South European Historic Cities

Historic neighbourhoods in European cities have been gentrified or separated from the everyday life of the contemporary city (e.g., they became either open air museums and tourist destination for sightseeing, short-term letting, or international real estate capital investment ’ghost’ towns), as a result of their strategic preservation from the authorities early on in the 80s and 90s.

However we see that in many south European and Mediterranean historic cities, the urban fabric is a mixture of new and old structures, wherein we identify many examples of culturally-valuable structures which have not been yet listed as protected heritage, as in many cases the authorities lack the policy instruments, or the necessary funds, to proceed with the conservation of these buildings.

The space of the historic city has been mostly studied, analysed, communicated and imagined by means of methodologies and tools sourced from the humanities, and traditional architectural drawing tools. Also, we notice that in many northern European cities, the historic core of the city is fully conserved, preserved, protected and documented already from before the so called digital revolution. These two conditions have arguably limited our capacity to leverage the power of digital tools, data analytics and complexity theory to monitor and understand the development of the cities in real-time.

Heritage buildings falling down due to human neglect, inability of local authorities to monitor their condition and environmental pressures, e.g., heavy rainfall in 2019 (Nicosia, Cyprus).
Sicily, Italy, 2019.
Abandoned patios in the historic centre of Cordoba, Spain, 2018.

Heritage

In her influential book Uses of Heritage (2006), archaeologist Laurajane Smith introduced the term ‘authorized heritage discourse’ (AHD) to describe the western heritage practice which since the late nineteenth century has developed towards a dominant position as a ‘universalizing’ discourse of our own time, and “privileging monumentality and grand scale, innate artefact/site significance tied to time depth, scientific/aesthetic expert judgement, social consensus and nation building”.

Rather heritage can be seen as a process, a performance (Crouch, 2010), an act of communication (Dicks, 2000) and a set of relationships with the past undertaken at certain sites and places. In this sense, all heritage is intangible.

Spatial aspects of cultural heritage:

(1)Interrelatedness of places and people;

(2) Landscape and its composite ‘scapes’, e.g. urban heritage-scape;

(3) Interrelatedness of virtual and real space; and

(4) Fluid spaces emerging from growing mobility of individuals enabled by ICT.

Unplanned, half-finished structures that were built by necessity after the war of 1974 in the intra-muros historical city of Nicosia are appropriated by migrant communities (Nicosia, Cyprus 2019).

References

Crouch, David, “The Perpetual Performance and Emergence of Heritage”, in Waterton, E., Watson S. (eds.), Culture, Heritage and Representation. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2010: 57–71.

Dicks, Bella, Heritage, Place and Community. University of Wales Press, 2000.

Smith, Laurajane, Uses of Heritage. New York: Routledge, 2006.

UDigiSH

This blog will represent the entry point to approach the activities of the UDigiSH Working Group, which focuses on the study of Digital Methods and Good Practices of heritage and urban change, impact of urban development on cultural heritage, the identity of the city and the role of civil society.

Unlisted historic buildings and heritage are under threat in European cities, with direct impact to the cohesion of their communities and everyday lives of citizens. Challenged by urbanization, economic difficulties, gentrification and migration the experience of historic spaces and buildings is fragmented thus mirroring the disconnected perception of urban societies. The Digital practices for the Study of urban Heritage Working Group acknowledges both the urgency and the complexity of these challenges proposing a holistic and inclusive approach that can be applied to identify and tackle these socioeconomic and cultural issues.

The UDigiSH WG promotes the attribution of cultural values to built heritage, towards inclusive, innovative and reflective societies – for example, in conflict spaces the common past and heritage can be established as a bridge for peace. Responding to contemporary pressing challenges of urban environments can only be achieved through the transnational collaboration as the challenges are complex and ill-defined and thus cannot be dealt with at a local scale.

Blog topics:
Digital Humanities for the Study of Historic Cities
A Cloud for the Preservation of Cultural Rights
Promotion of Cultural Dialogue
GeoVisualisation of Urban Histories
Participatory Digital Narratives and Citizen Science in Cultural Heritage: co-creation and co-management of informal stories and memories

Readers:
Cultural Heritage institutions
Scholars and researchers in Digital Humanities
City stakeholders and professional associations
Urban communities and citizen groups

Rapid urbanization, migration and economic challenges impact European territories with ever-growing plurality of cultures and identities.