The notion of culture as an asset rather than a luxury is still a contested issue in many poorer parts of the world. As a result, a significant part of the world’s cultural heritage – much of it in the Muslim world – is at risk, as other needs are considered priorities. The central question has been how culture, integrated with more traditional instruments of development, can be used to improve lives in urban, poor and even remote contexts. How can culture provide employment, raise incomes, affect wellbeing, improve health, enhance urban spaces, reinforce a respect for diversity, even restore pride and hope?
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s Historic Cities Programme has shown how the creation of parks and gardens, conservation, improvement of the urban fabric and revitalisation of cultural heritage – in many cases the only asset at the disposal of the community – can provide a springboard for social development. These projects have demonstrated that they can have a positive impact well beyond conservation, promoting good governance, the growth of civil society, a rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment, even in the poorest and most remote areas of the globe.