Cities across the globe are experiencing unprecedented pressures derived from ongoing processes of urbanization and climate change. Urban poverty, gentrification or outdated infrastructures are just some of the consequences observed, with increased intensity in LMIC. The imminent need for more resilient, sustainable, inclusive and safe cities is recognized by SDG 11 (UN 2015), and echoed in UCL’s Sustainable Cities Grand Challenge. In historic contexts, further pressures arise from globalization and mass tourism, leading in many cases to radical and fast transformations of historic urban quarters that are either abandoned or gentrified and turned into international tourism havens (Hayes 2020). These processes compromise the sustainability of historic cities and their communities at all interconnected levels – social, cultural, environmental and economic. The intrinsic link between culture and sustainable development is well established, with culture and heritage gaining significant weight as agents of change in the last decades (Wiktor-Mach 2019). Understanding this relationship and exploring ways to utilise culture to drive positive and just social change responds to UCL’s Cultural Understanding Grand Challenge....Despite the augmented challenges faced by historic cities, these hold great potential to generate positive change through sustainable heritage-led regeneration. It is crucial to develop frameworks and strategies for heritage-led regeneration capable, not only of protecting fragile cultural forms -be these tangible or intangible- that are associated with the historic quarters , but also of delivering just and equitable opportunities that protect the needs and interests of vulnerable communities. This is paramount in LMIC, in particular where economic pressures are acute, governance systems may be compromised and other issues such as land tenure or lack of access to public infrastructure could be present. In 2011, Tunisia went through a national revolution that marked the start of the Arab Spring and led to a change in the country’s political regime. Cultural changes have followed, including a revived interest in Tunisian heritage and cultural expressions. The Medina of Tunis, an outstanding World Heritage Site, experienced a degree of neglect and abandonment since the mid-20c, when political and social change led to the decay of the traditional social and economic structures of the medina. The main historic economic activities based on craftsmanship and souks declined and many high and middle income residents of the medina relocated to new modern European-like quarters around the capital. The medina lost much of its population and social activity and progressively lost much of its traditional economic activity. Many buildings stayed empty or occupied by lower income families, unable to face the costs of regular maintenance, leading over time to physical decay of the built environment. In the last decade there is renewed enthusiasm for the medina across Tunis residents. Unlike other WH medinas in North Africa, such as Marrakech or Fez, the Medina in Tunis has not yet caved under the pressures of global tourism and still serves primarily the needs of the local population. The medina is therefore at a point at which it requires attention and careful thought to devise multi-stakeholder strategies and projects to protect and revitalize tangible and intangible heritage in the medina, in a sustainable and equitable way, for and with the local communities. In a recent survey carried out by Blue Fish (2020), a total of 125 abandoned historical buildings are identified in the medina of Tunis. These unoccupied buildings have reached a level of decay that threatens their integrity and constitute widely-spread pockets of inactivity across the medina. Nearly 1 out of 3 of these buildings are municipal property, presenting an extraordinary opportunity to contribute to the social revitalization of the medina by strategically considering their conservation and return to use in ways that engage and serve the local communities while promoting the green recovery of the historic quarter and promote living heritage. This project builds on the 2019 Bartlett Innovation Fund project Collaboratory for the Sustainable Conservation of Heritage in the Medina of Tunis, led by Dr A. Albuerne, which forged the collaboration with local partners and led to the identification of research priorities towards the sustainable heritage- led regeneration of the Medina of Tunis.
Mara Cruz is a Chilean architect. She has worked at the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage of her country from 2013 to 2020.Her work has included examinations of public and private infrastructure projects in protected cultural and natural sites, as well as heritage impact assessments within the framework of Chilean and international law. Her interest in sustainably protecting assets has led her to develop monitoring systems and standards for significant interventions on heritage sites. She recently graduated from University College London with an MSc in Sustainable Heritage and is currently employed there as a research assistant.
Xiresangpei is a young practitioner in the field of heritage-led urban and rural regeneration. The majority of his work has been done in China By studying under multidisciplinary conditions, he is consistently attempting to advance his understanding of connecting problems between heritage, urban development, and spatial justice in the global south. He is currently a master's candidate in MSc Urban Development Planning program at University College London.