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Working Group: Sustainable historic towns

Background and justification

The Nordic countries have a long tradition in co-operative work for preservation of historic wooden towns. This co-operation has enlarged to cover historic towns even in the Baltic States. The common focus is to consider built heritage as a resourse in identifying the identity of individual towns. The knowledge and experience in individual historic towns carried out by town-planners and researches can be transferred for the development of models for sustainable urban conservation policy. There is a need of co-ordination of current efforts and experiences in the field of developing methods for urban conservation.


The working group has agreed upon to promote preservation and sustainable development of the diversity of historic towns of the Baltic Sea by recognising their local identity. The aims will be gained:

  • by developing a common strategy, management and good practices for sustainable urban development in historic towns
  • by encouraging research activities and promote innovative projects in participation with national, regional and local authorities, NGOs and other sectors, e.g. cultural tourism.

Associated actions

The participating countries will present their experience and focus on finding new approaches to identify the character of individual historic towns. The work aims at presenting good models for conservation practices. The activities will focus on the creation of networks, exchange of knowledge and experience and raising public awareness by organising seminars and meetings between partners to the projects.

Urban conservation involves actions to identify the physical and mental characteristics of individual towns and to manage the economical, social and environmental changes in a sustainable manner. The profile of every individual town has to be examined for further planning actions. This action is undertaken in the co-operation with local inhabitants, professionals and politicians. The role of the national level is to act as an initial motor.

It's important:

  • To analyse the tolerance of change for preventive conservation in order to preserve the identity and memory of a town.
  • To examine, present and disseminate various strategies to incorporate historical stratification into the process of change focusing infill architecture, new use of both historic buildings and city space.
  • To find models for interaction and participation in the planning processes of urban development.
  • To encourage research and training programs carried out by national, Nordic and Baltic universities and international organisations such as ICCROM/ITUC.
  • To focus on individual towns as good examples of democratic participation in the planning process.
  • To offer a forum in the form of seminars and meetings for discussions concerning sustainable development and resource managing of historical urban areas including co-operation between experts and NGOs, urban planners and inhabitants, civil servants and researchers, building conservators and professionals.
  • Find models for interaction/participation in the planning process of urban development.

Planned and ongoing events, a future project

The foreseen activities are to arrange meetings, workshops, a seminar and co-operation with pilot-towns in order to examine case studies. The first workshop for experts, "Identity as a Cultural Resource - Small Historic Towns Facing Development and Change", took place in Tallinn May 2001. It was financed by Nordic Council of Ministers.

A multidisciplinary seminar for researches, professionals and local authorities in the field of town planning exchanging intermediate experiences between different case studies is planned for year 2002. The results of co-operation will be disseminated in English by an electronic publication and in series of reports of Nordic Council of Ministers (Tema Nord).

The project manager is employed for year 2001, financed by the National Board of Antiquities in Finland. The working group is preparing an Interreg III b - project in order to have better resources to work more profound with sustainable development strategies for historic towns with concrete case studies and integrating NGO's in conservation processes, too. The results will serve as models for implementation of conservation practices in local administration and town planning.

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