On June 13th, the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) published its first news update after the World Congress in Kraków (2-5 June 2019). It starts with the following words: “The 15th OWHC World Congress held in Krakow will be considered a landmark event for the Organization. The high-caliber content of the scientific sessions, as well as the perfect organization and excellent selection of the cultural events, will long be remembered.”

Kraków City Centre (minutes before the 15th Congress Inauguration) https://owhc2019krakow.org/en/agenda/agenda/

We are truly honoured to be given such an outstanding recommendation from OWHC, an organisation which has long built very important bridges across countries and cultures, spanning 300 cities worldwide. The cities within the OWHC network are represented by their mayor, with the active participation of elected municipal officials and heritage managers. Membership requirements include at least one site inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. All of the OWHC cities have a total population of over 164 million people.

Kraków’s Market Square (Background: The Wawel Castle)

Looking to the Future

Ten days ago, at this hour, delegates of the 15thWorld Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities had just finished voting (election results, see below) and debating some of the most important issues, challenges and achievements relevant to OWHC’s core areas of activity. Among others, individual Secretariats presented their project summaries, initiatives completed and plans for the future.

A New Chapter in the Age of New Challenges?

The night before, during the official gala at the Wieliczka Salt Mine, the new OWHC’s Board of Directors was announced, following a formal vote preceded by 5-minute presentations from candidates, 15 world heritage sites, which took to the stage, earlier that day.

This was not the end of the pre-announced changes in the organisation. After the historic Kraków Congress, OWHC now has a new Board of Directors, a new President and a new Secretary General who will succeed the much-respected Mr. Denis Ricard.

Denis Ricard (Secretary General, OWHC) and Robert J. Quarles van Ufford (newly-announced Secretary General)

Election Results

Prof. Jacek Majchrowski
Mayor of Krakow (Poland)
President of the OWHC

Mr. Dirk De fauw
Mayor of Brugge (Belgium)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Mr. Victor Boluarte Medina
Mayor of Cuzco (Peru)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Mr. Nakyoung Joo
Mayor of Gyeongju (Republic of Korea)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Ms. Lydie Polfer
Mayor of Luxembourg City (Luxembourg)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Mr. Jim Kenney
Mayor of Philadelphia (United States)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Mr. Luis Alberto Villarreal García
Mayor of San Miguel de Allende (Mexico)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Dr. Huang Yong
Representative of Suzhou (China)
Vice-President of the OWHC

Thinking Beyond an Event

In many respects, the Krakow Congress was an important milestone, both for the City of Kraków and the Organization of World Heritage Cities. The goals laid out when the preparations started locally (nearly two years ago, following the 14th World Congress in Gyeongju in 2017,  when Kraków was chosen as the next host city), went far beyond delivering a successful 3-day conference by June 2019, even as ambitious and complex as the 15th World Congress.

Events as important (and potentially transformative) as the OWHC World Congresses should have a lasting positive impact on their host cities. Therefore, from the very beginning, our creative and communication strategy assumed, among others, that:

  • The key communication processes and platforms designed and built for the congress would also serve important long-term goals and help integrate the key cultural heritage stakeholders in Kraków around important, strategic aspirations.
  • The congress events themselves were designed in a way that would promote openness towards the host city’s inhabitants, tourists, journalists, activists and NGOs.
  • Last but not least, it may have been the very first time when so many different culture institutions and city hall departments met on a regular basis, months ahead of the event, to discuss not only progress made in the preparation process, but also the bottle-necks and untapped opportunities that these preparations brought to light and put to discussion.

In days and weeks to come we will be sharing with you many more films and photos from the congress, along with commentary, quotes and specific outcomes. Most importantly, perhaps, we will make every effort to make Kraków Heritage a valuable source of practical information for cultural heritage cities worldwide.

Before we get into details…

The 15th World Congress was, indeed, full of interesting content and takeaways. To mention only a few, the 5-minute presentations of the 15 candidate cities (OWHC Board of Directors) were absolutely fascinating to listen to, and visually stunning. The Mayors and Elected Officials Workshop was a very exciting exchange of ideas, facilitated by Peter DeBrine and James Rebanks, representing UNESCO. All of the scientific sessions, debates, cultural events, site visits and evening concerts were very well received by delegates from all around the world.

Before we dig deeper into specific examples of congress outcomes, here’s our first quick gallery of photos: