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Natural and Cultural Heritage as New Commons

Lead universities: UoC, JNU and UWC

Prof. Dr. Peter Dannenberg (UoC)
Prof. Dr. Michael Bollig (UoC)
Dr. Alexander Follmann (UoC)
Prof. Dr. Suresh Babu (JNU)
Prof. Dr. Ciraj Rasool (UWC)

The governance of natural and cultural heritage has become a pertinent topic of international agendas, national policies and local planning initiatives.
Cultural heritage includes the tangible, built environment (architectural monuments, heritage sites) and a variety of intangible cultural assets (traditions, crafts, literature, music, etc.).
Natural heritage refers to the sum of the physical features including biodiversity (flora and fauna), landscapes, rivers, lakes and other natural ecosystems as well as geological structures.

Natural and cultural heritage are often inseparably linked and jointly constitute spaces of great significance both in rural and urban contexts. The multiple functions and inherent values of natural and cultural heritage are undisputed. However, natural and cultural heritage have often been neglected resulting in environmental degradation and decay of tangible and intangible cultural heritage thus requiring new strategies for conserving and revitalising cultural and natural assets (Bollig & Menestrey Schwieger 2014).

The governance of natural and cultural heritage is linked by a number of salient similarities. In both instances the desire to protect and to preserve is often connected to globally circulated ideas on what is worthy of protection and what can be protect and managed (Ostrom 1990, Harvey 2011). Both open up spaces to negotiate global aspirations and national/local histories and require that states make legal provisions to define the boundaries of conserved resources. In recent years governments in the Global South have sought to communalise the management of natural and cultural heritage in a number of instances – this is where the key interest of this branch of the collaborative project lies.

In community museums and community managed heritage sites, the state has ceded management rights to local communities. Management rights for forest or water have also been transferred to local communities. This has often been accompanied by the idea that local communities could directly benefit from such endowments in economic and political terms and a sustainable use of resources/heritage was incentivised in this way. While many of these initiatives are located in a rural context, the governance of natural and cultural heritage as new commons has also emerged as a promising model for contested spaces in the urban context (Colding et al 2013, Follmann & Viehoff 2014, Tornaghi 2014).

Past and current struggles for the conservation of urban green spaces, like parks, forest, river flood plains and gardens (e.g. Gezi Park, Istanbul, Uhuru Park, Nairobi, Table Mountain National Park, Cape Town and river Yamuna and Ridge forest in Delhi) are emblematic for questions of access and exclusion (Zérah & Landy 2013, Landy 2014). With their multiple (e.g. symbolic, economic, recreational and environmental) functions and values, urban green spaces are often contested spaces and their governance is bound to multiple claims and power plays between different public and private stakeholders which often result in new easements and management structures (Wolch et al. 2014).

The emergence of new commons in the management of heritage sites and natural resources unleashed a number of social and political dynamics, which have led, among other things, to the constitution of social movements.