working on developing sustainable management plans for each World Heritage Site by addressing common problems faced by each partner city. This includes issues such as gentrification, over-tourism, and the climate emergency.In celebration of our collective approach to managing heritage, this exhibition will look at how the five urban World Heritage Sites of the AtlaS.WH partnership have tackled common challenges. Our cities are defined by those who live and work within them, and these solutions show how putting people at the heart of heritage can benefit us all.

Putting people at the heart of conservation

Around 75% of the buildings in the World Heritage Site are listed. Most of these buildings are privately-owned individual houses or tenements. The conservation of these buildings represents a major challenge to the city due to a range of issues such as the shared ownership of tenements, the large number of short-term holiday lets and absentee landlords, low levels of preventative building maintenance, and, more recently, the effects of climate change.

How does Edinburgh put people at the heart of conservation?
Florence World Heritage site

Historic city and World Heritage Site

In 2005, when the World Heritage Office of the City of Florence was created, there was a lack of awareness among the local community that the centre of Florence had been inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List, and what benefits and responsibilities this would bring. The Firenze perBene (for good) project has helped to foster a greater awareness of the value of the World Heritage Site among residents, students, and visitors, encouraging sustainable practices while living in and visiting the historic centre.

Better understanding the value of our heritage

Managing a historic city is about managing contradictions. A city’s heritage and historic assets, including its buildings and greenspaces for example, are valuable and important. But when it comes to planning and development, the value of such heritage is easily forgotten. In order to balance this, the city of Bordeaux went back to square one to understand exactly what heritage assets they had. An interdisciplinary team of architects, urban planners and historians carried out a large-scale survey to identify and understand the architecture and urban complexes in need of conservation and the areas that could be developed.

Bordeaux world heritage site

Ensuring tourism contributes to the conservation of our site

As Porto has grown as a tourist destination, so too have threats to building neglect, over-occupancy, waste management, and the decline of residents living in and using the World Heritage Site. To make Porto a sustainable and resilient city able to cater for residents and tourists, the city needed to improve the maintenance of public space, signage, and the availability of leisure facilities and residential housing. To achieve this, the Municipality of Porto introduced a Tourist Tax in 2018.

Making our city work better for local residents

The city of Santiago has become a successful tourist destination, but this has put great pressure on the local population and the city’s infrastructure, particularly housing provision and waste management. Tourism is often perceived as a nuisance to local communities, and as a result many no longer reside in the historic centre. The Santiago Consortium has undertaken programmes to restore housing and improve traditional shopfronts to strengthen the local economy against the impact of tourism.

Santiago de Compostela world heritage site