8th World Conference of Historical Cities
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Closing Remarks
by Ms. Helen Fotopulos

Member of the Executive Committee of the City of Montréal
Responsible for Culture and Heritage

Dear friends,

I would like to thank everyone who has played a part in this wonderful meeting, which has been so important in nurturing discussions on our shared responsibility vis-à-vis history — both that which has passed, and that which is still in the making. For our goal here has truly been to “make history,” by weaving our actions into the historical narrative of our shared urban existence.

We have come from many horizons to share, exchange and debate ideas. Above all, we have made a commitment — all of us, together — to preserving the heritage of our cities, while smoothly integrating that heritage into the modern faces of those same cities.

Among other conclusions, we have determined that participation by our citizens is essential, for it is the only guarantee that they will support our efforts, and the only way to be certain that a common heritage is enjoyed by all, as it should be. We have also agreed on the vital importance of mapping out, by policy-making or other means, both short- and long-term visions of what actions should be taken to safeguard heritage.

But what this 8th World Conference of Historical Cities has allowed us to realize above all is that the issue of heritage in urban settings is universal, but co-exists with the singular notion of urbanity, as expressed over the centuries in every city, every community, every neighbourhood, every habitat.

Having emerged relatively recently from closed societies that had little need for any shared sense of heritage for the purpose of preserving their respective identities, we are now citizens of the great global village. Because our cultures are now dispersed, they have an urgent need for exterior signs of the passage of our individual histories: this anchoring of identity is essential to social coherence and cohesion. It is the sudden awareness of Other Peoples and Places — curiously enough, a by-product of globalization, which is a much-disparaged word these days — that has sparked in all of us a greater awareness of ourselves, of our own respective heritages.

As representatives of cities often faced with urgent needs, struggling with market forces, or at odds with a lack of means or true powers, we have gathered here together in search of a better way of life: something that dovetails with our roots as well as our goals, be they on a local or planetary level. We have come together to share our experiences, our mistakes and our success stories, and we have opened the door to a true sharing of heritage best practices.

Montréal can be justly proud of its recent successes in this area:

  • Two years ago, one of Gérald Tremblay’s first actions as mayor-elect was to name an Executive Committee Member Responsible for Culture and Heritage.
  • He then invited civil society groups to join in a wide-ranging consultation process, initiated in each of the city’s boroughs and in other relevant milieux. This culminated in the Montréal Summit, from which emerged key guidelines and strategies for heritage actions.
  • Among the commitments that emerged from this Summit was the creation of the Conseil du Patrimoine, or Heritage Board. Its inclusion at the same time in the City’s bylaws ensures that it cannot be repealed by any subsequent municipal administration.
  • We are currently developing a true Heritage Policy, via research and consultations led by a group of experts whose mandate is to submit concrete proposals to elected officials.
  • We continue to consult our citizenry regarding the City’s next urban plan, so that it might be enhanced by the direct experiences of the boroughs and their residents. The new method calls for mandatory consultation and/or a referendum whenever any proposed change runs counter to the urban plan.

Lastly, Montréal, like so many of your cities, has entered the era of partnerships, with both the public and private sectors.

As His Honour Mayor Tremblay mentioned earlier, Montreal’s successes have been, and will continue to be, due in large part to participative democracy and citizen action. What we decide to do with our heritage and culture is, and always will be, up to society. We believe that civil society must be an integral part of that decision-making process. We believe that it is important to create bonds among the citizens of our cities — between our elders, the custodians of our collective memory, and our children, who embody the potential of tomorrow — right from the start of any project (without, of course, shirking our duty to issue proposals and make decisions).

The workshops held on Monday allowed us to appreciate practically the entire range of challenges and obstacles inherent in the preservation of truly meaningful urban heritage and its integration in the ongoing development of a city.

We were able to appreciate the example of New Orleans, where, as in so many of our cities, the idea of a “sense of heritage” — described as a myth entertained by the profiteers and promoters bent on tourism development — is pitted against that of “heritage conscience,” which refers more precisely to the defence of a city’s authentic heritage, articulated both through citizens’ direct experience and expert knowledge.

