The contribution of cultural heritage

The contribution of cultural heritage

In terms of economic policy, cultural heritage has generally been considered as a cost to society; a financial burden tolerated, principally, as a moral duty. Museums, ancient monuments, historic buildings, parks, gardens and cultural landscapes have been maintained at public cost – as places that have not, with a few exceptions, directly generated measurable economic advantage.

This assessment of heritage echoes the now outdated view of environmental protection as only an economic cost factor. It is now generally accepted that environmental neglect can have severe economic and social impacts which outweigh the cost of protection. As a result, environmental considerations are often mainstreamed into policy and are an integral part of the overall economic model.

Similarly, in this report (“Getting cultural heritage to Work for Europe”, EU, 2015) the authors argue that a cost-centred view of cultural heritage is short-sighted.Cultural heritage must be seen as a special, but integral, component in the production of European GDP and innovation, its growth process, competitiveness and in the welfare of European society. Like environmental protection, it should be mainstreamed into policy and regarded as a production factor in economic and wider policy development.

Such a position is in line with the Conclusions of the Council of the EU (Education, Youth, Culture and Sports) adopted unanimously on 20 May 2014 which has underlined that cultural heritage is a ‘strategic resource for a sustainable Europe’.

It is worth providing some examples that illustrate this important argument. The first, and most obvious of these, is tourism which owes much of its attractiveness to the rich cultural heritage of Europe, be it in historic towns and cities or in the countryside. Europe is the world’s number 1 tourist destination and is the third largest socioeconomic activity in the EU, contributing 415 billion Euros to the EU GDP and employing 15.2m citizens many of whose jobs are linked to heritage. It is estimated that there were 253,000 jobs in cultural and natural tourism in the UK in 2011 and that its combined direct, indirect and induced impact (the amount generated by the sector’s purchases from other industries and the spend by workers) provided 742,000 jobs in 2014.

Even in sun & sea areas (not the principal reason for Non-Europeans to visit the continent), the availability of cultural heritage contributes to a stabilization and diversification of tourism flows, particularly off-season.

But tourism alone is a limited view of the positive economic contribution of cultural heritage. Renovation and maintenance represents more than a quarter of the value of Europe’s construction industry. It is estimated that repair and maintenance on historic building stock in England supported 180,000 jobs in 2010. This becomes 500,000 jobs if the indirect effects are included.The property values of residences in historic districts out-perform comparable properties in modern developments. Businesses tend to locate in these areas, as it is easier to attract specialists and expats to live and work in such places. The example of knowledge intensive companies who congregate in culturally rich areas of historic cities is a telling one. These businesses, and others, often seek out historic buildings that can be converted into office space for their headquarters. Cultural heritage thus also enables innovation and enhances the long term competitiveness of the European economy.

Similar considerations are valid for Europe’s intangible cultural heritage – films, theatre, music and dance as well as craftsmanship and cuisine – which are also important reasons either for tourism inflows or for exports of services, manufactured goods and produce.

The availability of cultural heritage and services is not only important for its measurable economic benefits. It also enriches the quality of life for European citizens and contributes to their wellbeing, sense of history, identity and belonging. Such social benefits are beyond what can be measured in terms of pure income statistics and have been long recognised. As early as the 14th century, the Statutes of independent Italian municipalities attributed to cultural heritage foreign visitors’happiness and residents’ honour and prosperity, based on beauty, embellishment (decorum), dignity, public pride and public good (publicautilitas).

The challenges that European society is facing in terms of demographic change, migration and political disengagement of citizens, especially youngsters and unemployed people, have raised the question of how citizens can be empowered and better involved in institutional processes. We believe cultural heritage innovation can transform these challenges into positive outcomes forcohesion and wellbeing as is underlined in the Council conclusions on participatory governance ofcultural heritage.

Improved cultural education can foster greater unity and cohesion of European citizens, including immigrants, and facilitates democratic engagement. Better understanding of Europe’s cultures and their interaction with non-European cultures and societies improves inter-cultural dialogue and mutual understanding.

Lastly, cultural heritage has a decisive role to play in sustainable development. In many places across Europe, the contribution of cultural heritage to sustainable development has been crucial: particularly in the regeneration of cities and landscapes. Cities recycling buildings, using historic street-patterns and exploiting historic synergies have improved quality of life and reduced carbon emissions. In the countryside, more holistic management of the environment, bringing cultural and natural heritage together in single systems, has resulted in greater efficiencies and improved quality of life.

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