Project led by Carola Hein as part of a collaboration among the LDE UNESCO Chair Water, Ports and Historic Cities, ICOMOS Nederland/ISC and other institutions interested in water management, culture and heritage.
Water in all its forms is key to human survival and well-being. People have embedded their relation with water in spatial, social and cultural practices for ten thousands of years, creating intricate and ingenious solutions that allow them to survive and thrive in difficult and complex territories, adapting to changes in environmental conditions, or to technological, political, economic, or other changes. Understanding the embedded nature of water in space, society and culture, constructing individual and collective identities, can help activate historic systems and heritage as part of sustainable development. As the UNESCO World Heritage Center emphasized in its 2030 Culture Indicators, culture has important contributions to make to the different Goals and Targets of the 2030 United Nation’s Agenda. Currently, complex water-related urgencies that challenge human life on earth, are often seen as stand-alone occurrences that require individual solutions. However, complex crises like sea-level rise, changing rainwater patterns, and consequent flooding and drought require complex approaches. Within these approaches, technological or economic solutions can engage local conditions, historical, social or cultural contexts and knowledge, and help (re)create structures for valuing water. This requires an advanced engagement with the social and cultural value of water, by creating a new embedded water awareness 2.0.
To achieve such renewed water awareness, the Blue Paper, first explores the historic embeddedness of water structures to assess the mechanisms that have worked in the past and their failings. It examines contemporary heritage sites to better understand how stakeholders have changed over time, and how heritage can be (re)connected to local stakeholders and spaces to both protect it and make it an agent of sustainable development. Such awareness is crucial if we try to solve global challenges. We need more than siloed, technological responses: we need to develop methods to understand the embeddedness of water in culture, institutions and the built environment and to get buy-in from diverse stakeholders and local citizens. This requires shared methodologies and terminologies, policies and tools that facilitate engagement between disparate fields and disciplines. It also requires tools to better understand our local histories and legacies of water. To achieve such an understanding we argue that we also need to rethink the UN Sustainable Development Goals in light of the underlying concepts and the notion of culture as a driver for societal, technological and economic transformation.