We next heard the case of Old Hanoi, which is struggling to reconcile the desire to preserve a past going back more than a thousand years with the need to improve the environment and quality of life of some 200,000 residents. Among other possible solutions, we explored the idea of international financing initiatives aimed specifically at conservation of heritage cities — an idea taken up later by our colleagues from Florence.

We then learned from the field experience of Old Montréal’s cultural institutions, which warned us against the dangers of built-heritage districts becoming “museum-ized,” and underscores the vital importance of having the political will in place to ensure that these neighbourhoods remain multifunctional. This idea was then further developed in a presentation by the delegation from Montpellier.

Then, in a magical moment that clearly demonstrated the usefulness of conferences like these, one of our delegates came to the sudden realization that one must sometimes travel halfway around the world to be able to engage in frank dialogue with the mayor of one’s own city about heritage landscape preservation! I am speaking of Madam Rezazadeh, who had just talked to us about the vices and virtues of globalization, which, it is true, is leaving in its wake an unfortunate standardization of so-called modern practices, but is also spurring international networking — and this is the only way of bringing local heritage struggles onto the world stage.

The urgent need to make policy that will ensure preservation of our heritage landscapes was echoed in the subsequent workshop session, devoted to the outstanding work accomplished by the National Capital Commission in Ottawa in “blue” and “green” heritage presentation, in spite of the conflicting demands of preservation of archeological wealth underground and planned development of the territory. Several members of Montréal’s Conseil du Patrimoine and of the advisory group charged with mapping out heritage policy for this city took part in this workshop session, so we can be sure that this dimension will be properly taken into account.

We were then treated to an overview of the Montréal Architectural Heritage Campaign, which emphasizes citizen empowerment by providing tangible recognition of owners’ efforts to preserve and showcase their properties, and through a number of cultural activities that encourage citizens to discover and appreciate the city’s built heritage.

The day was rounded out with a presentation of the candidacy of Old Montréal, a crossroads of European and North American sensibilities, as a World Heritage Site, and a statement of the common values and principles that bind us together in our commitment.

In a round-table session on Tuesday, we returned to the crucial concept of urban landscape preservation and the importance of not restricting efforts to prestige buildings. Considering the question of “How to Choose?” enabled us to acknowledge the importance of site integration, user-friendliness, ensuring the longevity of the heritage community, and empowering the citizens who inhabit heritage landscapes and draw from them a sense of shared identity. A fine example of this concept of preserving protected zones was provided by the city of Vienna, which has moved to protect the typical small villages that are now part of the City.

The sessions on subsidy programs aimed at restoring private built heritage in Vienna and Budapest, on the other hand, offered a glimpse of the potential adverse effects of this practice. In my own presentation, I described the recurring scenario in which sudden increases in property values, and in the related municipal taxes, lead to a surge in real-estate speculation and rapid gentrification of restored neighbourhoods. Vienna has mitigated the dangers of speculation by making its subsidies contingent on a five-year ban on the resale of properties, while the city of Budapest — which does not collect property taxes — has solved the problem by instituting a 10-year resale ban.

The delegation from Xi’an, a city with a millennial tradition that also has a very modern face, presented a clearly articulated vision of heritage preservation in a context of accelerated urban development combined with expansion of tourism infrastructures designed to showcase the historical and cultural treasures nearby. In championing the concept of mixed-use spaces, Xi’an’s presentation also spoke to a duty we all share: that of preserving heritage not only for the benefit of our constituents but also for the enrichment of all humankind.

The present city of Budapest, much like Montréal, is the culmination of a series of mergers, and our Hungarian colleagues warned against the dangers of excessive decentralization, which can paralyse and occasionally compromise all forms of concerted action. In my own address, I described the situation of Montréal, which, having been extremely centralized until very recently, is now seeking to give more powers to its boroughs, while simultaneously reasserting its final responsibility in such matters, as will be defined and assented to by its Conseil du Patrimoine and its soon-to-be-enacted Heritage Policy.

Next came an examination of a sensitive issue in Québec, that of the preservation of religious heritage, and the frequent danger of buildings being torn down or converted to commercial purposes. The need to somehow democratize the process of making heritage-preservation choices was also expressed.

The second round-table session enlightened us as to the example of Kyoto, which thanks to several cross-partnerships has managed to preserve both its archetypal ancestral architecture and the quality of life of its citizens, without hindering economic and social development.

