Site managers from Eastern Africa participate in UNESCO’s World Heritage City Lab

Two World Heritage site managers from Lamu Old Town in Kenya and Asmara: A Modernist African City in Eritrea were selected to participate in the UNESCO World Heritage City Lab, a series of online innovation laboratories to analyze, assess, and explore strategies for the protection and management of World Heritage properties in the urban context, which is taking place from 17 to 26 June 2020.

The global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has brought the vulnerability of our cities into focus. The City Lab offers an opportunity to reflect on ways to recover the notion of heritage cities as thriving urban centres using heritage-based strategies to build back the cities to be stronger, more sustainable, more resilient, and more deeply connected to their histories and landscape.

The World Heritage City Lab, which is being carried out in collaboration with the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Convention—International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (ICCROM)—enables reflection on the practical problems and challenges of World Heritage properties in the framework of the policies and processes of the World Heritage Convention as well as the 2011 UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape (HUL Recommendation).

During the 17 June workshop, Mr. Mohamed Mwenje, site manager of Lamu Old Town World Heritage site in Kenya, shared information on the severe impacts that COVID-19 has brought to his historic coastal city. “Lamu faces immense infrastructural challenges in all sectors, but most especially the health, transport and education sectors,” reported Mr. Mwenje. “The tourism industry has also been hit hard by the pandemic as over 80% of tourists have been lost,” he added. He appealed for more help from the government and key stakeholders to strengthen the historical aspect of Lamu as a cultural heritage site and promote its resilience during COVID-19 pandemic.

Following the successful completion of all of the training sessions of the World Heritage City Lab, participants will have the opportunity to become part of a community of experts on the UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape Recommendation. They will also be encouraged to engage in supporting World Heritage properties in their region and raise awareness of urban heritage protection and the role of cultural heritage in sustainable urban development in relevant local, regional, and national policies and actions.

“I would like to thank UNESCO for the opportunity to participate in the City Lab,” said Mr. Medhanie T. Maryam, site manager of Asmara World Heritage city in Eritrea after the inaugural workshop. “The discussions were very interesting and we learned experiences from different city leaders and experts,” he added.

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