In September 2009 you delivered one of the keynote addresses to the 10th World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities in Quito, Ecuador, a group dedicated to defining strategies for the identification and preservation of the world’s historic cities. Let me begin by asking you to define the historic city and why it is important to us today?
Strictly speaking, the concept of historic city or ‘centre’ is a fairly recent construct. It never existed in the past. And this for the simple reason that there were no peripheral areas recognizable as separate parts of the city. The city was the city and that was the end of it. Often surrounded by high walls, it represented the limit of urban living, as opposed to life in the countryside. The existence of a separate historic center begins to be perceived only after the Industrial Revolution, when demographics explode, productive functions diversify and eventually new transportation systems come into the picture. More and more countryside is absorbed by the expanding periphery and the ‘centre’ grows smaller and smaller. The result is the disappearance of the long-established synergy between city and countryside. And the ‘city’ of our grandfathers, great-grandfathers and forefathers of many generations, ceases to exist, replaced by the shapeless metropolis and sprawl of modern times.
The full article is available at Project Muse.
Image: The traditional Gur-i Emir neighborhood in Samarkand following demolitions and the isolation of monuments, 1996. (Francesco Siravo)