League of Historical Cities


MapThe League of Historical Cities (WLHC) was established in Kyoto, Japan in 1987. It aims to strengthen affiliations between historic cities to exchange knowledge and experience and ultimately, world peace by ‘deepening mutual understanding’ and ‘building on the common foundation of historical cities to strengthen affiliations between cities’. The WLHC is in partnership with the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, International Council on Monuments and Sites and the Organization of World Heritage Cities.

Following the most recent Board Meeting in April 2012 in Vietnam, the WLHC’s membership has increased to 95 cities from 59 countries and regions around the World (Diagram 1).


In 1998 Ballarat City Council became a member of the WLHC and is one of only three Australian cities, along with the City of Melbourne and the City of Norwood, Payneham and St. Peters, to be accorded membership. Ballarat hosted the 10th World Conference in 2006 and was subsequently elected to the Board of Directors.

THE 13th WORLD CONFERENCE OF THE LEAGUE OF HISTORICAL CITIES - 'Defining Universal Heritage Challenges and Solutions'

The theme of the 13th World Conference in April 2012 was ‘Defining Universal Heritage Challenges and Solutions’ and was held in Vietnam, along with a Board of Directors meeting.

The Ballarat delegation included:

      • Mayor, Councillor Mark Harris;
      • Ms Bonnie Fagan, traditional Wadawurrung women, representing the Ballarat Heritage Advisory Committee;
      • Mr Tim Sullivan, Deputy CEO and Museums Director, The Sovereign Hill Museums Association;
      • Professor Terry Lloyd, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Ballarat; and
      • Ms Susan Fayad, Coordinator Heritage, City of Ballarat.


Learnings from the 13th World Conference

Many of the WLHC member cities operate in a two-tier system of Government, often consisting of a National Government and a Regional Government, unlike Australia where we have three tiers of Government - the City of Ballarat being in the third tier. In any other situation this difference would appear insurmountable, but the contrary is true for the WLHC. What is core to the WLHC is that all members operate at a local/regional level – they are the closest to their communities and are operating ‘on the ground’. During the course of the 13th World Conference, and indeed, during earlier conferences, it has become quite clear that the majority of historical cities in the League face very similar issues, challenges and often, opportunities because of their direct connection with their community.

Image 1. Bonnie, Mayor x 2The League is an important body for sharing information and ideas, knowledge and techniques, and collegial support amongst the leadership (political and administrative) in the member cities and towns.

Image: Bonnie Fagan and Mayor Cr Mark Harris presenting a painting by Albert Fagan, Wadawurrung elder, to the Mayor of Hue City, Vietnam. April 2012.
Source: Bonnie Fagan.

Common themes

  1. Living heritage and living culture. That people are central to cultural heritage and without their support culture, in particular intangible culture, cannot continue.
  2. There were a wide range of cities presenting with one thing in common – they experience a huge amount of cultural heritage tourism, often far exceeding the amount of people living in the cities. For example:
    • Hoi An, Vietnam, has a population of 90,000 people, comparable with Ballarat, and receives 1.5 million visitors each year, 800,000 of which are from overseas;
    • Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan. They have a population of 1 million and every year they receive 50 million visitors which has provided a great contribution to the economic growth of Japan; and
    • The City of Gongju has a population comparable to that of Ballarat with 124,242 people, with the city attracting millions of visitors each year
  • Unlike a number of cities around the world, the capacity of historical cities to attract the cultural heritage tourism market (which includes both tangible and intangible heritage) has not been fully understood or made the most of in Australia. Cultural heritage tourism, managed well,  can bring historical cities a number of benefits. A number of presenting cities stressed the need to put the income generated by cultural heritage tourism back into heritage by ensuring that the profits generated by cultural heritage are used to conserve heritage. Many stressed the need to develop a ‘profits policy’ to ensure that owners of heritage and stakeholders share the profits.
  • The Mayor of the World Heritage listed city, Hoi An, listed three lessons that they have learnt that would transcend national boundaries:

a) To preserve heritage and promote sustainable tourism there is a
need to recognise that each city has specific cultural values and keep
the unique values of each city. This is their point of difference.

b) In order to manage and conserve heritage, consensus and
coordination of state agencies and Governments is needed with a
focus on the roles of managers, researchers and local people. There
is a need to link and coordinate.

c) In order to have good management of heritage places, there is a
strong need to improve international cooperation and have shared

  • The cementing of the understanding that intangible heritage is key to a community’s identity and that Council can learn from this. There is a real need to connect with our intangible heritage at all levels and apart from a number of other benefits, this can strengthen our capacity to build our cultural heritage tourism market, which has been the case in a number of the countries that presented. Another intangible heritage area discussed on a number of occasions was traditional trade skills and the loss of these skills which puts heritage at risk. There is clearly a need for trades skills to be documented and preserved - that was almost universally identified.

