Published on Sustainable Cities

Cultural heritage and sustainable tourism: drivers of poverty reduction and shared prosperity

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Old City of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia. (Photo by Justin Smith / Flickr CC)
Old City of Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Croatia. (Photo: Justin Smith / Flickr CC)

Today, we celebrate the International Day for Monuments and Sites. This year, the day focuses on Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism, which underlines the important linkage between culture and cities: Culture, identity, and a people-centered approach are central to building the urban future we want  and ensuring sustainable urban development.

In relation to the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, and in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the New Urban Agenda this day also presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the long-standing partnership between the World Bank and UNESCO in the area of culture and sustainable development. 

The recently launched UNESCO Global Report on Culture for Sustainable Urban Development titled Culture: Urban Future has brought to the forefront of the global discussion the critical role that culture should play in achieving sustainable urbanization, especially over the coming years when one billion people are expected to move to cities by 2030. 

Culture is an essential component of the safe, inclusive, resilient and sustainable urban settlements  everybody wants to live in. Culture should be at the core of new approaches for people-centered cities, quality urban environments and integrated policy-making.

Specifically, culture contributes to urban development in four aspects.  All of them linked to poverty eradication and shared prosperity in a sustainable manner:
  • Both the protection of cities’ identities and local cultures, and the promotion of cultural expressions, are crucial to ensure livability and to make cities become vibrant life-spaces, including the regeneration of natural heritage to create green areas for social use.
  • Culture is also a platform for social and economic development as well as competitiveness. Historic centers are assets for the development of urban communities, promotion of cultural and creative industries, and enhancement of sustainable tourism. These activities contribute to poverty reduction by generating income and creating employment for local communities.
  • Inclusion and recognition of cultural identities is an important factor to address poverty and boost shared prosperity. Safeguarding cultural diversity is a way to promote social interaction and cohesion in the context of both internal and international migration to cities.
  • Finally, creating urban resilience from culture is possible through traditional knowledge systems, culture-based strategies to reduce cities’ vulnerability to hazards and cultural programs for post-disaster recovery. The protection of world heritage sites and cultural heritage in all its forms as a global legacy helps to promote international peace efforts.
The World Bank and UNESCO have been working together for many years to bring expertise from these four areas to build sustainable cities and communities. Our two organizations are also committed to fostering cooperation across nations and communities; strengthening national and local capacities; providing policy advice at global, national and local levels; and supporting innovation.

For the World Bank, the linkage of culture and urban development has been part of the implementation of our urban strategy, through financing of projects in China, Lebanon, Georgia, and many others, that bring together the preservation of cultural and environmental assets for future generations together with urban renewal, private sector development, and community empowerment. Equally important, our analytical work and policy advice has highlighted the economic value of culture and heritage.

UNESCO’s long-standing operational programs and advocacy involving its six Culture Conventions on cultural heritage and creativity, have brought the safeguarding of cultural heritage and the promotion of creativity to the forefront of international debates as integral preconditions for communities around the globe to attain the Sustainable Development Goals. UNESCO’s work to protect culture in emergencies, including in conflict and disaster situations, has raised international awareness of the need to consider culture as a security and humanitarian imperative to strengthen resilience and promote peaceful and inclusive societies.

The World Bank and UNESCO share a common vision on the role of culture and sustainable tourism for the future of our cities. Today, in renewing and strengthening our partnership, we go a step further—we commit to enhance our joint cooperation to further integrate culture in the urban agenda.


Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez

Former Regional Director, Africa, Sustainable Development Practice Group

Francesco Bandarin

Assistant Director-General for Culture, UNESCO

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