In its third decade, the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP) works on regeneration projects in historic areas in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its central objective is to improve the lives of the inhabitants of these historic areas while promoting models that will sustain these improvements. The Programme has shown how the creation of parks and gardens, conservation of landmark buildings, improvements to the urban fabric and the revitalisation of cultural heritage – in many cases the only assets at the disposal of the community – can provide a springboard for social development.
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 projects of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme 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.