Organization of World Heritage Cities – Regional Secretariat Conference, Stralsund, Germany

By Monica Genuardi, Global Philadelphia Ambassador

Philadelphia once again enhanced its international ties by participating in its regional conference for the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC). OWHC is a network of cities worldwide, each being home to at least one UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a desire to cooperate and inspire each other in world heritage and cultural management. Delegates from cities in the regional secretariat of Northern Europe and North America recently gathered in the German city of Stralsund to connect and exchange. Philadelphia, approaching our first year anniversary of membership in the OWHC and as the only member from the United States, was proudly represented by Zabeth Teelucksingh (Executive Director, Global Philadelphia Association), Sylvie Gallier-Howard (Chief of Staff, Department of Commerce, City of Philadelphia), and Monica Genuardi (Master’s student in World Heritage Studies). From September 27 through September 29, our Philadelphia representatives in this regional group were introduced to colleagues, reconnected with old friends, learned from other city leaders, and shared what we have been working on back home in Philadelphia with our own designation.

The delegates gathered in the Stralsund Town Hall in the Old Market Square. Dr.-Ing Alexander Badrow, mayor of our host-city, greeted all by sending well wishes and promoting the theme of the conference, Heritage and Community Involvement. His words were especially significant as the leader of Stralsund, a German city that has been transformed over the past decades by citizen initiatives and community support. Denis Ricard, Secretary General of the Organization of World Heritage Cities, and Mattias Ripp, leading the Regional Secretariat, also greeted us to set the mindset of applying modern, holistic, and practical approaches to heritage management and promotion to be developed with and for the communities they serve.

Beatrice Kelly of The Heritage Council in Ireland addressed us with a relevant and engaging presentation of the evolution of community involvement through heritage projects, discussing the ‘learning curve’ in the evolution of project structure. Cécile Houpert enlightened the room with some of the projects going on within another organization of inspiring cities, EUROCITIES, which supports the creative industries and urban regeneration for community benefits. Following the presentations, an active workshop, the Knowledge Market, allowed participants to highlight their own expertise while enabling others to directly ask about which ideas or skills would be beneficial for their own city. This focused information sharing allowed informal exchange of ideas in a comfortable and productive way.

A main portion of the afternoon concentrated on a workshop session which aimed to create suggestion documents to use in the World Conference of the Organization of World Heritage Cities next year in Gyeongju, South Korea. Delegates divided to discuss and address questions such as, What is Heritage and Community involvement about? What are the objectives? And What processes or methods can we use to achieve it? from three approaches: through the development of management plans and policies for heritage, through the promotion and valorization of heritage, or through ongoing conservation and management of heritage. After the groups separated and conversed, both theoretically and with examples from their own cities, the entire group came back together to share and listen to the results.

On the last morning of the conference, seven city representatives presented their own community involvement successes and challenges. Philadelphia shared our ongoing work and dedication to realizing the value of our unique heritage through educational programs. With two major lesson plan initiatives in world heritage and global studies, the team in Philadelphia was proud to discuss our steps in the Education direction of our World Heritage Strategic Plan. The presentations provided a platform of conversation that need not end with the last day of the conference. They allowed us to see creative management ideas that can inspire similar work to be done in our own cities, as well as highlighted issues that can arise with heritage in an urban context that we can help brainstorm solutions for together.

After informative presentations, interactive workshops, and wonderful opportunities provided by the host city to explore Stralsund, delegates returned home to share and apply their gained knowledge with their communities.