    In addition, intangible heritage was also discussed in relation to industrial heritage through the identification of strong links and drivers between traditional industries and innovative new industries, particularly in a number of successful Japanese companies.
  • The move to engage youth was highly successful and enlightening. Ms Fagan attended the youth forums that were running concurrently with the other sessions at the conference and was encouraged to hear the young people generating fresh ideas regarding heritage preservation. This forum highlighted the potential outcomes of Council taking the opportunity to work collaboratively with the Ballarat's young people in the innovative ways discussed at the conference.
  • The need for holistic and integrated master planning in order for heritage preservation to have a chance and that the values underpinning the master planning is clearly articulated. The importance of leadership, and  consistency and holistic planning which is not only conscious of heritage in  decision-making but prioritises heritage, were consistently identified. In  each exemplary case study, there were challenges and strong leaders  aligned with the heritage values in the master plan.
  • The need for multidisciplinary studies to ensure that the full scope of a  site’s heritage and its values are understood. This is particularly the case  in making sure that the social history of industrial sites is understood and included in interpretation and capturing the intangible heritage associated with industrial technology. In other words, who worked on the site, what  did they do, what were the consequences of their work, what social attributes characterised their work and lives away from work?
  • In addition to the work to restore sites to their former glories, there was  consideration of adaptive uses of industrial sites (particularly Bursa, Turkey and Boston, USA) for a variety of contemporary multi-purpose functions including performance and the arts, government and museums.
  • Most case studies revealed how important the role of a University has been in ensuring the depth and rigour of research to underpin planning and protection.
  • Community driven festivals are an essential part of ensuring that intangible values of a community and culture are preserved.
  • Emergency Management is essential for preservation of built heritage.   Japan discussed their loss of cultural heritage through both man-made and natural disasters and the history of how fire and emergency management has been embedded in their culture. They highlighted the  community involvement in fire prevention for cultural heritage.
  • World Heritage listing has been both a blessing and a challenge for  Vietnam. In countries such as Vietnam, World Heritage listing is a way to  increase the community’s standard of living and it preserves a significant  part of their culture and cultural heritage. It does this, however, at the  detriment of other areas of cultural heritage which are seen to be neglected.

The Hue declaration

The following declaration was endorsed by the General Assembly and signed by the Mayors of the participating cities:

‘We gather here in Hue, Vietnam from the 16-18 of April 2012 to carry on discussing the problems encountered in heritage preservation in a globalization context. As representatives of historical cities around the world from agricultural as well as industrial civilization, we have come together to engage in mutual dialogues, to share experience, and to pinpoint the universal problems which have been affecting our efforts in heritage preservation.

We are facing the pressing needs of urban development, and the demand for modern and technological life. These are not only the problems of a single country, but also those of many other historical cities. The processes of industrialization and globalization are leading to changes in production methods and technology; as a consequence mankind will witness numerous impacts on nature, quality of human life, and cultural works of each city, nation and region of the world. Faced with these realities, we find that it is imperative to safe-guard and to promote the heritage values so as to curb the negatives impacts found in heritage preservation as an endeavour to share cultural knowledge as a tool for greater understanding and respect among cities, countries, and people of the world.

As a result, we adopt the slogan: “Respect the past; move towards the future”; We pledge to actively contact one another to further develop the network for research and restoration experience of our heritage;

As citizens of historical cities, we will actively promote, preserve, promulgate and enhance our tradition and culture at all levels amidst ongoing globalization; We pledge to actively enhance the understanding of cultural values within our community, especially within the younger generation. We also encourage the Youth Exchange to promote and share the perception of national cultural preservation; We pledge to plan programs to sponsor local and regional initiatives relating to the restoration and management of heritage values;

SigningWe pledge to actively take part in sustainable heritage management through networking and relationship building with the conference participants and the other member cities of the League of Historical Cities.

We are convinced that an action-orientated strategy, which draws attention of all stakeholders, will allow us to establish the best solutions for the conservation of cultural heritage values in the context of sustainable development in all historical cities.
Hue, April 18, 2012


Image: Mayor Cr Mark Harris signing the Hue Declaration. April 2012.
Source: Bonnie Fagan.

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