2017 Philadelphia World Heritage City Celebration: Lee Minaidis's Speech

Did you miss the beautiful speech of Lee Minaidis, Deputy Secretary General of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, on September 7, during the Philadelphia World Heritage City Celebration? You can read it here!

"I want to thank the Global Philadelphia Association and the Philadelphia World Heritage Committee for inviting me to speak this evening. I am honored to be one of your guests, as we all engage in the second annual Philadelphia World Heritage City Celebration.

We are here to celebrate the treasures of the world such as Venice, the Athens Acropolis or Machu Picchu. And it is on our watch to ensure that generations to come inherit the works of centuries past.

As for the City of Philadelphia, a treasure with resonating importance, I am reminded of David McCullogh’s biography of John Adams in which Philadelphia is described during the time of the Continental Congresses, the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, as “a true eighteenth-century metropolis, the largest, wealthiest city in British America and the most beautiful. Visitors wrote of its “very exactly straight streets” its “many fair houses and public edifices” and of “the broad tidal Delaware, alive in every season but winter with a continuous traffic of ships great and small.” 

Indeed, Philadelphia has a glorious past. As the UNESCO World Heritage inscription document states, it was here that “the universal principles of freedom and democracy were set forth which have had a profound impact on law makers and political thinkers around the world.”

The Organization of World Heritage Cities or OWHC has been enriched by Philadelphia joining our family. The contribution of your City to our World Congresses, Regional Conferences and workshops as well as other projects and activities is significant and greatly appreciated.

For a moment, let’s consider the notion of World Heritage. It is generally recognized that cultural heritage provides an identifying element of a city or region - setting it apart from other places and thus contributing to its distinctiveness and counteracting the tendency toward uniformity so prevalent in this modern world.  When cultural heritage is believed to be so exceptional as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity it is said to possess Outstanding Universal Value, which is the hallmark of World Heritage. 

World Heritage status is coveted by many cities. The status can serve as an incentive to preserve historic monuments, to develop new economic activities or revive traditional arts and crafts, thus creating jobs and revenue, as well as to instill pride in the cities’ inhabitants for their cultural heritage. Throughout the world, cultural heritage has been gaining in importance as ameans of promoting a destination. The World Tourism Organization estimates that about 35 to 40 per cent of international tourist movements have a cultural motivation. This trend is growing and presents a great opportunity for the promotion of World Heritage cities and other destinations of cultural interest.

From the experience of Rhodes, which in antiquity was an important maritime power and center of arts and letters and in the 14th and 15th centuries the seat of the Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, I can say that World Heritage status has proven to be a very effective marketing tool.

Another opportunity for my city to enhance its international profile further to inscription on the World Heritage List, has been its active involvement in theOWHC of which Rhodes was a founding member.  

As a Deputy Mayor, I attended my first OWHC World Congress in 1999 which was held in Santiago de Compostela, Spain.  During the events there, I came up with the great idea that Rhodes should host an OWHC World Congress. Why not?!   The Mayor agreed on the condition that I prepare the candidacy file. Done!

So, with a delegation composed of the Mayor, members of the City Council, site managers, archaeologists, the President of the Rhodes Hotel Association and the Director of the Rhodes Tourism Promotion Organization, we arrived in Puebla, Mexico in October 2001 to take part in the 6th OWHC World Congress. We presented our candidacy with five other cities and won our bid to host the 2003 World Congress. At that moment, the Mayor turned to me and said, “This was your idea so, you organize it.” So, I did.   

For the next two years I had the extraordinary opportunity to promote the World Congress and my city at the same time.   I was told by a representative of a French World Heritage City that – in his words- “it was very interesting to discover the experience of a town managing its heritage on the international scene”.  It was a successful Congress with 922 participants; our Mayor was elected to the Board of Directors; he then became President and was reelected at the World Congress in Cusco, Peru, in 2005.

In those two years of preparation and promoting, I also had the opportunity to learn more fully about the OWHC.

The Organization is one of the few, if not the only, international platforms where Mayors, Decision-makers and heritage experts meet together to discuss issues of mutual concern for World Heritage Cities.

Mayors are in a singular position to understand the needs of their cities, to establish priorities and to implement the results of research and planning with the help of their heritage management specialists. Most Mayors are not heritage experts but the responsibility of preserving historic monuments becomes theirs, entirely or in part, once they are elected. To assist the local authorities in this difficult task, the OWHC organizes workshops for Mayors and Decision-makers, in the course of our World Congresses, in addition to the scientific sessions attended by all participants. We also offer a workshop exclusively for journalists of the Congress host country as well as a youth forum.

One often sees that inthe effort to preserve and manage a city’s heritage, conflicts arise between the local authorities and the community. To achieve a positive dialogue between the two, it is essential that the public understands the importance of its cultural heritage in order to be convincedof the need to preserve it and where possible to participate actively in the development processes. To this end, the OWHC creates programs and projects to increase public awareness of heritage values, some specifically aimed at young people such as our school twinning or video competition programs.  I would also add that our next World Congress to be held in Gyeongju, Republic of Korea from October 31st to November 3rd of this year, will have as its theme “Heritage and Communities: tools to engage local communities”.  As in the last two World Congresses, the City of Philadelphia will be very well represented in Gyeongju.

Today, we are also celebrating the “Solidarity Day of World Heritage Cities” established to commemorate the founding of the OWHC on the 8th of September, 1993. This leads me to mention   a few ways that the concept of mutual support is put into practice.

When Bordeaux, France became a member of the OWHC immediately after its inscription on the World Heritage List in 2007, the City’s Mayor and former Prime Minister of France, Mr. Alain Juppé, stated “To be inscribed on the World Heritage List is a commitment for us to be vigilant and to have increased consciousness of the preservation and valorization of our rich heritage. To share our experiences and know-how is indispensable.”

This sense of solidarity and sharing is reflected in several of our programs which facilitate the   exchange of expertise and the promoting of cooperation initiatives among our member cities.  

Of course, solidarity can be expressedin many ways. At this year’s Session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee held in Krakow, Poland, I was quite moved when I saw posters throughout the convention center announcing a Polish fundraising initiative for Syria.  They showed a destroyed Aleppo in the top half of the poster and an equally destroyed Warsaw in the bottom half. Then, written boldly on the posters were the words “Solidarity with Aleppo”.   These two World Heritage Cities share the horrorof near total destruction. Warsaw’s unprecedented in history reconstruction after its devastation in WWII is put forth as a positive message to Aleppo, as, and I quote "a symbol that ruins do not have to mean the end of the city, but they are the beginning of reconstruction, of a return to life".

I began tonight by saying that “cultural heritage is an identifying element of a city or region – setting it apart from other places” but I’d like to close with the thought that cultural heritage can also be a unifying factor. Common elements can suggest or indeed indicate a shared heritage among different countries and diverse cultures. If these elements are skillfully nurtured, they can help to promote mutual understanding, cooperation and development.    As the Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals once said “The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?”

In the spirit of solidarity we must strive to define the ties that bind us, that focus on our similaities and that can create synergies for development among people who, beyond their diversity, share the same future."