Québec City’s mayor also believes that these concepts must be properly aligned, and a balance struck between mercantile interests and urban realities. The key to achieving that alignment is familiarity with and recognition of one’s territory, one’s partners, and the issues at stake, so as to better choose the places in which, and the means by which, action can be taken.

The extreme challenge of successfully preserving heritage in the absence of sufficient funds and local expertise was described by the delegation from Kazan. If this jewel of humanity, which will hold its millennium celebrations in 2005, has been able to embark on restoration efforts, it has been solely thanks to support — albeit still modest — from the international community.

In her presentation, Ms. Phyllis Lambert evoked other means of bridging such gaps, which include citizens’ action — in the form of restoration and enhancement of older neighbourhoods through housing co-operatives. She also reminded us that it was Heritage Montréal, a coalition of citizens and experts, that tirelessly lobbied the federal government and saved the city’s Old Port and the majority of the heritage buildings that are a source of such great pride today.

Importantly, though, the Montpellier delegation emphasized that our elected officials have the ultimate responsibility for making decisions in conformity with the “common good” and the “public good” — which are not the same thing. It is also up to elected officials to create the legislative, regulatory, strategic and logistical tools for the orchestration of those decisions.

Lastly, the representative of UN-HABITAT, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, denounced the fact that financial institutions, being heavily centralized, are not remaining in step with the trend toward decentralization of decision-making power toward the community level, and reminded us of the importance of clearly determining who must be consulted and how, and of clearly defining fields of action. Underscoring the fact that heritage rights must be seen as part of a continuum that includes respect for people’s fundamental rights to habitat and health, she also drew attention to the disturbing state of the planet’s water heritage, which is as much a source of pathologies and armed conflicts as it is a vector for development and prosperity.

Tuesday afternoon was devoted to exploring the vital question of whether heritage preservation and enhancement should be viewed as an expense or an investment. This allowed us to observe that, by accounting for heritage in the economic development of our cities, we can consider the financing of heritage not as a constraint, but as an investment made as part of a long-term strategy. We were also able to recognize the urgent need to develop an economic theory of heritage, as well as heritage policies built on true partnerships between government and property owners, both public and private. Heritage policies must be viewed from a long-term perspective, and must be lasting, so that they have effect across different geographical zones and changing power structures.

Our colleagues from Saguenay shared their experience of integrating multiple efforts to revitalize heritage districts into a global urban management policy supported directly by the municipality. The delegation from Florence presented its vision of self-management and partnership with banks and private companies, while reminding conference delegates that preserving the assets of a major heritage city must also be, in part, a responsibility assumed by all of the world’s peoples.

The conference culminated on Wednesday morning with our discussions on the importance of heritage inventories as tools for promoting not only democracy but also sound management, and on the absolute necessity of achieving convergence and international consultation via United Nations bodies, such as UN-HABITAT.

On the strength of these multiple exchanges and the fruitful discussions that accompanied our breaks and meals, we have therefore agreed to act in concert and have signed the Montréal Declaration, whereby we recognize:

  • The full importance of urban heritage and its diverse expressions, and the need for interactions amongst our communities;

  • The responsibility of municipal authorities in heritage issues;

  • The urgent need for civil society to join in our efforts to preserve, by the provision of information, consultation and joint efforts between concerned populations and our private, public and suprapublic partners, such as UN-HABITAT; and

  • In accordance with the requirement for accountability on the part of decision-makers, the need to make public our intentions in matters of heritage, the principles that will guide us, the nature of the actions we intend to take, and accurate, credible timetables for said actions.

These commitments have far-reaching implications; indeed, our goal is for them to be remembered as a milestone in our collective urban history. In our refusal to restrict ourselves to a lowest-common-denominator vision of life, of our past and our future, and our refusal to wall ourselves up inside cities-as-museums or cities-as-entertainment, we must, from this day forward, “make history” and assume our roles, now and forever, in the evolution of the World.

I trust that your stay in Montréal has helped raise the proper questions and provided some avenues toward answers, and I look forward to meeting you all again in Gyeongju, in 2005, and in Ballarat in 2006. Until then, I wish you a most pleasant return journey.

Thank you once again. Until next time!


Montréal, October 8, 2003

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November 12, 2003