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Livable Historic City Cores: Attracting Investment to Cities
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Editor's Note

In 2012 The World Bank published a collection of research papers authored by leading scholars and practitioners in heritage economics called The Economics of Uniqueness: Investing in Historic City Cores and Cultural Assets for Sustainable Development. In her foreword to the book, Rachel Kyte, vice president of Sustainable Development Network at The World Bank, explains the intent of the publication:

Can investment in historic city cores and cultural heritage help reduce poverty and promote economic growth? The Economics of Uniqueness tries to answer this question. In a world where more than half of the population now lives in cities and more than 90 percent of urban growth occurs in the developing world, cities try hard to modernize without losing their unique character, embodied in their historic cores and heritage assets. As cities expand rapidly, conservation and continued use of heritage can provide crucially needed continuity and stability. In other words, the past can become a foundation for the future.... Cities that are the most successful at attracting investment and businesses to meet the aspirations of their citizens, while alleviating poverty and promoting inclusion, are those that harness all of their resources, including their heritage. In addition, heritage anchors people to their roots, builds self-esteem, and restores dignity.

A shortened version of one chapter, "Livable Historic City Cores and Enabling Environment: A Successful Recipe to Attract Investment to Cities," written by John O'Brien, Head of Business Strategy for the Industrial Development Agency (Ireland) is reprinted here. O'Brien reminds us that to be competitive, cities will need make the most of urban assets that are unique to the city, and that much of the time, these assets can be found in the city's historic core.

This book [The Economics of Uniqueness] takes inspiration from Nobel Prize Laureate Robert Merton Solow's quotation: "Over the long term, places with strong, distinctive identities are more likely to prosper than places without them. Every place must identify its strongest, most distinctive features and develop them or run the risk of being all things to all persons and nothing special to any. [...] Livability is not a middle-class luxury. It is an economic imperative."

The positive influence of cultural heritage on livability, economic growth, and local economic development has been increasingly studied and discussed in the last few decades. Building on concepts springing from biodiversity and natural heritage conservation, cultural economists have been developing their arguments about the economic importance of cultural heritage assets. This book presents the latest contributions on this topic, including methods of assessing the economic values of cultural heritage and ways to apply these findings to the practical issues faced by policy makers confronted with explosive urban growth—one of the defining characteristics of this century. The authors argue that it is vital for policy makers and other stakeholders to appreciate the important role that cultural heritage can play in generating employment and sustainable economic development, and then incorporate this understanding into urban planning and development policies. This must be done to ensure that rapid urbanization, particularly in the developing world, is not accompanied by the destruction of much of our heritage.

Urbanization and the Jobs Crisis

More than 50 percent of the world's people already live in cities, and they account for 70 percent of world gross domestic product. Furthermore, nearly 2 billion new urban residents are expected in the next 20 years, as people "vote with their feet" in search of opportunity. Most of these people will have to find jobs in the private sector, which is the engine of growth and employment accounting for about 90 percent of employment in developing countries.

The cities that will be most successful at meeting the jobs and growth aspirations of their inhabitants, while alleviating poverty and working toward social inclusion, will be those that employ all of their resources to promote a healthy environment for investment and talent. Among the resources these cities need to harness is their built cultural heritage.

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Those cities that harness their built cultural heritage will have a competitive advantage in attracting new investment. Pictured here is San Francisco, a city known for its historic resources...

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