Geography Urban Heritage
María García Hernández, Manuel de la Calle-Vaquero
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0208


The concept of urban heritage has two meanings. First, urban heritage can refer to the list of heritage elements located in urban areas: archaeological vestiges, historical buildings, vernacular architecture, historical gardens, social practices, rituals, and festive events, among others. Second, urban heritage can refer to the city as heritage, a special type of cultural property that is mainly associated with neighborhoods, urban centers, and historic cities. This article focuses on the second meaning. The focus is placed on the heritage values of the urban space, which are overall values resulting from the integration of different components. The use of the term urban heritage has become popular during the last decades. However, it is closely linked to conservation and restoration proposals of historic centers in European cities since the mid-20th century. From Europe, urban conservation extends to other parts of the world, driven by organizations such as UNESCO that establishes a special category of cultural properties named “groups of buildings” in the World Heritage Convention in 1972, generally associated with towns. Since the beginning of the 21st century, UNESCO is promoting an extended approach to urban heritage that goes beyond the built environment and integrates social, economic, and functional dimensions. The Recommendation on Historic Urban Landscape of 2011 provides a more global vision and gives special prominence to the communities that inhabit historic towns or historic centers. This approach also implies a disciplinary opening, with an increasing number of inputs coming from social sciences. In this sense, this article basically includes some recent works on urban heritage that allow to establish the present state of the issue. Historical trajectory of the concept is described until reaching the current approximations in terms of the historical urban landscape. A set of contributions that deal with its components are presented, from the location conditions to the social representations and their meanings. References to the main vectors that threaten the preservation of their values and also to the mechanisms to make heritage a vector of sustainable development are included. Special attention is paid to the management of heritage sectors of the city. This urban management must balance the safeguard as heritage properties and the maintenance of adequate levels of quality of life for the communities that live there. Due to the important tourist dimension of these spaces, reflecting on the positive and negative effects of an increasing influx of visitors is very important nowadays. Finally global preservation strategies, in case of the World Heritage List, are contrasted with specific situations of very different geographical areas (Europe, Latin America, China, Middle East, etc.).

General Overviews

The term urban heritage was first used in Gustavo Giovannoni 1931. Although the term became popular a few decades ago, this concept was implicit in the practice of conserving neighborhoods, centers and historic cities undertaken since the mid-20th century. More recently, the concept of urban heritage has been enriched with different contributions from social sciences, which have begun to approach the study of some urban phenomena from a heritage point of view. This long trajectory and the recent conceptual mutations make it difficult to identify works that present a general vision on the issue. Larkham 1996 and Cohen 2001 propose a traditional approach to urban conservation, focused on built environment at different scales. Rodwell 2007 and Labadi and Logan 2016 provide a more contemporary approach. They underline the relationships between urban heritage, conservation, development, and sustainability. This overview is also present in Bandarin and van Oers 2012, Bandarin and van Oers 2014, and Pereira Roders and Bandarin 2019. These three books address the analysis and treatment of urban heritage according to the approaches of UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2011 (cited under Reference Resources). Same approach is also present in the compilation of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre 2010. Finally, the paper of Ripp and Rodwell 2015 represents the previously indicated disciplinary opening. These authors raise the potential contribution of geography to urban conservation.

  • Bandarin, Francesco, and Ron van Oers. The Historic Urban Landscape: Managing Heritage in an Urban Century. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1002/9781119968115

    This book offers an overview of the intellectual developments in urban conservation and exposes the main ideas of the historic urban landscape approach, at theoretical and practical levels (actors, regulatory system, community engagement tools, technical tools, financial tools).

  • Bandarin, Francesco, and Ron van Oers, eds. Reconnecting the City: The Historic Urban Landscape Approach and the Future of Urban Heritage. Chichester, UK: Wiley, 2014.

    Compendium of works on historic centers based on the historic urban landscape approach. The first section focuses on the shaping of urban landscapes, with contributions on settlement conditions, urban morphology, or intangible heritage. The second addresses issues related to its management: normative framework, knowledge and planning tools, financial tools, mapping the historic urban landscape, etc.

  • Cohen, Nahoum. Urban Planning Conservation and Preservation. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.

    A manual for the urban planning oriented to the conservation of entire neighborhoods and cities. It identifies the key elements of the urban environment: street grids, public areas, building styles, land uses, and other factors. Cohen also relates these aspects to planning.

  • Gustavo Giovannoni, Gustavo. Vecchie città ed edilizia nuova. Torino, Italy: Unione Tipografico Editrice Torinese, 1931.

    Main work of the Italian architect and urban planner Gustavo Giovannoni (1873–1947). For the first time, a simultaneous understanding of the historical center as a monument and inhabited urban fabric is proposed. In addition, it reflects on the function of these centers in the context of the city and the territory where they are located. It is commonly considered one of the first works with modern approaches on conservation and restoration of historical centers.

  • Labadi, Sophia, and Willian Logan, eds. Urban Heritage, Development and Sustainability. International Frameworks, National and Local Governance. London: Routledge, 2016.

    In this work, current theories and practices in urban heritage are analyzed, with particular reference to the relations between conservation and development goals. A global range of case studies details a several practical approaches to heritage on international, national, and local scales.

  • Larkham, Peter J. Conservation and the City. London: Routledge, 1996.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203320556

    This book presents a classic approach to urban conservation, with strong emphasis on townscape. It looks at conservation and change throughout the built environment and how the activities of conservation interact with the planning system. The arguments are based largely on micro-scale studies in UK conservation areas, but examples from further afield are used.

  • Pereira Roders, Ana, and Franceso Bandarin, eds. Reshaping Urban Conservation: The Historic Urban Landscape Approach in Action. Singapore: Springer, 2019.

    This volume describes, analyses and compares twenty-eight cities taken as case studies to implement the historic urban landscape approach. The studies point to innovations in regional and urban planning and management that can allow cities to avoid major conflicts and to further develop in competitiveness.

  • Ripp, Matthias, and Dennis Rodwell. “The Geography of Urban Heritage.” The Historic Environment: Policy & Practice 6.3 (2015): 240–276.

    DOI: 10.1080/17567505.2015.1100362

    The text addresses urban heritage from the perspective of human geography, highlighting the values of the whole. It reviews the development of the doctrine on this subject and situates urban heritage within the mainstream of urban planning policy and practice.

  • Rodwell, Dennis. Conservation and Sustainability in Historic Cities. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470759547

    This book examines the theoretical and practical background to architectural and urban conservation through case studies from Europe and elsewhere. The author underlines how its perceived relevance and level of attainment can be extended when harnessed to wider agendas of sustainability and cultural identity.

  • UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Managing Historic Cities. Gérer les villes historiques. World Heritage Papers no. 27. Paris: UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 2010.

    This publication contains a selection of papers written for the regional expert meetings organized in the context of UNESCO’s initiative on the conservation of the historic urban landscape. They contain forward-looking ideas, and some of the papers propose innovative strategies for inclusion into urban conservation practice, while others promote specific tools for particular issues arising from historic urban landscape management.

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