Cultural Heritage and the Just City

Cultural heritage has been historically and persistently marginalised in strategies and policies across multiple scales of action. Because of this marginalization, scholars and advocates have long argued the need to pay more attention to culture and social capital in developing sustainable places. Focusing on the role of festivals, and bringing together case studies from the Global North and the Global South, this research project asked: what do festivals reveal about how grand challenges around cultural heritage and urban sustainability land and resonate in different contexts? 

Download the reportFestivals as Integrative Sites:

Cultural heritage is a social and cultural process that has much to add to the concept and practice of sustainable development. This is increasingly recognised in international frameworks for action, such as the New Urban Agenda or Sustainable Development Goals, which suggest particularly that the role of heritage in urban sustainability should be revisited.

This project looked at the lens that festivals can play in revealing how grand challenges around cultural heritage and urban sustainability land and resonate in different contexts. Our work contributes to this question through the compilation of an anthology of practices of festivals in settings in the Global North and South. The anthology is the product of a transdisciplinary research and practice network between social and natural scientists, arts and humanities scholars and cultural practitioners in the UK, Sweden, Amsterdam, Kenya and South Africa.

In addition to the report (available to download above), outputs included an article in the International Journal of Heritage Studies and a short piece in The Conversation, summarising how "Festivals can transform cities by making space for overlooked people and cultures".

This work led to further collaboration including British Academy-funded project Whose Heritage Matters? To find out more, contact Beth Perry.

News, events and blog

The final reports for the British Academy / Mistra Urban Futures project Whose Heritage Matters are now available for free download. 

The central question for Whose Heritage Matters was whether, and if so how, cultural heritage could be mobilised to support more sustainable and just urban futures in Cape Town and Kisumu. Our aim was to critically explore what international targets and agendas for cultural heritage and sustainable development mean in the context of entrenched and everyday urban challenges. 

Heritage is not only our identity: It is also our politics, our complex histories, and our memories. Heritage shapes the way we live, eat, pray, raise our children and interact with each other. Cultural heritage can bring people together, but it can also be used to keep people apart — as the rise of the right wing all over the world is worryingly demonstrating.

By Naomi Roux, Rike Sitas and Maurietta Stewart

On July 22nd the Whose Heritage Matters team took part in an online seminar, organised as part of an AHRC Global Challenges workshop, University College London. The team were part of a panel on the effective utilisation of sustainability and heritage research and asked 'effective for whom and how?'

The latest newsletter is published. You can read about our ESRC Jam and Justice final project report launch, our work on festivals or our recent participation in a TV debate on citizens and climate action, plus lots of news from our international partners. 

Professor Beth Perry, Professorial Fellow Urban Institute at the University of Sheffield and Dr Rike Stiatas, Researcher at the University of Cape Town discuss how festivals can transform cities by making space for overlooked people and cultures in an article for The Conversation published on 15 August 2019. 



By Vicky Habermehl, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield 

In April 2019 the inception meetings for the project started with a series of visits across the Kisumu region. These were organised with communities in different cultural heritage and sacred sites. At each meeting organisers, communities or elders took the group around the site and discussed the key concerns, and organising strategies, as well as future plans. This provided a context for cultural heritage in the area, as well as meeting potential research partners and allowing for broader understandings of different cultural heritage challenges across the region.

By Beth Perry, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield 

The baking Kisumu heat on a Friday afternoon was not enough to deter people from attending our first stakeholder meeting in Kisumu, on 5 April 2019. Held at KLIP House in central Kisumu, it was standing room only as 46 people joined for a collaborative workshop to map different understandings and meanings of cultural heritage.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - 12:00 to 13:00
University of Cape Town, African Centre for Cities

Dr Rike Sitas, from the African Centre for Cities, will present the Whose Heritage Matters project during a 'brown bag' seminar at the University of Cape Town, followed by a discussion with scholars at the University, practitioners and city officials.  

Stakeholder Inception Meeting Kisumu
Friday, April 5, 2019 - 14:00 to 17:00
KLIP House, Kisumu

In April, during the set up visit in Kisumu, a stakeholder inception workshop will take place to enrol local organisations, officials and community based organisations into the project. 

The workshop will take place at KLIP House, in Central Kisumu.

British Academy Launch Information
Tuesday, March 5, 2019 - 09:00 to 16:00
British Academy, London

On 5 March the 27 funded projects from the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme will meet in London at the programme inception meeting. Professor Beth Perry, Dr Victoria Habermehl and Dr Patrick Hayombe will speak on behalf of the Whose Heritage Matters project to present the work in Kisumu and Cape Town. 

University of Cape Town
Monday, November 5, 2018 - 09:00 to Friday, November 9, 2018 - 13:45
Cape Town

Join us for the launch of the British Academy funded Whose Heritage Matters project, during the Mistra Urban Futures Realising Just Cities Conference, organised by the African Centre for Cities, University of Cape Town. 

A panel comprising scholars and creative practitioners from Gothenburg, Kisumu, Cape Town and Sheffield will discuss local work to explore the relationship between cultural heritage and just cities, before launching the new Whose Heritage Matters project. 

Talchum Festival

As cities in the global South urbanise at rapid rates and cities in the North face their own challenges, it is timely to think and experiment with new ways of thinking and acting in the cultural heritage and urban development sphere” says Mistra Urban Futures’ Beth Perry, Laura Ager and Rike Sitas in an article recently published by the International Journal of Herita

View of Cape Town

‘Comparative Co-production’ was the theme of the 2018 Mistra Urban Futures conference in Cape Town earlier this month, which was attended by members of the Urban Institute’s Realising Just Cities team.


By Beth Perry, Urban Institute, University of Sheffield

The 'Whose Heritage Matters?' project had its first project meeting and formal launch in Cape Town in November 2018.

New project announced from British Academy Sustainable Development Programme. 

Friday, June 29, 2018 - 09:30 to 16:30
Seminar room G14, 9 Mappin Street, The University of Sheffield

Musical groups and organisations shape and are shaped by their localities in a plurality of ways, reaching in and through communities to achieve tangible and intangible impacts. This one-day symposium,  hosted by the Urban Institute and the Sheffield Performer and Audience Research Centre, brings together academic and practitioner networks from across the arts, humanities and social sciences to ask:

Festivals are international cultural practices, taking plural forms and expressions across the world. They offer an empirical lens to enrich our understanding about how tangible and intangible cultural heritage combine, collide, conflict and cohere. Festivals are a spatially and temporally bounded public sphere, a break from normality that surfaces and reveals understandings of and approaches to culture and heritage in very different contexts.

The New Urban Agenda, signed in Quito Ecuador in 2016, calls for a broad and holistic understanding of the strategies and approaches needed to develop more sustainable urban transformations.